Mastering Your KSA Market Entry

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"The Kingdom may have unique aspects, but building a trusted business reputation rests on things that are universal. First is quality: focus relentlessly on the quality of your product or service, every hour of every day. Second is reliability: fulfil every promise on time and every time. The third is customer focus: be one step ahead, give your customers or clients solutions before they even know they have a problem." On the agenda of most companies at some point is entering the market of the GCC's biggest GDP, and the Chairman of Zain KSA, Saudi national and veteran of the region's largest market, has invaluable first-hand experience doing decades of business in the Kingdom. Recently awarded the distinction of Lifetime Achievement at the KSA Enterprise Agility Awards staged in Riyadh, Farhan Al Jarba has some advice for those of you looking to enter (and succeed) in what is arguably the hardest and most lucrative market in the Middle East.


Businesses often rush to expand into the Kingdom and find that they can't gain a sure foothold and market share. Some launch tactics you can use to better secure business development include choosing your base carefully: "Headquarter your business in the capital Riyadh, and expand the retail section starting from Jeddah. Generally, this is a valid tactic for gaining foothold and obtaining market share; however, every business has its own unique situation, market forces should be analyzed thoroughly for a successful expansion." Al Jarba also cautions against biting off more than you can chew by trying to grow at a hyperactive rate. "Although the Kingdom has high business potential, it is still important to launch or expand your business strategically and carefully."

Farhan Al Jarba, chairman, Zain KSA. Image credit: Zain KSA.

Slow and steady wins the race in Saudi, and before you attempt to take on a fresh province or city in the Kingdom, make sure you have established your reputation so that your new associates have credible references to turn to. Al Jarba's best practices include relationship-building, and he stresses that this is a long-term effort and doesn't just manifest itself overnight. "Personal relationships remain extremely important in the Kingdom, and understanding the culture of business relationships is essential. Often, the older the relationship, the better. Young entrepreneurs should start building relationships early, and they should never stop looking for new ones."

There are also practical angles that sometimes escape an entrepreneur trying to penetrate the Kingdom. Simple things like strategizing how to best capture and cater to your customer are often taken for granted. Localizing your offering to the local market doesn't just mean developing a new marketing campaign in the local slang. It means knowing your customer demographics and how you fit into that demographic: "The KSA market, with 60% of the population under 25 years old, [means that] any consumer-facing business must think hard about how to shape its offers for young Saudis."

Farhan Al Jarba receiving the Lifetime Achievement award with Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Vice Chairman of the board of directors, Khalid Abdulaziz S. Al-Mukairan, at Entrepreneur Middle East's KSA Enterprise Agility Awards.

Al Jarba also stresses that it is essential for people in business to continue to build their corporate reputation by continuously refreshing your initial exchanges with associates. "Business relationships are just like friendships, they need to be in good repair. Keeping good records can stop them from fading away. For instance, try to make a reminder list for meeting, speaking, or emailing at least one business contact every day. Time spent in keeping these relationships strong is never wasted."