A couple of weeks ago to UK companies visiting the UAE for the myriad trade shows that are on at this time of year, and the support available from ‘the anglosphere’: UKTI, BBGs, BCB etc.
Since then, having been involved with two of the biggest exhibitions – ADIPEC in Abu Dhabi and Big 5 in Dubai – I am even more convinced that this represents the best way for British SMEs to make steps into the UAE cost-effectively and with maximum impact. But coming out for the show is one thing, making the most of it is another. Here are three basic tips that I gleaned:
1. Plan ahead. Sounds simple, but some companies still do expect to turn up and for the rain to fall. It might, but why leave it to chance? Use LinkedIn before you come to connect with other exhibitors & attendees, advise suppliers, clients & contacts of your attendance. Make time for and book specific meeting requests rather than just “I’ll be at stand C74 all week“. Get the small talk out of the way in the weeks before the show so you are meeting engaged & relevant commercial contacts rather than tire kickers & the ubiquitous hordes of attendees who sweep the stands for giveaways. Where do all those mugs end up, anyway?
I saw the best example of this at ADIPEC. A Scottish company providing some super-smart mathematical modelling services who came out with the SDI mission spent probably 6-9 months researching the show beforehand. Last I saw, they’d just come off the Saudi Aramco stand with an invite to visit KSA and begin discussions on how to work together. Saudi Aramco, it seems, not only knew they wanted to meet this company, but were also already pretty sure that their service was of interest due to all the work & correspondence in the lead-up. The ADIPEC meet was the culmination of the process rather than the start. Smart work!
2. What’s next? You’ve come to the UAE for the exhibition; you’ve invested significant sums in doing so; you obviously believe there’s an interest in the Middle East markets in what you do/make/sell . So, when the man from the procurement department at XYZ Company says he’s very interested, would like to look at 50 per month and do you have a local trade licence or agent?…….why the look of panic?
Having come out because of the obvious market opportunities, you need to plan that these will come to fruition and that you are able to manage them and meet demand. Therefore, you need to arrive with a strategy: “if this is a success, I will…” – this comes from talking to your industry peers, suppliers, contacts, UKTI, law firms, trade groups and the BCB BEFORE the show so, whilst there might still be an element of blag & bluster, you can look the procurement man in the eye and confirm that 50 per month is no problem and you have the local footprint in place to do the job. Details can come later, but don’t miss the opportunity because you haven’t planned to succeed.
3. Get out there! I’ve never been to Vegas, but I imagine that the exhibition halls are a bit like gaming floors: you lose track of time (but thankfully not money) spending hours in an air-conditioned & neon-illuminated cocoon. The temptation after a day’s slog on the stand is to retreat to the hotel, nail your emails and an early night. Don’t!
Make the most of your time in the UAE by getting out and about. There will be masses of evening events around the show itself for you to network; UKTI will be hosting a reception. Make the most of it. If you can’t face the thought of interacting with another exhibition attendee, then take yourself off and explore: this is a country that you want to develop business in, after all, so you need to get out there. Go down to the Creek or Corniche and enjoy the evening people watching and have some seriously good and cheap food. At the other end of the spectrum, treat yourself to a drink and rubber-neck at the new 5 star hotel that’s just opened up. Just don’t be a stranger. You won’t get the most from your visit and when you do win your first deal, you’ll be none the wiser about the country you’re now active in.