1. Learn the “Wasta” System
Doing business in the Middle East revolves around forming personal relationships built on reciprocal friendship and trust. This is a system known as “Wasta”, which places great emphasis on trust and the honour associated with someone’s word. Therefore, to secure ongoing business success in the Middle East quick customer wins and strong relationships are vital to ensure further referrals.
2. Get physical
Physical contact is required to progress any project in the Middle East, so e-mail and phones cannot be relied upon. Doing business revolves around personal relationships and proximity. Hand shakes are often lengthy – so be prepared to hold your business contacts hand for a long time! It is also quite usual for your hand to be held when you are being led somewhere.
3. Have cultural understanding
It is important to be aware of cultural differences, religious holidays and customs in the Middle East. In fact, an understanding of Islamic religion is a pre-requisite to establishing successful business relationships. The working week varies from region to region and business is frequently halted for prayer times. During the month of Ramadan working hours are drastically reduced and the major festivals, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, also affect day to day business.
4. Be patient
Sales cycles are a lot longer in the Middle East than the West. Expect heavy negotiating and lengthy decision-making processes. Bureaucratic formalities will also add to delays. To speed up the process it is advisable to use an agent who has good local knowledge and excellent business contacts.
5. Exploit the channel
A very strong channel is needed to re-sell and implement solutions in the marketplace. Their local knowledge and contacts are critical in success.
6. Develop strong partner programs
A strong partner program, to sign and develop partners into profit centres of excellence, carries much weight. Honour, trust and the building of relationships are paramount in securing business deals.
7. Be prepared to translate
For software applications it is vital to offer Arabic Language Support (RTL & Double Byte / Unicode) if a deal is to be closed in certain industries or countries the Middle East. This is particularly important for Government organisations & Saudi Arabia.
8. Educate investors
It is essential to invest in a lot of education and time to secure buy-in for new Best Practices originally established in the West.
9. Utilise E-Government budgets
E-Gov initiatives are driving Government IT budgets higher. This means that it is now an opportune time to pitch for public sector businesses in the Middle East.
10. Get involved
The private sector has seen tremendous growth in its investment of technology in recent years. Arab companies have ever-expanding IT budgets to invest in exciting technologies from the West.