When doing business in Africa, and gradually expanding into new markets across the continent, having the right business partner is of paramount importance. Moreover, in our space – payments and technology – finding dynamic go-to-market partners is a critical and difficult step. Indeed, it can’t be achieved without a highly strategic approach.
In Africa, as with any region, each market is vastly different, with various in-country dynamics and challenges at play. As a result, not only will each cross-border partner be unique and different, so too will your way of relating to and working with each.
Having worked at this for some time, however, we have certainly gained important insights into how best to approach the challenge.
To begin, we view the inception and development of this particular genre of partnership as a three-step process: Finding, Qualifying and Nurturing.
Get Involved: Finding the right partner
When embarking on the search for suitable go-to-market partners, it is critical to have a clear idea of what you’re looking for.
If you have a poorly formed or vague concept of what this partner might look like, chances are the right matches will elude you.
Armed with a vision, the next step is to ensure that you actually arrive in these markets, and get involved ‘on the ground’, so to speak. In our experience, you can only get so far over Skype or a conference call – it is so important to meet potential partners in person and assess the suitability of the relationship.
From there, both parties need to agree on a sensible escalation of what we term ‘actionable commitments’. These are essentially next steps that, while not too onerous, require both players to put some skin in the game and offer up a way forward.
Beyond Skin Deep: Qualifying the partner
Having identified a potential suitor, the logical next step is to delve deeper into what makes this company or person tick. For us, it is imperative that our go-to-market partners operate with integrity, and that each side operates with trust and transparency.
In these markets, the cost of failed cross-border functions is staggeringly high – and there is little recourse once the damage is done – so the trust factor is massive.
This naturally leads on to the question of culture and values: Do you align in terms of what each partner wants to achieve, and your long-term goals? When it comes to crunch time, even the most solid of partnerships can quickly fall apart if there are differing motives and ambitions.
Closely related to the culture issue is the question of Focus (with a capital F!). Quite often, because of the sheer size and complexity of African markets, companies dabble and work in multiple sectors and operations.
This can be hugely risky for a potential partner. We need to see a strong show of commitment to – and investment in – the partnership and the various requirements of taking a product or service to market.
Here, execution capability is key, and we look for partners who are adept at navigating things like customs, local tax requirements, human resources, fluctuating currencies, etc. Track records are so important…and strong track records are generally a sign of focus and commitment.
Direct Engagement: Nurturing your partners
The final element, which involves nurturing and sustaining relationships with chosen partners, requires a mix of established processes and natural evolution.
It is important, at the beginning, to ensure all the relevant team members are connected and quickly establish workable systems and processes. They also need to know who to turn to if something isn’t working – i.e. set clear escalation pathways.
Once certain structures have been established, most relationships will evolve naturally, and teams will gravitate towards the platforms and digital tools that they feel the most comfortable with.
That said, we believe that setting up regular, in-person meetings between partners should be non-negotiable.
Whilst communication (in any form) is indeed integral to all relationships, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings when nurturing critical business partnerships.
While establishing new relationships in any market is tough, finding the right go-to-market partners in Africa is undoubtedly quite complex – and requires the ongoing commitment of key resources…chief among them, your time.