5 Steps to Build Strategic Partnerships for Your Global Business Expansion Plan in Africa

Partnerships to supercharge your business in Africa

Entry into a new market can be very challenging and that’s why the right partnerships can supercharge your growth efforts.

There are a lot of unsuspecting roadblocks that can slow down or ultimately halt your initial business development progress. Besides finding and understanding who and where your customers are, you have to understand the pathways to reaching and servicing your customer base.

Instead of doing this all alone, the successful business developers build out a partnerships system that helps with initial business development and sustainable business growth.

In this article we explore the partnerships route to supercharging your business growth across the African continent.

Back in 2017, Xant.ai ran a study and found that large organizations (revenue > $500M) were dominated by field sales reps.


A lot of global multinationals have been using this partnership approach of relying on external sales in new geographical regions.

The reasoning is simple: “Work with a competent partner that has the expertise to serve the local markets, while your organization focuses on its core strengths such as high-quality production, inventory management, marketing and technical expertise.”

As the world gets more globalized, organizations have to focus on their core strengths in the market while leveraging complementary strengths of other organizations to get to a joint goal.

When organizations want to grow their business across the African market, they start off by prioritizing the top markets that will bring them the best ROI. Afterwards, they perform some market intelligence to localize their solution and build local go-to-market approaches that will give them the best chance of reaching and serving their customer base.

To implement the strategy, they move on to the next phase of identifying the partners that have the network and decision-making powers to build out an efficient and robust sales channel within each market.

Partnerships and trust is key

This usually starts off as an option for initial market entry for most international businesses venturing into a new market. The local partners help with market contacts, deal with national regulations, and provide logistic infrastructure to bring products into the country.

Partnership is always a smart option for global businesses entering a new market. The short-term benefits are direct and visible. Local partners can usually provide quick wins as they tap into low-hanging fruit opportunities.

However, not all partners are built the same.

After initial sales from partnerships, a lot of businesses experience sales stagnation and sometimes a dip in the business. This is because the chosen partner was not selected with a long-term business relationship in mind.

Finding and vetting the right partners is a very important aspect of building sustainable businesses across Africa for two reasons:

1) Business in Africa is very relationship-driven. Trust is mainly built over time. The most successful businesses in the markets thrive because of the simple fact that they’ve just been present in the market and industry over a long period of time. They leverage trust built over years of commercial interaction to continue building their business base.

2) Secondly, the biggest challenge local businesses have is finding, recruiting, and retaining competent human resources and talent for the business. So finding the right partner that has already built the competency of retaining talent shortens your time to market. It also gives you a better chance of building long-term business models along with such a competent partner. Ultimately this serves as a competitive advantage.

So how do you go about finding the right partner for your expansion into your prioritized African countries. 

Here are five steps to find the right partner for your expansion goals.

1) Partnerships Goal and strategy clarity:

Start by getting clear on your goals and strategy for the new market you want to enter and expand in.

By performing some market intelligence, you and your team should be clear on what you are looking to achieve in both the short-term (1 year) and mid-term (3 years).

From your localized strategy, it should be clear to you who the market players are, the barriers to entry, and he type of commercial partner you need to help you implement your strategy to hit your goals.

2) Create your “ideal partner profile”

Create a description of what an ideal partner looks like.

There are different type of partners that can be beneficial to your team’s success. Knowing what the market demands and recognizing the gap an ideal partner fills is very important.

Provide detailed descriptions in the form of bullet points such as:

  • ‚Äúpartner that have the financial capability to import $$$ per month‚ÄĚ
  • ‚Äúpartner that have a national distribution coverage‚ÄĚ
  • ‚Äúpartner that has a strong technical team that can take care of after-sales support‚ÄĚ
  • “partner that’s looking to develop the market in the next 4 years”

The more descriptive, the better.

A lot of companies make the mistake of being too passive in this phase. They wait to be approached by a partner at trade fairs or through contact forms.

The successful business developers take a more active role in sourcing for partners. They know exactly what they are looking for, they put out a partner description and go on an active search to find the right partner for their expansion.

3) Shortlisting partners

Once you have your ideal partner profile, it‚Äôs time to shortlist a few partners to initiate the conversation about possible partnerships. You and your team want to do some due diligence to find the partners that meet the criteria of your ideal profile. You can start this with online searches but the best way to source and shortlist partners is what we call a “community-driven” scouting approach.

Because business trust across Africa is still driven by word-of-mouth and referrals, you want to talk to different players in the value chain and business community to find the right partners. From interviews and face-to-face conversations with prospective customers, suppliers, sales agents, industry experts, you can aggregate and filter out the best candidates for your partnerships.

You can carry out this activity internally as an organization or you can choose to work with a local market research or advisory firm that will help you source out these partners and create a short list for you.

4) Incentivizing partners

Once you have your shortlist of prospective partners, you want to engage them in initial conversations. Remember that you are working on partnerships, so you have to initiate conversations by talking about the benefits for the prospective partner.

Some global organizations rely too much on their brand name and expect prospective partners to understand why they are making an entry into the country. The best local partners you want to work with already have a good sense of the market opportunities, so your job is to make sure it aligns with your goals as you create the right incentives for your partners.

This is where the market insights gathered from your localization step once again comes into play.

Approach your prospective partner with a clear understanding of the market and the local approach that you will like to implement with them.

Make sure the benefits for them are clear.

5) Building trust

Once you select your local partner, make sure your goal is to build long-term and fair commercial relationships with them.

You want a partner that not only has a clear understanding on how to capture the immediate opportunities but also knows how to develop the market with your team to create future opportunities and sustainable business models.

After more time in the market and as your business grows, the type of partners will evolve. You will want more ownership over the marketing strategies and access to the end-users of your solution. This might involve creating local entities within each market and hiring employees to build out the business.

But in the initial entry, finding and incentivizing the right partnerships model to help with implementation of your strategy in markets across Africa is key. Having a streamlined scouting and selection process can be a differentiating factor and that’s what sets the successful business apart as they create and capture opportunities in Africa’s growing markets.

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