Sales & Marketing
When it comes to Sales & Marketing, start by thinking about some of these questions:
Are you seeking to convert more prospects to real sales?
Have you clearly defined your target market?
Maybe it’s time to really define and maximise your competitive advantage!
What are current market trends?
Have you spent time profiling your competitors?
Open Access – Sales & Marketing
Market Access Guides & Market Advisor Introductions
Middle East & Africa
The opportunities in sectors like construction and in the services industry, and in general for exporting into a market that is very well off, are tremendous. Keep in mind, you’re not moving to another European country, you’re moving to the Middle East, and ways of doing business can be quite different. You need to have a one-year or 18-month approach to getting established. You may be lucky and get a sales contract quite quickly, but the chances are you need to have reasonably deep pockets, have patience and spend time visiting the market directly in person on a regular basis. If you want to get to know the market, you have to visit it.
Conor Tubridy, Chairman, Irish Qatari Business Council
The story of many Gulf States is inextricably bound up with the discovery of oil and the transformation this has brought about. Rich in natural resources but heavily reliant on imports, and with growing populations allied to plans for significant infrastructural development, the Gulf States represent a significant market opportunity for export-focused Irish companies. A recent economic report commissioned by the Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce forecasts that Irish exports to the Arab markets have the potential to reach €9 billion over the next two decades.
Critical Success Factors
From a business point of view, it’s a lot easier to do business as they do in the Gulf. You have an opportunity to build a relationship with your customer quicker, and you can identify the level of trust and cooperation that’s required.
Fergal Lynam, CEO, I.O. Systems
In the Gulf, Islamic principles and social customs are widely observed, with some divergence in religious observance and customs between the different States. Irish businesspeople should approach the Gulf market with respect for that culture, and a clear understanding that it is different to that of the West. Arabs won’t expect first-time visitors to understand fully all of the nuances, and the differences shouldn’t be seen as intimidating. Respect and patience will take you far, and in many ways the Arab style of doing business is closer to Irish than you might think. The ability to strike up a personal rapport and build a relationship is a key part of doing business in the Gulf.
In the Arab world, personal relationships are valued above all in business. Conducting yourself properly and in a formal manner will help you to make progress, as will showing a healthy inquisitiveness about your opposite number’s culture. Given the importance of relationships, regular presence in the market by senior members of a company’s management is essential to winning business in the Gulf. In Arab countries, you establish a friendship first – business comes later.
- Arabs are very sociable people, known for their hospitality and with a well-developed sense of humour
- Family is very important in the region. Many successful big businesses are owned by a family and various members would have roles in different subsidiaries
- It is normal in the Arab world that you may be asked about your family. They want to know who you are first, then they will ask about your business in time
- Many Arab-owned businesses are hierarchical in structure, so it may take time to get access to decision-makers at the top of the organisation
- The notion of ‘face’ is very important in Arab culture – be extremely careful in situations that could lead to a loss of reputation on either side
- Natural Arab politeness and a reluctance to offend may mean that you often won’t hear a ‘no’
– try to observe the signals and judge whether you are making progress
- In the UAE and Qatar, the working week is Sunday to Thursday; Friday and Saturday are the weekend
- In Kuwait, the working week is Saturday to Wednesday; Thursday and Friday are the weekend
- Business hours in the UAE are generally from 7:30 to 7pm. Banking hours are from 8am to 7pm
- Business hours in Qatar are 6am to 2pm, Sunday to Thursday while banks are open from 7.30am to 1pm on the same days
- In Kuwait, Government offices open between 7am and 2pm, Saturday to Wednesday but banks operate from 8am to 1pm, Sunday to Thursday.
There are five calls to prayer during the day in the Gulf, although strict observance varies Ideally try to schedule meetings around prayer calls when meeting Gulf Arabs but if this is unavoidable, be aware your meeting may be interrupted to allow your host to pray – you will be expected to wait, unless instructed otherwise.
