In the previous post in this series, I shared some thoughts on building a local user base for your business in Africa. The key takeaway was the importance of first determining “WHO” your target users are, and whether there are customers or consumers (or both) of your products or services. In this piece, I will share a few brief thoughts on “HOW” one can acquire and retain these users, borrowing occasionally from my personal experiences at IBM and more recently SuperFluid Labs, a data analytics and technology consulting firm serving enterprises mostly in East and West Africa.
Once you have identified the key stakeholders (usually the end-user or “consumer” of your service or product) within a target enterprise you wish to do business with, the next question is how to proceed. The importance of a warm introduction cannot be overstated. It is often said that in Africa, it’s all about “who you know” and not “what you know”. Well, I posit that this is not only globally true, but it is about both who and what you know, especially when you are looking to serve the B2B market. You can tap into your professional network, alumni associations, religious community or family to identify a trusted individual in the same enterprise or industry who will be able to make a formal introduction or recommendation to a key stakeholder. Another important avenue for meeting potential clients is attending conferences and events within the target clients’ industries.
Once you have been introduced to a key stakeholder within the enterprise for your business, the business development (BD) process or “sales cycle” is typically comprised of the following stages:
1. Stage 1 (First meeting): This is typically an informal in-person introductory meeting with the key stakeholder or contact at the enterprise, where you generally provide an overview of your business and its offerings but also learn about your target enterprise, particularly their potential appetite or need for your services. If all goes well, this meeting ends with you identifying a common ground between the enterprise’s needs and your services or products,
2. Stage 2 (The Pitch): A subsequent meeting is arranged involving a larger group of key decision-makers and senior management, usually a few weeks later. During this meeting, you will typically need to provide a formal slide presentation and/or live demonstration of your product to this larger group of decision-makers and field a number of questions. This session also presents a valuable opportunity to more learn about the enterprise’s own history, current vision or strategic priorities. It is not uncommon for multiple such meetings to be held in order to cover all subjects of interest.
3. Stage 3 (Proposal): Should that larger pitch to the senior management be successful, you will commonly then be invited to submit a formal proposal that not only speaks to your business’s offerings, but also the enterprise’s particular needs based on your previous conversations or correspondences. Sometimes, the requested proposal will already need to include a financial proposal, timelines and other resource needs.
4. Stage 4 (Iterations and Refinement): Usually a smaller sub-group of stakeholders will be assigned and they will be responsible for reviewing the submitted proposal and providing feedback. Depending on the nature of your own offerings (e.g. whether you are selling a well-defined product or bespoke services), this stage can be relatively short or quite long with several rounds of iterations spanning a few months. Sometimes you will experience long periods of “silence” and it will be important for you to follow-up regularly to check on the status of your proposition, find out with which stakeholder it may be “stuck” and what, if anything, you can do the keep the process going until a final decision is made.
5. Stage 5 (The Close): Congratulations if you have made it this far. It means the enterprise client has decided to purchase your products or services. Usually, a contract will be drafted between your respective legal or procurement teams and signed by your designated representatives.
Delivery and User Retention
The key cornerstone of retaining your existing clients and acquiring new ones, especially when serving enterprises, is having an excellent reputation. A bad reputation is as powerful as a liability as a good reputation is an asset, if not more. So it is crucial that your business becomes known as one that provides high quality products or services, guarantees that you will deliver on your promises and precisely to your contract terms without cutting corners, and finally engenders confidence as a trusted partner or vendor which is dedicated as much to its clients’ success as it is to its own. This is especially important when your business is serving a relatively “small” marketplace, and word-of-mouth and referrals are everything.
I hope these brief thoughts are helpful for young businesses out there looking to build the next technology empire on the continent.
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