Selecting Leads in the Middle East: Experiences from Behind-The-Scenes

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By Oujan Paad

Export: the next frontier for many Australian businesses; often thought of as an essential step in strategic growth for successful domestic enterprises. For my part, the thought of helping an established food company to grow its global business was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. However, in searching for suitable leads for our client, I have come to understand that going global is a vision rewarding in its own right, and well worth working toward.

Some see exporting as risky as it requires significant investment. To export effectively, a business must undertake market research that takes into account demographic trends and cultural nuances, consumer behaviour, economic conditions and of course, an insight into the key trends and developments of the industry in which the domestic business will operate. The business must recognise how competitors operate, and how best they are able to connect into each market.

It is understandable (though regrettable) that there is such apprehension around exporting. Even after meticulously analysing these factors, without an effective market entry strategy, this domestic business would be setting itself up for failure. A successful market strategy is heavily dependent on quality in-market leads. These will become the buyers for which the exporting company will develop long-term connections with, and on whom they will come to depend to champion their products when they can’t be there in person, themselves.

This is where I came in as an Export Project Coordinator. I was tasked with selecting  suitable buyer leads within the Middle East, and more specifically, within the United Arab Emirates, to help our client make that leap to exporting successfully. There’s no denying that the opportunities are great. The United Arab Emirates is a growing powerhouse. With a GNI Per Capita (PPP) of $72, 850, the UAE is ranked 5th in the world, ahead of the likes of the US, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. The nation is largely made up of expatriates at a ratio of 4:1, and is Australia’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. With this in mind, we wanted our client to succeed as much as they did themselves. We shared their vision.

This project required leads with wide networks across the Middle East, encompassing the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC); including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Our client’s ultimate goal was distribution of a wide product range into an even wider network of retailers, hypermarkets, supermarkets, hotels, and airliners. It was essential that the successful distributor have the competency to develop and maintain connections with key stakeholders across these networks, ensuring timely delivery of products. As a result, this scale dictated the need for a sales team to best serve our client’s needs.

In my search to find the ideal selection of leads, I came across a rather interesting insight. I often came across many leads that were quite protective of the fleet numbers, warehouse facilities, the clients and product lines that they take. The companies that really set themselves apart from their competitors were therefore completely transparent with their service offerings. Both my studies and my personal inclination towards branding have taught me that a website’s purpose is to establish the credentials of a company and generate leads to grow their primary business. These factors go hand-in-hand, and without the credentials, I had no inclination to advance these companies into the next stage of selection. I also came to understand through this process the depth of work required to find (let alone retain) a quality buyer. This journey had just begun. Luckily for me, working at Export Connect, and more specifically, working under Najib meant that I had access to 20 years worth of highly valuable connections within these markets to work from and establish my leads. Drawing from this expertise and these connections contributed to our results.

As the research phase came to a close, I had 10 potential leads with the necessary competencies to achieve our client’s goals for growth. In this next stage, we will review the leads and I will make direct contact with those that are successful. I am certainly looking forward to seeing our client grow into this market and far beyond – knowing that I am personally assisting to establish these key in-market partnerships.

On a personal level, this project has benefited me greatly. The planning, preparation and execution of an export strategy is exceedingly rewarding and, I see now, must be constantly evaluated, and not taken for granted in the current business climate. Of course, this varies business to business, and industry to industry. Simply put, some countries may be easier to establish new products within if they are operating in a particular industry, at a particular time, and with a particular exporting partner.  And although I was only involved in one aspect of the research process, the necessary evaluations required to find a lead that compliments our client’s business did require in-depth analysis.

Quite often, evaluations cannot be made by observing a company’s website. Nor can they be made by evaluating their disclosed product lines and infrastructure. Rather, establishing key in-market relationships and gaining a first hand understanding of how they operate will be crucial before further steps can be made. And in this case, by leveraging the knowledge and guidance of an experienced exporter like Najib, this puzzle was ultimately easier to crack. At this stage, we have decided not to mention our clients name as we wanted this piece to be focused on the research process. However, with our leads, I have no doubt that this will become a success story that we share.