How do I find the right business partner in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Anyone wanting to export to Africa will need a reliable local business partner, but how can Swiss SMEs connect with serious representatives in the African nations and work successfully with them? Suhail el Obeid, Africa Consultant at Switzerland Global Enterprise, outlines the four essential steps. 

African nations are promising markets for the future – find yourself the right business partner so you can benefit.
African nations are promising markets for the future – find yourself the right business partner so you can benefit.

Step 1: Check inquiries thoroughly

When exporting to Africa, a collaboration with a local business partner is strongly recommended for two reasons: First of all, Swiss companies often lack market experience in Africa, so they need a partner who is familiar with the situation on the ground and knows how the authorities operate, the infrastructure works, or invoices are paid, but also speaks the language and knows the culture. Second of all, it’s important to have a local representative because, in an ideal-case scenario, they will have good contacts who can take the export business forward more quickly.

Here, nothing beats a serious collaboration between Swiss and African business partners. Initial contact can be made, for example, at international trade shows, where Swiss companies are frequently approached by African business people. If your Swiss company is interested in them as contacts, then you should follow up on them and check their credentials. Hold a meeting with the potential business partner and find out more about the way they work and what their business model is. Critically question whether they fit your product and visit them in the country. 

If you need support with these checks, we can help you, together with the Swiss Business Hubs in Africa. We will check the official existence of a company on your behalf (commercial register), as well as its reputation, trustworthiness, and its solvency. If required, we can also produce an individual list of potential business partners based on specific criteria. The list includes potential partners that have a serious interest in a possible collaboration and meet your expectations. Additional information  

Step 2: Get references 

Do you know of other Swiss companies that are already active in your target market? Get in touch with them, talk to them, and learn from the experiences of other businesses. This might even provide you with further information about your potential business partner.

Step 3: Stay flexible

Don’t stay set on the first potential business partner with the first offer you get. Review alternatives and leave yourself plenty of time when it comes to making the selection, since a good representative forms the basis for successful business abroad. You should also be sure to stay flexible if you have decided on a business partner and not to go straight into an exclusive contractual relationship. This will give you the opportunity to gather initial experiences without having to make commitments lasting years. Swiss exporters may find that after a few months they notice that the local partner was not the ideal choice after all.

Step 4: Nurture the relationship

Once you’ve found the right business partner, you need to develop and nurture this relationship. The distance between Switzerland and the export markets means this isn’t easy – but it is key to good cooperation. Digital channels may make this process easier, but nothing replaces personal visits and contacts. Make use of regular exchange, on the one hand to strengthen personal relationships, and on the other to drive exports. You can use a stay in the area to inform local staff about the latest developments, provide training, discuss sales arguments, and visit customers together. At the same time, you can learn more from your business partner about the local circumstances and developments. 

Are you looking for a business partner?

Contact us! We will support you in your search for a good business partner in Africa. Contact Suhail el Obeid

Do you have questions regarding market entry in Sub-Saharan Africa? Here you can find tips on how to gain a foothold in the African nations and drive your growth forward. After all, markets like Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia are currently developing very positively and are attractive to Swiss companies. Anyone with an export strategy should be sure to take a look at the Sub-Saharan region


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