- You may not need to observe the prayer times when meeting with expatriates
- During the month of Ramadan, working hours are reduced
- Avoid scheduling meetings after the 10th day of Ramadan, which varies by year – always check well in advance on www.islamicfinder.org
- The second festival period is ‘Eid Al-Adha’ which is typically a ten-day holiday usually extending from the fifth to the fifteenth day of the month of ‘Thul-Hijja’.
In many business sectors around the Gulf States, you are likely to encounter expatriates in key positions; in Qatar, for example, they outnumber nationals by more than three to one. Such people are likely to be accustomed to Western business styles, and consequently meetings are held and decisions made in a manner that’s more familiar to the Irish approach.
Need to Know
Doing business in the Gulf can be rewarding but the pace of business is appreciably slower than what you may be used to, so it’s important to set your expectations with this fact in mind. You may also have to deal with several layers of an organisation before reaching the decision-maker. In the Gulf, patience is definitely a virtue: there will be times when progress appears to be slow. Innovative or unique products will often help to fast-track the sales process but in the Gulf, decision making tends to take time. Eight to ten months of business development is standard, and in some sectors it’s not uncommon for it to take longer still before many meetings finally conclude in a deal.
CASE STUDY: Business culture in the Gulf States
Professor Cathal Kelly, CEO, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
RSCI has an extensive network of alumni in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. It runs training programmes in Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and Kuwait and its postgraduate faculty of radiology and dentistry runs extensive training programmes in Kuwait and in Abu Dhabi.
Why did you consider the Gulf States as a market?
RSCI is headquartered in Dublin but we see ourselves as an international health sciences institution, built on an international network of colleges. We have close to 3,200 students in Ireland, and about 900 fulltime equivalent staff. In 2003 we signed a charter to establish a medical university in Bahrain, and the first students graduated from a six year med and nursing programme in 2010. We now have 1,020 students there: a combination of medical undergraduate nursing and postgraduates – mainly for the Masters in Healthcare Management, some ethics and medical law. Our next phase of growth will be developing PhD study. We also have a training campus in Dubai, run by our Institute of Leadership.
We’re active in most countries in the Middle East. Despite the Western media broad-brush-stroke approach to the Middle East, what strikes me is the increasing sophistication of society there. The governments have invested a huge amount in infrastructure, education and healthcare provision.
What characteristics have you noticed about the business style in the Gulf?
Obviously, personal relationships are hugely important. Flying in and flying out is not productive; having a presence on the ground is important. You need to be sensitive to the norms of relationships and the religious differences. If you come from a point of view that you’re respectful of and interested in other people’s cultures, that will carry you a long way. Your hosts will be understanding of that.
How important is it to have a partner in the market?
I think having a local trusted partner is invaluable – someone who speaks the language, understands the nuances and is on your side. That will get you wherever you need to go. That said, it is incredibly difficult to find a partner. When you go there first you will meet lots of people who are not good partners, and separating them out is the single most challenging thing. Our alumni network that we know a long time has been a help. The local Enterprise Ireland office and the Irish Embassy can help. I would suggest at first keeping the relationship loose, doing some small projects and gradually build up the work. Another test is to see the level of contacts that that person can get you to meet, and how far up the food chain can they get to.
We have found that the more of the value chain you control, the better. Our university in Bahrain is a wholly-owned subsidiary of RCSI, and it’s the same in Dubai. With every business and certainly ours, the quality of business and the quality of delivery has to be exemplary standard. Overall, I think the Gulf markets are worthwhile. There’s great wealth there obviously, and there’s a great level of ambition to build infrastructure so I think there are enormous opportunities for Irish companies with compelling propositions to bring to the Gulf. I don’t think Irish companies can afford to ignore the Gulf market.
Business Meetings in the Gulf
Arabs prefer face-to-face meetings over communicating by email, phone or letter, and at the start these encounters are about establishing a rapport and gauging mutual trust.
