Doing business in the UAE

From the concept of “Dubai time”, to the promise that a deal will be done “insh’alla”, business over borders can present as many obstacles as it does opportunities. Here, etiquette coaches and exhibitors from The Big 5 give their tips to those branching out for the first time

It’s home to some of the world’s tallest buildings, biggest businesses and the majority of global oil reserves, but not everybody who trades in the Middle East finds the cultural shift easy to adapt to.

The Big 5 attracts visitors and exibitors from all over the world and bad business etiquette can cost contracts and cash.

So how do you successfully break into new markets when you’re not sure how to address clients, when or if to shake hands or when the weekend falls?

Michael Lorrigan is managing director of Spearhead Training, provider of business etiquette courses in the Gulf. He says: “Business here has its own etiquette and culture, and successful companies are the ones who show flexibility and tolerance to understand this.

“The problem with big companies and corporations is they seem to have this notion of ‘one size fits all’.

“I am a great advocate of: ‘think globally, act locally’. The world is made up of diverse cultures and nationalities and showing some respect for where you are living locally is vitally important. I attended a seminar this year where the chief executive of a leading international management institute told the audience a story about a pig — not very culturally sensitive in an Islamic country!”

While there may be challenges, global markets mean global competition and businesses today can’t afford to miss out; or mess up.

Lorrigan adds: “It really doesn’t take that much to have empathy with the cultures that we see here in the Gulf and you can easily break barriers; I half jokingly tell managers on courses to read the sports pages and learn about the sporting heroes of clients.”

Lost in translation

If national stereotypes are anything to go by, there are few more diverse than those of the Middle East compared to Europe. Darius Khanloo, managing director for Hörmann Middle East, began working internationally in 2003. Initially handling European operations, he moved to Dubai in 2005.

“In Germany, everything is organised and has a system, hence you know what to expect. Here, you have to be on your toes at all times because unexpected things are always bound to happen,” he explains.

“At home, the main focus is the reputation and quality of the product; in the Middle East relationships come first and products second. Here it is more important to get to the person in charge of specifying the products or purchasing, than building a relationship with them.”

Having built their whole business on export growth, German company Carl Stahl GmbH is well versed in foreign markets.

Thomas Krieger from the company’s management business unit gives three tips: “Hold onto the ‘German mentality’, because the clients appreciate that; cool down when you receive huge enquiries and remember that in business, sustainability is better than speed.”

International brand recognition also poses problems when selling a product in new markets. Without a reputable identity, many companies see unknown brands as a gamble, no matter how established they may be in their domestic market.

“For us, the main challenge is reminding customers that goods made in Germany are not comparable with good from the Far East,” Krieger adds.

One thing new brands can do is gain international accreditation. Kuwait-based refrigeration company Coolex gained ISO certification to help its expansion. Managing director Her Highness Sheikha Intisar Salem Al-Ali Al Sabah says the importance of brand recognition in Kuwait means locally-manufactured products are overlooked.

“In other Middle East countries; the markets are more widely open to the international and local manufacturing products,” she says.

Yet big names are not the bottom line. Lorrigan believes an understanding of cultures and practices will break any barrier.

“You can’t come in as a big corporate name and ‘assume’ you will be accepted. Businesses which are new to the region need to understand how business is conducted here. Things are changing, but to do business effectively you have to build trust and long-term relationships, whatever your size,” adds Al Sabah.

A little respect

Everyone conducting business in the region has their own advice for the next company eyeing new markets. But for the exhibitors this year, the overriding motto is respect.

Edgley gives three tips: “Understand the culture of the people as well as the market; understand what motivates local people and what is important to them; be aware of cultural differences and be prepared to modify your own behaviour and mentality accordingly.

“In the Middle East customers have a greater expectation of the support they want and environmentally it’s a more demanding market, requiring a higher specification of product.”

Citing his top three tips as “customer, customer, customer,” Lorrigan concludes: “Respect comes from working with trust and integrity”.

Tips and challenges

Francois Xavier, sales and marketing director, CLIMATECH

What are the main challenges of doing business in the UAE?

We always need to adapt to our customers’ way of doing business

What are your top three tips for dealing with different business cultures?

• Know the cultural, political and economic environment of the country that you plan to do business in.

• Adapt to your potential business partners’ requirements

• Prepare to be inventive and constructive in all situations

Canan Tekdemirkoparan, international marketing manager, Dizayn Group

What are the main challenges of doing business in the UAE?

The culture, purchasing habits, customer expectations and legislation can all pose diffferent challenges.

What are your top three tips for dealing with different business cultures?

To analyse the country and the market, to understand the culture and needs of people and to understand their lifestyle is very important for making business in differentcountries. Of course legal issues are also important factors.

GianPaola Pedretti, brand manager building & construction exhibitions, Veronafiere

What are the main challenges of doing business in the UAE?

The harmonisation of the international building and construction market: same rules, same procedures, same safety standards and same quality.

What are your top three tips for dealing with different business cultures?

Try to find a balance between your needs and habits and those of the people in front of you. Negotiate everything in order to have the same amount of advantages and disadvantages as the counterpart.

Marc Trap, managing director, Trap Hardwood Industry

What are the main challenges of doing business in the UAE?

Building a personal relationship based on trust and commitment and being in it “for the long run”.

What are your top three tips for dealing with different business cultures?

Listen before speaking and invest time and money to support the sales. Finally, always think long term

Nicolas Seyfried, sales manager, KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH

What are the main challenges of doing business in the UAE?

The main challenge is to keep in pace with the demand originating from the Middle East.

What are your top three tips for dealing with different business cultures?

Be respectful, be fair and be patient


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