I love analogies. It’s just how my brain works and when I am working with US companies who are entering new markets in Dubai, the UAE, or neighboring countries, I find it’s easier to explain with analogies they are familiar with. I even heard one of my own unique analogies quoted back to me by a client who had spoken with someone I work with regularly. It made me smile to know that the analogy is so effective, it is now being borrowed!
Which brings me to the topic for today. I had a meeting yesterday with a company that, prior to our introduction, had identified the UAE as a strong potential market. They visited the market; smart because showing up makes a big difference. They found an interested commercial agent; smart because it’s faster to borrow someone’s pre-existing business contacts than to start from zero. They licensed an office in Abu Dhabi; smart again, because potential clients will want to see you are present in the market as an indication of your commitment and to be customer service nimble. They visit the market regularly; smart because solidifying commercial relationships is best done face to face. With so many things done correctly, why were they not seeing any results?Any good fisherman knows that it takes patience to reel in the best fish. If you can’t sit still for a period of time and lose yourself in thought, pick another sport.
This was my first thought. The business development cycle is slower in the Middle East than in the US. If you are selling to the government, there is a multiplier effect. It may be that they need to adjust their own expectations in terms of the necessary timeframe.Not all fish are keepers.
Maybe the problem was that the commercial agent was not a correct match. Our number one advice to US companies is to take your time when identifying a potential agent or distributor. Do not be pressured into skipping the necessary due diligence. Ask for the information you need but don’t be surprised if they are not forthcoming with a lot of financial information. Trust takes time to build and transparency is unusual in the Middle East. They will be guarded with certain information and this is not necessarily a red flag. But, ask for a business plan, a purchasing forecast, a list of their key accounts, client and banking references; whatever you need to reassure yourself that they are a good match.There are many fish in the sea!
Again, to reinforce the point above – take your time. Even if the potential partner presents an urgent opportunity, remember that the sales cycle is much slower and this may just be phantom pressure applied to seal the deal. Find the “fish” that is the best match for you in terms of size, alignment of pre-existing products and/or services, responsiveness, and business culture.A lot of fishermen tell tales, so be careful what you believe.
All too often I have heard of a potential agent/distributor telling tall tales about potential projects and inflated purchasing forecasts to get legal rights to a product line and a corresponding logo on their website. After they provide you with the information you requested, make sure to ask questions. Follow up on their references. The time it took to respond to your request and the forthrightness of their responses are another indicator of the future business exchange. Are you comfortable? There is a reason we have instincts; follow them. Although not a fishing reference, I am a firm believer that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.Fish or cut bait.
I’m very impatient, which doesn’t always serve me well. I was counseling a US company this week that has a deal in hand that requires a UAE agent, and they are waiting for the Dubai distributor to respond with the necessary document exchange. The deal is hot and the US company is accustomed to the speed of domestic commercial engagement. They cannot understand why it is taking so long for the UAE company to respond positively. I advised them of the steps it would take and the potential areas of delay that may be beyond the control of the potential distributor such as the necessary registration of a product with a government body. We also discussed when and why they might decide to pursue an alternative UAE distributor. I suggested that because this is a large company, they will be slower to decisions, but they do have the benefit of strong commercial relationships for future joint business development. Maybe though, the US company would prefer to work with a smaller, hungrier distributor that would respond faster to opportunities. Again, the choice of which fish and whether it’s time to cut bait is an individual one depending on your motivation and comfort level.If you see someone catching fish, find out what they’re using as bait.
Impatient yes, but I am also very tenacious, which means I’ve survived in the Middle East because I don’t give up and have been known to wear people down until they throw their arms up in surrender just to get me to throw the boat into neutral. It works for me. My point is, look to what your competitors are doing in the market successfully or even not so successfully and learn from their triumphs and defeats when crafting your own approach to partnering.You won’t catch anything if you don’t have a line in the water.
We’re hosting a trade mission next month and we have a small business signed up that is completely new to exporting. For a market visit or a delegation, whenever we are doing pre-vetted appointment setting for a company, we follow a specific process that provides feedback to the client as their meeting schedule is taking shape. This new-to-export company is getting nervous about how successful they will be which I understand completely as a business owner myself – each expenditure is important. But I also know that nothing ventured, nothing gained; it takes money to make money; you’ll regret the chances you didn’t take far more than those you did...and the mixed metaphors and analogies pour forth! My point is, with 95% of your potential customers being outside the United States, can you really afford not to invest in exporting?When you’re fishing, every day is a new day!
I will end where I began and with my favorite fishing analogy. Although after hearing the entire story from the company that seemed to be doing everything right that I referred to earlier and determining that more than likely, the commercial agent they had signed with was not the best match; there is always hope! We will work with them to create new performance metrics for their agent making it clear that they have a commercial advocate within the state economic development international network that is present in the UAE market, and is an expert fisherman. It might not be the ideal commercial partner, but with the right guidance I am confident the US company will begin to see results. Every day is indeed a new day!