- Expect the early part of the conversation to be dominated by small talk as your Arab host gets to know you better – he may only get around to business at the very end of the discussion
- Arabs like to be addressed by their official title – this may be ‘doctor’ or ‘engineer’
- If someone has an elevated position such as ambassador, or head of a government department, you would address them as ‘Excellency’
- Avoid slang or casual manners – keep your language formal and polite
- Many Gulf Arabs have a relaxed approach to timekeeping. While you may be kept waiting, however, you should make a point of always arriving for meetings on time
- Meetings with Arabs in the Gulf can be unstructured. When you arrive, it's not uncommon to find other people in the room at the same time
- Meetings generally take longer than in Ireland and may be interrupted by phone calls or drop- ins. This is considered normal
- Arabs don’t like to be cornered or to have to make a decision on the spot
- It’s good practice to make follow-up calls after a meeting, just to ask about the person, without bringing up the subject you planned to discuss. This is important in building the relationship
- If you are making follow-up phone calls, avoid doing so at prayer time. Prayer times are printed in the daily newspapers and online.
Need to Know
In the Arab world, there is often a more fluid approach to business appointments than the one taken in Europe. The man you intended to see may be called away at short notice to attend to another matter – possibly a family event. In some cases you might not find out about this until you arrive for your meeting. If this happens, it’s important not to make a fuss. Firstly, it’s understood in the Gulf that family concerns come above all others, so the person you were due to meet considers this behaviour acceptable. Moreover, some believe this approach to meetings is closely related to religion. A good Muslim doesn’t presume to know what will occur in the future and consequently a commitment to a meeting in two weeks’ time may not be binding. To the Muslim, only Allah can know what happens tomorrow (you will frequently hear an Arab pepper his conversation with “Insha’Allah” – not unlike the Irish idiom, ‘please God’). Be flexible; no offence is meant but you must be aware of the possibility this could happen. Equally, when you are in the country it’s possible you may be asked to meet at short notice. Build in sufficient time to adapt to last-minute changes. Best practice is to not to fill your diary with appointments; four per day is the average. It’s worth noting that many Arab businesspeople will happily facilitate meetings in the evening outside of regular working hours.
CASE STUDY: Making an accelerated start in the UAE
Fergal Lynam, Managing Director, I.O. Systems
Operating from a 26,000 sq ft manufacturing facility in Athlone, I.O. Systems specialises in materials handling solutions: conveyor systems, automated logistical systems and maintenance. The company recently completed a €20 million award-winning project to provide a tray return system for 116 security lanes into Dubai International Airport, and has since won a separate contract to provide the same machines into the new terminal at Dubai World Central airport.
How did you identify the opportunities in the market for your business?
The first thing I did was research who was on the ground there – the local suppliers and the foreign competition with either a local presence or a local partnership arrangement. We were able to establish the areas that we were looking to target and the airports became an immediate target. Dubai Airport
was trying to grow as a transport hub and to do that, they needed to deliver a better customer service.
A lot of I.O. Systems products are unique in the sense that we fill the gaps that exist on standard product ranges around the world: we identify areas within automation that need improvement, and we focus then on developing innovative systems. The foundation of my strategy was not to go to the marketplace with a standard product range, where it would be a price war and to be about who knows who, as opposed to the quality. I needed to bring something to the market that was unique and in a growing airport, it was something that they wanted to invest in – something innovative that would give them a distinct advantage over other hubs. So, my approach was a little calculated: we knew that we had unique offerings and innovative solutions and most importantly we had established good, on the ground relationships. And those relationships weren’t established for a one-hit wonder; they were established for the long term. If a door was closed due to an incumbent supplier or a relationship with a particular customer, other doors would open for you.
How did you go about establishing those relationships?
Enterprise Ireland’s Business Accelerator Programme, for me, was the fundamental difference between success and failure: it’s not an exaggeration to say that. We engaged with a local Irish consultant who had been based in the Middle East for a number of years, who was very familiar with the cultural differences in doing business there, and who was very familiar with the influential expat community. We networked through him to those people and got familiar with the landscape and we were pointed in the right direction and in turn were introduced to influential emiratis.
