For the sale and distribution of products and large-scale commerce that involve large sums of money take place, human communication and negotiation is key and exiges several encounters, crossings words, statements of intent and the understanding of at least two people, each of its father, its mother and its land. The job of a sales manager includes lots of conversation, transactions and agreements.
To open new markets with intermediaries and to establish trade agreements is not easy. They require high doses of knowledge about human behavior, international trade and the nature of the industry and the product. This week we interview Nadjem M. Salem, our Regional Manager for the Middle East and Arab countries. Beyond the political and cultural differences, the initiative to build a habitable planet by reducing the impact of key activities such as agriculture, is something shared and a point of cohesion between very different cultures and societies. We still have humanity, the same with which agreements are closed and bridges are established through international trade and that facilitate a salesman with Spanish nationality and Saharan origin to close trade agreements for the distribution of agrobiological products in countries with very different idiosyncrasies from the country where he was born and that one from wich operates Futureco Bioscience.
How did you landed in Spain to work in a company such as Futureco Bioscience?
I studied economics in Algeria and did an MBA at the College of Commerce of Marseille. I joined Futureco Bioscience in 2007, applying to a job offer I saw online. They wanted someone with language skills of Arab countries. At that time they were consolidating Arab markets and opening new markets in the Middle East. My profile was consistent with the requirements, I sent the CV and a few days later I joined the team and started my life in Spain. Seven years have passed and I admit that I'm really happy.
Because of the prospects that opens to me and the international dimension of the company. My job provides me with a lot of cultural wealth. Dealing with many customers from different countries and different geographical areas, permit you to learn a lot about the lifestyle of different communities at the same time you are doing your work. Travel enriches greatly.
And exactly what is your job?
I am salesman. I take care and accompany clients with tools such as language, among other things. I track some transactions, detect the unique needs of each client, and delegate their attention to the appropriate department accordingly to their demands. If the requirement is technical, I pass its demand to the technical department, or if it has to do with factory logistics and purchasing, to the corresponding department. Otherwise, also regulatory or documentation and bureaucracy, to the Administration Department.
It's not only about selling.
Not only. You have to fit the needs and take care for the customer. Beyond the quality of our products it also has to do with the quality of the service. It is a very rich work and the truth is that is very entertaining.
What countries do you work with?
Mainly with Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In Africa also in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. We are starting now in Yemen and Arab Emirates, with whom we have contact too. We have important business relationships but we do have an advanced contact to start working with partnerships, but has not yet been consummated. Those are the most important countries anyway. Another country is Sudan, a very interesting market for us too.
Are they trying to expand the market in the Middle East?
Yes, yes. The aim is to expand.
Are military and political conflicts taking place in that areas affecting trade, as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the Syrian conflict?
Obviously, war affects trade of the company, although the most dramatic cases have not occurred in key countries where we are strongly present. Nevertheless, the case of Syria has forced us to suspend our contacts with local companies to enter this country where we were before. Though the Arab Spring has slowed our activity relatively, we have not taken a long time to return to normality.
Will you expand to more countries beyond the Middle East?
Our goal is to enter the Asian countries. Either directly or through partners. We are studying the possibilities to enter the area of the countries that border Iran, which are many, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan. Also we are starting to think in Oceania and Asia. We have also done some market research and a preliminary report to organize our schedules and partnering meetings at trade shows to reach a particular point of interest to us and customers. In South Africa we are also opening south market, and probing the possibilities in countries like Senegal, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
How do you probe those possibilities?
Contacting some companies and identifying specific journals in the area in which we want to advertise and consider posting ads, hire subscriptions for customers and announce the company's business. We use sales and marketing means to enter these markets.
You maintain alone the relationship with all those countries?
Along with our Market Development Director Thomas Martinez, who coordinates the technical side more than me. At a commercial level is more my business. There is an interaction and some tasks that correspond more to sales matters such as give support to customers, and other more related to market development. For example, there is a product that needs improvement, that's another task. Always within the same department, but it is another task. The two of us do both virtually and exchange responsibilities.
You should also work with the Department of Communication and take into account the idiosyncrasies of the countries to fit the right speech to develop advertisements for these potential customers.
Yes, this is another type of work we do with the other Departments. I intermediate, I am a kind of interpreter at that level, beyond language.
What would you highlight about communicating and working with these markets?
The uniqueness of each client. There is no standard or definitive way to deal with each. Each client of every country has its bureaucratic or administrative aspects corresponding to the specific context of the country and its legislation. Every time you have to make a switch for each client and requires you to adapt to his way of working. The differences are not superficial, you have to adapt to each customer.
