After two years of pandemic, it seems that this year 2022 business trips are being resumed for market prospecting, contacts, trade fairs, congresses, etc. In fact, at IBC we have been collaborating recently with companies and public institutions in the preparation of business trips, especially to West Africa.
If we focus exclusively on the preparation aspects of business trips, leaving aside all health aspects, visas, travel logistics, etc., the first thing to do is to be clear about the purpose of the trip, i.e., if we go to a trade fair, we must prepare certain aspects that are more complex than a trip to hold a series of meetings for market prospecting or to build customer loyalty.
Assuming that the objective of our trip is to open up a market, specifically an African country, the first thing to know is that if we want to do business with African countries we must travel to those countries, although the pandemic has served to maintain videoconferences in the African business world, it is preferable visit them and have face to face meetings. It should be borne in mind that visas in African countries have a cost and can be obtained in some cases at the airport of destination and in other cases through the African embassies in our country or in another European country.
If we are clear about the African target country, the next task we need to do is to dedicate sufficient time to analyse the country well and get to know its socioeconomic variables, cultural aspects, etc. and of course, gather all the information available on the sector (barriers, market size, target public, main operators, distribution channels, prices, competition, etc.) This assignment can be undertaken by the company itself, consult with the Spanish Commercial Offices abroad or contract the support of specialised consulting companies. Please bear in mind that in many African countries the information on the Internet is scarce and is not updated, so it is highly advisable to have external support, applying the famous African saying ” If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Once the country and the sector have been well analysed, we must identify the companies and entities with which we must meet in order to understand the sector in the target country, which is essential to contrast the information gathered and expand it, especially in African countries. Obviously, it is advisable that the person travelling on behalf of the company is fluent in the corresponding language. On the African continent, English is commonly used in Northeast and Southern Africa, but our clients that are doing business in West and North Africa use French. Portuguese is spoken in certain countries such as Cape Verde, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and some others. For each company or public institution that we meet, it is necessary to make a script of topics to be discussed and reconfirm the meeting before travelling and during our stay.
You have to take into account local customs and analyse well how to do business in the African country where you are going. Habits are not the same in Cape Verde, Senegal, Morocco or South Africa, but in general Africans prefer first to empathise with the counterpart before closing any deal, you have to be clear that the deal is beneficial for both parties and therefore you will probably have to travel more than once to close deals, so perseverance and patience are essential in Africa. Obviously, avoid discussing politics and other sensitive issues that do not affect the potential deal.
If the trip has been fruitful because we have detected potential sales or intentions, it is necessary to analyse these opportunities well, just as we do in our markets where we usually compete, so it is highly advisable to check the viability of the business, analyse the client well and ask for external reports if necessary.
Once you return to the office, you need to follow up on meetings that have been successful, which, in our experience, many companies forget to do as local issues become a priority again and you tend to “forget” the opportunities on the business trip. Bear in mind that there are other competitors from different locations who will have taken a similar approach. There is a Sudanese proverb that says, “Many words do not fill a basket”, you need to be diligent and show interest and not just words.
In short, these are the essential points to prepare well for a business trip to Africa:
- Managing visa and health requirements in advance
- Define travel objectives
- In-depth country and sector analysis
- Selection of entities and agenda of meetings
- Empathising and negotiating fair deals
- Follow-up of commercial opportunities
- Patience and perseverance
In short, preparing well for a business trip and following these guidelines can help open up opportunities in Africa, a continent with enormous potential in many countries and sectors.