Looking for business in the Middle East & North Africa?

Jun 8 / Govind Davis

Learn from a local expert, avoid mistakes.

Earlier this year I got connected with Dr. Mohamed Barakat, CEO of Mirror Teams, located in Cairo, and a fast-rising expert in business development for companies looking to expand in the Middle East & North Africa.

When you’re ready to go global with your business, considering the impact of local culture in the regions you’re looking to break into can make the difference between getting quick results and stagnating due to little interest. With help from MirrorTeams, we've outlined the key challenges and opportunities to consider when breaking into this rapidly emerging region, and specific tips based on his local expertise.

Differences in Culture & Business Norms

The expectations we have locally, especially in the United States, about business norms and behaviors may not be matched in other regions, especially less developed areas. As it relates to sales and marketing, understanding people think, communicate, and behave, and how regional differences affect negotiations and sales decisions may have a big impact on outcomes. For example, in the Middle East & North African (MENA) countries, people build trust first based on emotions and senses, followed by analytics and numbers according to Dr. Barakat. Building relations and networking play an even more important role in new business development than in western countries.

Another important factor, understanding how language differences affects how people communicate and interact, helps establish the best understanding. Regional differences in language impact how people might respond to certain kinds of messaging, advertising, and product design. For example, in MENA, while Arabic is the principal language, many different accents occur throughout the region, so sales and marketing efforts need to accommodate a very localized sensitivity to accent, seniority, background of individual targets. Businesses that understand and attune to these factors will win, while less sensitive entrants may find little success.

Opportunities for New Technology Entrants

According to Dr. Barakat, growth in the technology sector is driving transformative change in MENA, as a core sector, and presents many opportunities for Western market entrants. To accelerate change, market gaps open up that may already be highly competitive outside of the region. Companies seeking for high growth may find little resistance in MENA, and, while the region may offer lower cost resources, technologies that help regional businesses gain a competitive advantage will be prized.

Consider that in saturated Western markets, standing out against a slew of highly funded competitors can be challenging if not impossible. Whereas, establishing a foothold with a solution unique to the MENA region, where competition may be quite low, offers your brand or product advantages to dominant the market as a first mover and increases the barriers to entry against even much larger companies. Dr. Barakat believes that opportunities in emerging markets are huge, due to limited competition for first movers.

Marketing & Sales Tactics for MENA

While many sales and marketing tactics apply globally, certain nuances need to be understood for success in MENA. For example, as with most regions, outbound marketing produces effective results, especially for B2B, whereas certain practices should be understood. Similarly, social media acts as an effective channel with regional differences.

  • Messages need to be sent with a clear understanding of the workdays, hours and holidays. For example, sending early morning emails (7:00 am – 10:00 am) and only from Sunday through Tuesday gets the best outcomes.
  • Addressing people directly, with their first name in the subject, and sending very short messages is a best practice.
  • Making cold calls without first sending an introduction generally does not work, however after a proper introduction, usually be email, calls are generally welcomed, even at the C-Level.
  • Social Media platform usage varies by region. For example, in the B2C space, Facebook is the number one platform in Egypt, Algeria, and Jordan while Instagram can be more popular in GCC countries (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain).
  • For B2B, marketers rely on LinkedIn and Twitter for lead generation.

 While cultural and economic differences in MENA may present barriers to success from outside countries marketing and sales efforts, understanding these differences can lead to rapid growth and a competitive foothold. Working with a local expert in business development, overcomes communication challenges and helps build trust with regional targets.
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