Let's talk... real business in the Middle East

We speak to Munir Mamujee , MD of m2r Education, a multi-award winning Wakefield-based firm which offers a quality and ethical recruitment service to overseas organisations, within the education and training sectors, as part of our #LetsTalkRealBusiness campaign. It explores the difference between exporting goods and services and top tips for doing business in the Middle East.

How did m2r Education first start operating overseas?

Our first overseas venture came about by chance. An email from a company in New York wishing to hire sales people from the UK was initially met with scepticism, turned into a very successful project and paved the way for further international exploration. The first Middle East market we started operating in was Dubai. Ironically, we were referred to our first client (ITP Publishing) by one of our previous candidates who we had placed in New York. In hindsight, I think this opportunity came just at the right time, as it was prior to the UK’s financial crash which meant our client base almost had a snowball effect and m2r Education grew quite rapidly.

We now operate in 35 countries, most of which are in the Middle East and South East Asia. We have been on at least 20 trade missions and now offer consultancy advice to companies who wish to trade overseas, either independently or via the trade mission route.

The reason why we invest into trade missions is because they are an excellent way to enter a new market and are now my preferred initial point of entry. The high level networking and pre arranged meetings are invaluable and we always have great success. I can say that without the 20+ missions that I have been on, we would not have the level of business or reputation that we currently hold.

On the other side, prospective delegates need to be aware of what is actually involved when participating in a trade mission. They are very tiring and need considerable pre and post work. I have witnessed so many people on trade missions who simply do not use them to their full potential and this is most disappointing. This is the reason that I now offer a consultancy service to anyone who wishes to take advantage of my success, knowledge and experience.

What is different about exporting a service, rather than a product?

In recruitment we are in a unique position where we offer a service foremost to both client and candidate, however it can be perceived that our export is the teacher we supply.

Initially we have a to build a very strong relationship with the client to ensure we have their engagement and then make sure we meet and where possible, exceed their expectations. The same goes for the teachers we work with too.

In service, people really do buy from people, therefore having that close interaction is paramount and we ensure that everyone always has one point of contact here.

We go to great lengths to ensure our teachers are 100% prepared for their new role and have a fantastic experience. We receive great feedback and it really makes our job worthwhile.

Although businesses who export products and / or services must be consistent with their offering, it is even more crucial for companies like us to be reliable as we are dealing with people’s lives. This means that we must be totally transparent and honest with our candidates, so they are as prepared as possible when they get to their destination.

We take time to learn the culture of each country we work in and aim to visit each and every academic institution we supply to. To date, not a single person we have sent overseas has left their role due to being supplied with incorrect information / advice from us. This is a great testament to our service and diligence.

What support is available to do business in the Middle East?

In the UK, there are quite a few businesses both nationally and regionally which support and encourage businesses to export, especially in the Middle East. Initially all support came from UKTI (now DIT). My International Trade Advisor was invaluable in offering support, access to funding and in some cases, just a sounding board. We also work closely with The Training Gateway, based from York University. I have been on many trade missions organised by them and as they are education specific, we always have great success. I would heartily recommend them! On top of this we are the current recruitment partner for TVETUK, a UK trade body specifically aimed at the international further education sector. Our involvement with them has led to us working on high profile projects in Mauritania as well as being able to offer support to any of their members who wish to explore new international markets.

Personally, I think businesses can learn so much from other businesses. Which is why it’s so important to network and not be afraid of asking questions and getting in touch with different people.

If you would like to find out more about what support is available in Dubai, read this blog by Joe Hepworth who is based there.

What are your top tips and advice for other business owners doing business in the Middle East, both from cultural and economic perspectives.?

My first tip would be to do your research. This bit is crucial. Not only would I advise thorough desk research, it is also highly important if you can to visit the country. From experience you learn so much more if you experience it first-hand.

I would also advise companies to explore the alternative areas of the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, as they could offer a different type of opportunity and less well-known. However there is still competition, so you must ensure that your service or product is unique somehow.

Businesses also need to be in it for the long haul, there are cultural differences and you only have one chance to succeed. Therefore, try and have a first point of contact in every area you want to do business in so you always have someone to fall back on for advice.

If you would like to find out if there is a local business person who has contacts in your target market, consider contacting ExportExchange, a free, informal service that links you to experienced exporters in Leeds City Region.

For example, the general culture in the Middle East is that no one will ever say no. So, as I experienced, just because 10 meetings give you a ‘yes’ at the end, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have just won 10 new clients! You have to persevere and decide which ones are actually serious. Also, patience is key. I have found out to my detriment that using UK sales closing techniques are disastrous in the Middle East, you have to build the relationship and gain trust before any business will be done. So yes, I have made mistakes along the way, however I have certainly learnt a huge amount and now use this to my advantage when working with current and potential clients.

Why did you agree to be a patron - a peer-to peer community to help spread export expertise within the region - of Export Exchange?

In all honesty, I wanted to give something back. I’ve always wanted to advise other companies which wanted to export and open their eyes to the opportunities that lie beyond their door steps. I have only been part of the Export Exchange for one month, but I am thoroughly enjoying it so far and I’m really looking forward to the events that are coming up in the future.

When have you used peer-to-peer support and have you found it useful?

I would class myself as a ‘veteran’ of trade missions and to this end I am often asked to mentor new delegates and ensure they have a fantastic and hopefully, profitable experience. I have received extremely positive feedback from those whom I helped, for example one was a corporate trainer from London who openly admitted (and sent me a very nice letter of appreciation), that without my help and guidance, he would not have achieved the level of success that he had on a recent trade mission.

On top of this, trade missions are also excellent for meeting like minded people within your sector. I have set up two partnerships with two training companies that were delegates as well as recruiting staff for others. As you can see, I am a great advocate of trade missions!

If you would like a converstaion about how to sell more overseas, or business support in general, please call the team on 0113 348 1818 or email businessgrowth@the-LEP.com.