The challenge with crafting a strategy for the Middle East and Africa is deciding on where to focus. I call it “choosing your Normandy”. If you can work that bit out early and well then it is possible to conquer the region.
Unfortunately entrepreneurs that I meet in the small and medium enterprise spaces in India come with either pre set notions about the region or don’t have a overall buy in about doing business in the region. The Indian IT industry has traditionally viewed the MEA region as a back up when things don’t go right in the US or Europe.
If you have to be successful in the MEA region you have to be seen on the ground as a long term player and an investor. Gone are the days when you could flit in and out and carry back orders in your bag. So my advice to people is that if you are looking to grab a few deals and then decide about long term viability then MEA is not the region for you. But if fundamentally you have decided to have a longer term strategy for the region, then it makes sense to build the awareness and credibility over 2-3 quarters in key pockets of your target market.
Again deciding on the target market is a function of your offering. Not all the 72 countries in MEA are the same. The GCC Arab nations are affluent but it also means the market is crowded. North Africa is rich for the pickings once things stabilize but at this time the political turmoil keeps the regular business people wary. The risk takers are indeed making money. Western Africa with Nigeria as its center of gravity offers many opportunities that also come with business risks as well as personal risk. East Africa is stable and does offer some opportunity but there is a whole bunch of competent local companies out there and hence differentiation of your offerings have to be strong. South Africa bloc again offers a lot of potential but there are issues of BEE and localization that has to be taken into account. Central Africa is relatively less prosperous but there are pockets that are beginning to bloom.
Having a local partner is key and the ability to judge and select an appropriate local partner becomes critical. If you have been to exhibitions and have had stalls, you will realize that more than 50% of the visiting cards that you will collect will be around local partners. And everyone says that they have influence and have a ready made set of customers. Chances are only 2-3 out of this bunch may be relevant for you and have the chance to perform. Its an art to decide on who could be the right partner for you.
Orchestrating a company entry is much beyond just signing up a local partner. There is so much more – consulates, trade bodies, tax, personal security of your staff and hence insurance, media. Everything needs to be aligned for you and clearly is not conducive to a flit in and out strategy!