For me, the mistake a lot of companies make it to try to establish themselves with a local emirati partner immediately. Selecting the right people is important. When you’re doing business in the Middle East, they want to see you having a local presence. By having an Irish consultant on the ground, as far as they’re concerned, that person is Irish, therefore he’s working for you. A consultant can go to a meeting on your behalf if one is called at very short notice, which means you didn’t have to get on a plane for an hour’s meeting. If he’s at the meeting representing you, you could be conferenced into to a call. Sometimes meetings are called for issues you could clarify by email, but that’s not how they do their business.
The consultant made it clear to me that I, as principal of the company, needed to be on the ground for meetings and discussions. You could be on the ground for a week and no meetings occur. One thing I did establish very early on, you don’t establish meetings unless you’re on the ground because they don’t see that you have to travel from Ireland. As far as they’re concerned, if you ask for a meeting they have a tendency to invite you that day. 80 per cent of meetings were rearranged or cancelled. So, there was a considerable investment of my time and money. Realistically speaking, you’re looking at expense, flights, accommodation: about €2,000-€2,500 a week per person, on average. That’s not inclusive of cost of time or anything like that. And you need to be there every four to six weeks.
From a business point of view, it’s a lot easier to do business as they do in the Gulf. You have an opportunity to build a relationship with your customer quicker, and you can identify the level of trust and cooperation that’s required. Yes, it’s more difficult physically and there are more demands on your time. Without fail, it’s tougher for your family. But if you want to improve your bottom line, you have to be prepared to travel as the principal of the company. People do business with people. Relationships, in my mind, last longer if business is done between people rather than companies.
What other differences have you noticed about the market?
They like to see, touch and feel the product. Unlike here, where it’s not a practice to take a product on a trial basis, in the Middle East it’s very much standard – and that you do it for free. You need to be prepared to give not just your time, but your product. Another is the length of time to get to a sale. From a process of engaging with the customer, identifying a need within the airport, delivering a prototype for trials, the customer then developed a tender process, went out to tender and we successfully won the contract. That whole process took two years.
One important point, if you are going to sell to a particular company or a Government agency in the UAE, you need to establish if there is a requirement for a tender bond, and are you in a position to finance that. You need a bond of 5 per cent of the potential value of the bid in order to submit a tender. But the key here is, it’s not a tender bond from a European bank: it needs to be submitted from a local bank. So, because you have no credit history in the region, they require cash in the bank before you get the bond. Without the bond, you can’t bid for the tender. Say you have a project worth €10 million, you need to put up a tender bond of 5 per cent, which is €500,000. That has to be 100 per cent cash- backed. The tender bond must remain in place until the customer selects a preferred supplier, and that could be up to two years. You may lose the tender but the bond may remain in place. You’re tying up cash – if you have it – or you’re tying up facilities, if you’re lucky enough to get them. You need to budget for that finance being tied up for the length of the process.
Now think about next steps…
For Further Learning
- The Open Access Area of this site is accessed via the home page, here you can access free Open Access Content on all business topics, below you can find content specifically related to Sales & Marketing.
- Before taking on further learning commitments, such as an excel programme or a Leadership Programme, we suggest that you create a learning plan, you can download a template from the Learning Plan Section of this site.
- Signing up for Excel Workshops: Developing Your ‘Customer Value Proposition’ or ‘Sales Pipeline Management’ is a good start or maybe a refresher?
- You may wish to view the rest of Enterprise Ireland’s Excel Programmes, details and course dates can be found in the Excel Series section of this site.
- For more intensive learning or if you are seeking to create significant change and growth in your company, we recommend the International Selling Programme. Speak with the relevant Enterprise Ireland Programme Manager first as not all programmes will be be suitable for your business stage of growth (Details of the International Selling Programme are on this site).
- For additional support get in touch with your assigned Enterprise Ireland contact or Development Advisor.