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International exporters have woken up to the potential of the Middle East region, so what can Kiwi companies do to gain traction there? Beachheads advisors Mahmoud Haidar and Simon Crispe talk to Exporter about the business environment, opportunities, and the value of leadership and mentors.
 

Exporter: How would you describe the Middle East business environment?

MH&SC: It’s thoroughly relationship-driven, but also heavily influenced by good technical media and expo events for almost every business sector.

Strong, long-term, trusting relationships can be forged with customers in the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC); however you need to go the extra mile when it comes to listening to these customers, learning from and understanding their cultures and their needs. Successful reputations are built on what you do really well and the repeat business customers you grow.

Business meetings with locals are formal at the beginning of a relationship but will become relaxed as trust develops. (The holy month of Ramadan is a very good time of year to develop personal relationships with GCC nationals.)

The sophistication of businesses in the Middle East is enormously varied and cannot really be generalised. It all depends on the level of education and customer knowledge of the people running the organisation. It has to be said that many government and private organisations (that not so long ago were archaic and dictatorial in nature) are now much more sophisticated and display significant thought leadership in everything they do. Increases in client sophistication has put pressure on new players to the market, but on the other hand, has made the Middle East better suited to well-equipped companies with sustainable, long-term potential.

Exporter: What should companies keep in mind when planning their Middle East strategy?

MH&SC: Gathering local knowledge and expertise should be top of mind for new entrants to the market. This is best done through a mix of country visits, seeking out local expert advice and conducting empirical research.
These insights will be really important when it comes to setting up a local presence in the region, either directly or through a partnership. Because while sales leads may seduce companies into remotely exporting to the region, experience has shown time and time again that ‘low-hanging fruit’ only serve short-term goals, not sustainable business development.
Middle East markets are often very attractive in terms of demand, profit margins and access, but proper planning and research cannot be
over-emphasised.

Exporter: So what sort of opportunities does the Middle East offer New Zealand companies?

MH&SC: The Middle East presents a rich spectrum of opportunities across many industries. Demand for sophisticated solutions and services in public and private sectors is growing, in addition to mainstream consumers' and infrastructure build-up needs. For example, smart, sustainable, fast-build solutions for mass social housing, healthcare and educational buildings. This is a potentially massive opportunity especially if a consolidated Kiwi one-stop-shop product could be delivered as the basis for a Government-to-Government deal with, for example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Housing. The demand across the region for this kind of fast-build, high quality, and sustainable product is really high. Also, potentially Iran will offer opportunities to New Zealand companies with its wealth and massive young population, but with zero inbound expertise, technology or products for more than a decade. Companies need to be agile to take advantage of these opportunities.

Exporter: What should company leaders be aware of?

MH&SC: Giving customer confidence and demonstrating corporate commitment are vital to developing trust and these are major considerations in the Middle East. In particular, when dealing with government clients, or partners, the engagement of senior leadership is called for to demonstrate that trust and commitment, especially in the early stages of the business relationship. While the level of expected senior leadership engagement might differ between sectors and products, company leaders’ involvement is always valuable.

Exporter: What do good mentors offer exporting businesses or businesses looking to start their international journey?

MH&SC: Mentors will challenge your business model – but in a constructive way. In recent years it’s become increasingly important for companies to understand their unique service proposition, as well as developing and maintaining a differential in price point and offering.

The right mentor will be an open-minded sounding board to bounce ideas off.

When it comes time to visit the market, a good mentor will introduce you to relevant networks and help you identify the immediate local competitors.

 

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