How to Start Selling In the Middle East – 6 Things to Know


Selling is a skill. If it is mixed with a pinch of intelligence and region-wise customization, the seller becomes invincibly smart in this skill. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) or Arab countries, for that matter, provide a large market for almost all kinds of commodities and services. The growth rate of these countries has increased rapidly and recently they have accepted the e-commerce businesses as well. In such a scenario, it is important for companies and manufacturers to understand how they can start selling in the Middle East or what are the business opportunities in the Middle East to make good profits.

When you plan to expand your business in the Arab countries, you first need to understand the culture and traditions of the region. Selling a particular product in a way that attracts the residents of the country is a fast and sure shot approach to get successful.

Things to Remember While Doing Business in Arab Countries

I. Collectivist Culture

Unlike the USA, Middle East countries are collectivist in nature. They show a high degree of commitment to their families, groups and tribes. Hence, while selling to the Arab countries, it is important to honour the family traditions, the elders and the collectivist nature of the people there. Collectivist nature can be taken care of by depicting a family using a particular product in the website or packing or customizing a product for a family or group usage.

As an example, you can see the difference in the marketing strategy of Nissan for Saudi Arabia and the USA for the same car. The picture of the car used for Saudi Arabia has a family in the car, whereas the same car is empty in the picture used for promotions in the USA.


II. Religious and Linguistic beliefs

For most of the Middle East countries, Arabic is the first language. However, many of these nations know English and use it in routine; they still prefer Arabic over English. While selling anything in the Arab countries, it is good to have packaging with Arabic on it and language friendly website for the Arabs. If you do so, you will have an advantage over your competitor who doesn’t acknowledge the linguistic tradition of the region.

The major religion of the countries in the Middle East is Islam. Hence, any Middle East business need to keep in mind the religious faith, festivals, customs and traditions of Islam in mind. For example, most organizations in the Arab countries are closed or half working during the month of Ramzan as the Islamic people observe strict fast during this time. Rarely any business is fully functional. Therefore, companies must ensure not to disturb the Arabs during Ramzan before looking for business opportunities in the Middle East.

packaging for Arabian countries

III. Luxury is a Necessity

Arabs come from a society where respect and honour are the utmost things. Wealth and luxury are ways to depict status and respect in society. Additionally, most Arab countries are rich and can afford luxury as a basic necessity. Thus, businesses selling luxury do really well in the Middle East as compared to other businesses selling economic products or those that do not define the class.  Sellers can ensure a hint of luxury in their products by one or more of the following ways-

  • Fancy packaging – Packing a product in rich and expensive looking packages, customized only for the Arabs is one way to make the products look classy.
packaging for arab countries
  • Compelling features – You can redesign your product with some compelling and unique features to meet the needs of the locals. Spending some extra time and penny in doing so will be worth it.
  • Expensive setting – You can include the imagery of your products in a setting that makes them look expensive.
  • Testimonials – Try to collect testimonials of customers who testify the product as luxurious and classy. The experience of current customers influences new customers the most and they get convinced about the product being classy.

IV. Emphasize relationship more than the deals

Just like Indians, relationships matter more to Arabs instead of deals. However, now the focus is gradually increasing on the quality, after-sales service, cost-effectiveness, maintenance cost and support, etc. still relationship holds the utmost priority. If a company is able to establish good rapport and connection with an Arab, he is sure to crack the deal. One of the following ways might prove helpful to businesses in engaging their Arab prospects with them.

  • Email marketing – Sending frequent and regular emails about the products and services you have to offer them is a good way to establish relations. Additionally, you can also touch some personal points like your prospect’s birthday or special occasions like New Year or Eid through emails. By doing so, you are conveying to your prospects and customers that you are not just about selling your products or services but you care for the relationship as well.
email marketing to sell in middle east
  • Strong customer support – Arab countries are new to e-commerce industry. Hence, many of them are still in a dilemma about trusting the people behind the fancy websites. If a company provides them virtual as well as after-sales physical support, they are likely to get influenced quickly. Giving a live chat option and telephonic customer support can enhance their trust in your authenticity and they will come back to you again.
customer support
  • Face-to-face meetings – If that is possible, the best way to crack a deal with an Arab businessman is to sit with him for a tea or lunch and build personal as well as a professional relationship.
face-to-face meeting

V. Avoid Uncertainty

UAE and Saudi Arabia, the two big nations of the Middle East group of countries, both stand on the score of 80 in uncertainty avoidance dimension. In countries with high uncertainty avoidance index, people tend to stick to rules, work hard, accuracy and punctuality are the norms and overall social and financial securities are important. Therefore, while dealing with such people, it is important to make each and everything clear. Whether it is about the product or about the deal, Arabs prefer straight and clear discussions. Businesses can achieve certainty and clarity for the Arabs by implementing the below points.

  • Try to use Arabic in every document, along with the English version.
  • Products with pricing mentioned in the local currency get an advantage over the others with pricing in USD or any other currency.
  • Do not keep any hidden pricing for shipping or customs or after-sales service. When not clear, include an estimate of the pricing but do not leave any open ends.
  • Keep the language and images on the packaging and the website straight and clear. Do not leave any room for confusion.
uncertainity avoidance

VI. Legal methods to do business in the Middle East

To start selling in the Middle East and doing profitable business in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, it is important to obey their laws. Legally, it is possible to sell in these nations using one of the three ways below:

law - legal methods
  • Direct Trade – You can choose to sell to Arab countries directly from your home country through e-commerce. Though e-commerce is yet to establish its strong foundation in the Middle East, it is still a growing business with a lot of scope in the future. You can advertise your products through your website and social media and sell them by directly exporting them to your customers and clients. In case you lack the exporting knowledge that is needed in this business scenario, you can choose to hire an Export Management Company (EMC). EMC acts as a part of your company and handles the entire export-related job.
  • Commercial Agencies – This is a common method of selling in Middle East countries. Most manufacturers from the US involve a middleman or a trading agency or authorize their distributors in the Middle East to sell their products and services. In this case, however, the manufacturers need to share their profits with the intermediary party. And therefore such a business is less profitable.
  • Physical Presence – If you are wondering how to do business in the Middle East to get the most profits, this is the best answer to your worries. The physical presence of your company in one or more of the Arab countries gives you a cutting edge over others selling to Arab remotely. US manufactured products have an excellent reputation when it comes to technology, advancement or luxury. Still, they face tough times in the Middle Eastern countries from their European or Asian counterparts. This is due to the fact because European and Asian manufacturers have a larger presence in the said region. Physical presence is preferred by the Arabs because they consider relationships over the quality of products. Additionally, there are no direct or indirect intermediaries to share your profits with and thus this method is the most beneficial for foreign manufacturers looking for business opportunities in the Middle East.

Moulding and altering the marketing and selling techniques as per the lifestyle and traditions of your market is a smart way to increase your chances of success. The Arab countries are strict in following their traditions and value relationships more than anything. As a seller, if you keep in mind their likes and dislikes, it can work in your favour and can make your business grow manifolds in the Middle East.