Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dean Foster's perspective on doing business in Nigeria

London, England (CNN) -- In a business culture where negotiations are fluid and what's agreed on Monday might not necessary mean the same thing on Tuesday, how do you get the job done? It's a challenge some foreigners encounter when doing business in Nigeria.

However, things don't have to be difficult explains Dean Foster, president of the cross-cultural training company Dean Foster Associates and author of "The Global Etiquette Guide to Africa."

According to Foster, as long as you understand the cultural etiquette, doing business in Nigeria can offer vast opportunities. But, he says, success comes down two key factors: contacts and commitment.

"The bottom line is that you cannot expect to go into Nigeria, make the deal, turn around, walk out and expect things to go as planned," Foster told CNN.

"If you're committed to business in Nigeria you have to know that you're entering an environment that requires your constant attention and constant renegotiation. Adaptability and flexibility on your part is key," he continued.

Knowing the right person is also fundamental, according to Foster, who says personal relationships are often more important than regulations and laws. It's something, he warns, many outsiders may feel uncomfortable with.

"You have to be wary of the old tradition of 'dash,' which in Nigeria essentially means putting money in the hands of an individual," he said. "It is of course in many respects illegal, but it is still quite a common convention. And the degree to which you, as a business person, want to co-operate with this will determine to a great degree the success you have in Nigeria."

But despite the challenges, Foster is adamant business in Nigeria can be a rewarding experience -- and not just financially. "The people are fantastic -- you realize that the social networks and relationships you put so some much energy and time into, are in fact is part of the great reward. You'll build friendships and relationships that will last a life," he told CNN.

Our 50 cents.

Most Nigerians of the caliber that you are likely to do business with speak some level of English language. It is the lingua franca in Nigeria. Greetings are by handshake and occasional embrace if already familiar with the host. Pecks and hand-kissing are rare, except among those that have lived in societies where such practice is commonplace. While in a meeting, avoid discussing politics, puns, tantrums or condemnation of any politicians and government as you may never know where the allegiance of your host lies.

Do not be surprised to listen to your host make frequent reference to God during the meeting. Nigerians are deeply religious and are mainly Christians and Muslims. There are more Christians in Southern Nigeria and vice-versa. They are very optimistic people and have once won the top spot as the happiest people on earth.

Nigerians like to be told that their city and country is good and you look forward to another visit. They also like being told that they are hospitable and kind people. If you must discuss extra business issues, let it be sports, especially football and the European league! These may earn you more attention and possibly quicken the negotiation process. Any gift, no matter how small, from your country is appreciated. Nigerians are great hosts and you would be amazed at the reception that you may be accorded, especially if on their invitation.

Final Thought: Dean Foster may be right in his assessment of Nigerian culture in relation to conducting business in the country but this assessment may not be deep enough as Nigeria is highly multi-ethnic, therefore multi-cultural. It takes a local analyst as a product of the environment to provide a true assessment of Nigerian business and culture. This is where our consultancy, Infoplus Business Services come in handy to offer assistance to discerning business people looking to enter the Nigerian market. 'Don't do it all alone, take a local with you' should be your watchword.

You may reach us on inquiry@ibgnigeria.com or call us on +234 1 8782864.