It takes time, care and respect to build business success in Africa
Give your Africa clients the same respect, time and effort that you would afford your local clients, says Geoff Prissman, director and co-founder of Slo-Jo, creator of tailor-made taste sensations for South Africa’s leading restaurant chains.
When we first considered ‘doing business in Africa’, we did what every other South African business with the same intention has done: we took a birds’ eye view, did some Googling, and made a few phone calls to people we kind-of knew. The result? We didn’t see any opportunity for our particular niche of products.
But then we took a long hard look at ourselves, and how we do business in South Africa.
We don’t do ‘hit-and-run’ product-focused selling to our customers here. We contact them often, visit them frequently, and seek to understand their unique business challenges and opportunities.
We take the time to learn what will work in the business, and what their clients will buy in terms of product profiles and pricing. In short, we share our vision of a concept that will help their business grow – we don’t dive in, sell a product, and dive back out, without any further personal involvement.
We also know from experience that product-based selling doesn’t work. We’ve seen so many South African companies stay in their comfortable offices and send product off to a market they know nothing about, to see if there’s a local demand for it – before they even get on the plane to learn about their potential customers.
We also don’t do ‘market research’ any more in South Africa, because we believe that people don’t know what they want until you show them what they could have. In the past, if we asked people if they would like an unfamiliar flavour combination, the answer was invariably negative, and we’d hit a brick wall. However, once we created a product that responded to local tastes, in a presentation format that people loved, and explained our vision for that product and how it would benefit their business, their response was completely different.
So why would we possibly think that doing business with any other new client should be different, just because they live in another country that has a different culture and a different language?
Our successes in African countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Kenya and Ghana have all come about since we invested our time in visiting each of these countries – multiple times – to gain an understanding of sentiment, trends and tastes in each country.
It’s in these markets that we’ve walked the streets, talked to people, researched local distribution networks, and built relationships what we’ve gained traction. And these are the countries where we’ve introduced our customers to concepts that they’ve fallen in love with, rather than drinks we want them to sell. It’s been good business for us, and for them.
It’s this paradigm shift within ourselves, and in our strategy for growth beyond South Africa’s borders, that afforded us great success so far, with even more potential for growth in the future.
There’s no ‘Dummy’s Guide to Doing Business in Africa’ that I’m aware of, but if I could offer any advice to other entrepreneurs wanting to expand their businesses further afield on our continent (or anywhere else in the world, really), I would say:
Spend as much time in each city as reality allows – and keep on going back for more.
Get out of your hotel and away from global chain restaurants.
Eat and drink local, to get a true sense of local tastes (and I’m not just talking about food and beverages here…)
Take time to understand local culture, and seek to understand what the market is looking for before you try to convince them they need what you’re selling.
Don’t depend on Google or social media.
Before you look for customers, build relationships with local distributors. There’s no point in selling your product, if you haven’t established a local network to get it to your customers.
Build long-term relationships rather than looking for short-term returns.
There’s no quick buck to be made if your business is legitimate. Be patient.