One would logically think that the most likely consumers of African technology would be Africans. Not so. Africans do not trust each other to provide quality technology.
Last year, we heard that a large company that is almost across the street from us wanted to implement a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. Since we are one of the few companies with experience in that area and given that we worked with several of this company's sister companies in various countries, including the US, we thought we had a good shot at getting the project. We approached them and offered to make a presentation. They explained to us that we were way too small for them and that they were going through an invitation only bidding process. Only European companies would be invited. Because there are few CRM implementations in this country, we thought that we would offer to assist them, at no cost, so that there would be a reference for a CRM project in the country. They refused. They were hiring consultants from Europe to provide project support. OK. Even free, our services are not worth it. Jeez.
A few months later, we received a call from a European company that was bidding on a CRM project in Africa. They did not have any experience and did not have any resources and they wanted to know if we would partner with them. You guessed it. Same client. Same project. We agreed.
We had to prepare the entire proposal and provide OUR references. Our partner company prettied up the proposal with their logo and made no reference to us. They redid the resumes so that our name would not appear anywhere. The proposal was shortlisted and the client requested a presentation. Oops. Our partner's sales folks flew in but, unable to answer any technical questions, had to include us. So we accompany them across the street for the presentation. Client did not hide their surprise. Our proposal turned out to be the best one. We (our partners) won. So here it was. We were not allowed to interact directly with the client so our partner sent a "project manager" to this country. Over a period of six months, we actually saw 4 different ones.
So here we were in this ridiculous process of having to send the project manager emails that he then copied and pasted into his emails to the client. The client would answer and he would forward the emails to us. Then, in the fine European tradition, our partner's project manager had to go on vacation so the project was at a standstill while he went on holiday. Then they sent someone new (after all, this is an African country, you send the people none of your European clients would accept). We lost 4 months on a project that should have lasted 3 as a result of the project management problems.
We would get sign off, send it to Europe, send them our bill. They would send their bill (our bill multiplied by 3) to the client. Client would wire the money to Europe and then, eventually (sometimes months later), partner wired money back to us. We eventually finished the project and the client was very pleased. Of course, our partner gets the reference and they profiled their success on their web site. As logical as it might seem for the client to contact us directly next time, they probably won't. They are too ashamed.
This was not the first time we faced the distrust of an African client. Before this subsidiary opened, we were contacted in the US by a large American software company for training on their technology in an African country. They knew that we had resources that could train in French (language of the client) and asked for some resumes. We sent the resume of our most qualified instructor. I got a phone call from the software company's African training manager. She asked if there was another resume I could send because our instructor's name sounded African. She said the African client complained that for the daily rate we were charging they "expected a White person." We did not do the training.
We do expect some push back from American and European clients when we, Africans, show up telling them we can provide them the best technology. Africans are poor starving people, not innovators or technology experts. We are prepared for that and have been succesful selling to large multinational clients or government entities outside of Africa.
To get this from our own African brothers and sisters is all the more frustrating. And we are no exception. Many other African entrepreneurs have shared similar stories with me. How can we progress if we so distrust our own people?