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Chapter 2: How to Negotiate with Distributors, Importers, Representatives and Sales Agents in Senegal.

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You can count on ITC to find the partners most suited to your needs in Senegal.

There are many factors that must be taken into consideration  when negotiating in Senegal. In the article we published earlier this month Why Export to Senegal? We emphasised the need to work through a local partner, especially if you have very little knowledge of the domestic markets and business practices. The local partner can be a distributor, importer, sales agent or representative, whichever best suits your business model, but, above all, should be fully conversant with the Senegalese business world.

In the words of our consultant on the ground in Senegal: “when choosing your partner it is absolutely essential to give full consideration to his capacity and means to make a successful go of the enterprise. It is, therefore, always advisable that interviews take place in his place of business rather than a restaurant or hotel”. One method of entry that has proved to have been successful is that of contacting local producers or manufacturers of complementary goods who then act as distributors or sales agents through their sales network.

It is pertinent to mention three cultural groups that form the majority of businesses in the country. First of all, there are the native Senegalese who are, in general, much easier to negotiate with than the second group: the Libanese. This latter community is well known for its keen business acumen and they tend to drive a hard bargain. Thirdly, we have the second or third generation French immigrants who, to all intents and purposes negotiate in a very similar manner to that of Europe.

The main piece of advise from our local partner when negotiating in Senegal is this: “Patience! After 9 years in Senegal, I have learned that life, and business, is handled in a far more laid back manner than in Europe. That is not to say that there are not good deals to be done, once you find a good client you will usually keep him”:

In general, the Senegalese like to have personal relationships, they are a warm and welcoming people. “They like to “put a face” to the person they are negotiating with. You will be greeted with a handshake (ALWAYS the right, it’s a muslim country) and meetings will invariably commence by asking about family and work….” First contacts are, generally, little more than reconnaissance to get a feeling for the company and to make an initial evaluation of the other party. We would not recommend trying to close specific deals during a first meetings as this may come across as rude or, even, aggressive.

Personal relationships are of paramount importance when dealing with Senegal and you should make the effort to visit them regularly so as to close deals personally.

The language of business is French, so all corporate literature (including webs) correspondence, order forms, invoices, etc. should be in French.

As a general rule, the Senegalese are “cooperative negotiators” that is they like to see that both sides are getting a good deal and wish to work together as partners.. Undue pressure is not advisable.

You may often find that meetings are “crowded”. “This forms part of the Senegalese collective culture in which many decisions are taken by the group”, says our consultant in the country.

However, it is important to realise that the Senegalese have a tendency to be “optimistic”. “No” is not a word that you will find in their negotiating vocabulary. It is, therefore, up to you to make sure you are alert to nuances and interpretations during conversations. Are they really capable of doing what they propose?