And how to close deals and do business too.
How long does it taje to close a deal with a new client, from the first contact to start talking about business and closing a deal?
It depends. I would give an average period of three months. Depending on the mentality of the country. There are companies that are used to be more risky. They can risk anything, and others who are very cautious.
There are customers that are risky and are known for their impetus. For others, the negotiation is slow and they don't reach a quick agreement. They are more cautious. They think accurately about the margins and want to ensure all benefits and have a lot of information meticulously, to close business they think a lot. Yet they are easy and pleasant to deal with, very friendly.
How do you see yourself in Futureco Bioscience two years from today?
With a very good perspective and with opportunities to learn and improve. The international dimension of the company stimulates ambition to establish agreements and open more markets. In addition we have a very good image recognized internationally, at least the feedbacks that we got guarantee it, especially in terms of quality of products, nearly a 100% guaranteed, or labeling.
Yes, there are many goods and markets that though they are very small or not too mature they are very interested in us, and the image of a label and its information can determine whether or not a product enters that market. For example, in Yemen. If the label is not pretty or rich in information, or does not transmit the correct content of the product quality, they don't even open the box or they leave intact the bottle.
Wow, packaging is quite important...
In addition to quality. In Futureco Biocience care for the image has helped us a lot at a commercial level, it supports us to enter with more innovations and become stronger. If you don't have good quality products you can not guarantee a stable foothold.
In Middle Eastern and Arab countries, the fact of choosing agrobiological products has anything to do with an ecological or natural culture?
It is the trend now. Before it was classic synthetic chemical products. Now especially in the Gulf countries, where there is enough control and pressure from administrations and governments to ban depending on what chemicals. They will have their time and their moment.
It is a very favorable context for Futureco Bioscience.
Yes, especially the Gulf countries. Not yet in the Arab Emirates, Oman or Saudi Arabia, though there is much awareness of the benefits of biological products and governments are involved in this by establishing laws and regulations for it.
Iran also goes beyond the perception of organic farming. The client also wants innovation, modernity, to grow and take the largest share of the market to generate a favorable market trend and impose their objectives, because the competition is very strong there. There is a significant presence of Chinese companies. You need much more effort to position yourself in the market.
Why choosing a Futureco Bioscience product and not a Chinese one?
The determining factor is the quality or the value. For example in Iran there is much bet for quality. Although there are more expensive competitors but they also have their strategies. There are good prospects.
You have said that the more complicated aspects are the relationships and the legality of free trade among countries. What can you add about bureaucratic and administrative issues?
It is also a big obstacle and varies widely depending on the country. Algeria, for example, is a very bureaucratic country. For an order to be authorized they can spend two months. Many licenses and paperwork that has to handle since there are needed.
It also involves the registration of products for your free marketing in the country.
Yes. There are products that require registration, and other products that do not, depending on each country and each product formulation. The bureaucracy is associated with each order. With every order you need an import permit for the customer to receive it. Was slow in some countries and in others it takes less. There are countries whose registration lasts 5 years. The advantage of Algeria, despite having a lot of bureaucracy, is that registration lasts 10 years. 10 years when you don't have to renew, which is a plus. In Egypt every 5 years you have to register the products that you export. In other countries it is much more complicated because you have to submit complete dossiers of all tests you've done every time you want to record, that means that the registration is not renewed, and you have to run again all the tests involved in registration of the product.
What do you like most about your job?
What gives you travel. Traveling is the best book ever. Traveling to different countries allows you to learn about different societies and ways of life, that feeds the spirit.
What is the most difficult aspect?
You have different profiles and have to adjust to each. That requires a lot of energy and commitment and it can be exhausting. Very rewarding but exhausting. To addequate the ways of the culture and roles in each case.
And it requires a lot of empathy.
Yes This fact also helps to develop self skills. Learn more about yourself with others, know more and expand your vision of how to deal with things and develop more resources.
In what passions do you spend your free time?
I am passionate about reading. Although I am fluent in Spanish, English and French, I read almost entirely in Arabic, and the genre I like most is Arab history.
Do you recommend a book?
It depends on who I recommend it to I will choose some book or other. According to the hearing.
A book that has captivated you.
The ones I have are very captivated local and little known authors. Laa Tahzan from Algharni Aid, a Saudi writer. It is a book that explains how to relieve the daily psychological problems, which serves more to people of Muslim faith and gives some practical tools. The english translation of the title is "Do not despair!". This is the last book I read and gives some reflections on everyday life and how to deal with difficulties.
And a movie?
I watch some movies on TV sometimes, but I'm not a great passionate about cinema.