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Mon 1 Oct 2007 05:16 PM

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Cheap talk

It's time that vendors stopped paying homage to the region and started making investments.

In the space of the past month I've spoken with executives at a handful of technology manufacturers who have used what appears to be all the hyperbole within their vocabulary to express the opportunities they foresee in the Middle East. Sadly, it is by no means a rare occurrence.

Talking up the market is a skill that virtually all vendors seem to have in abundance, especially those with nothing more than a modest local presence. These tend to be companies who refuse to over-commit themselves to the market, but are motivated by the lucid realisation that the region is too inviting to stay away.

Without naming names, the general sentiment from these vendors is that the Middle East is a fantastically buoyant market, business is growing faster than anywhere else in the world and their commitment to equipping the regional channel with all the support it desires shouldn't even be called into question.

I have to admit this scenario is particularly common where senior officials, usually EMEA-level executives, are concerned. There must be something about the Dubai sunshine and a few nights' residence at a luxury five-star hotel that inspires top bosses to go hugely overboard on the rhetoric when it comes to discussing the role that the Middle East has to play in their channel strategy.

Clearly, no VP is going to come here and denounce the region as an insignificant part of their plans, but I do find it irritating to hear so many executives use such indulgent language to describe the market, but draw a blank when pushed for details on the exact investments they intend to make in the region.

It is time for companies to start backing up their rhetoric with the kind of investment - in people, processes and systems - that lends credence to their apparent devotion to the region and supports the growth they speak so proudly about.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about investments on a par with the Ciscos and Microsofts of this world - who have spent years building up their local infrastructure and enjoy a global footprint- but some material evidence, at least, that a plan exists to improve the way they operate in the region.

To be perfectly honest, I find it astonishing that so many vendors still treat the region on what can only be described as an export basis and are happy to leave their operations to fend for themselves, presumably on the premise that if the business is growing quite strongly without any help then why plough more money into it. To me, it's a flawed strategy. And it's not only the smaller companies either. How global multibillion-dollar brands such as Logitech and Seagate can still justify having as many staff based directly in the region as I can count on one hand is beyond me.

Certain functions, such as finance and IT, can be quite comfortably run from Europe or some other centralised location, but when it comes to good old-fashioned channel building and tracking the market then adequate local resources are essential. Yes, the Middle East market remains much smaller in terms of value than vendors are accustomed to in Europe, and there is a perceived level of risk that still appears to breed uncertainty, but if the business is managed properly then offsetting any initial investments shouldn't pose a difficulty.

I appreciate that some vendors simply don't have the financial muscle to go gambling on a region that at the end of the day might not head their agenda, but if that's the case then they should cut out the bravado and be a little less euphoric with their assessments of the market. It is becoming increasingly difficult to take vendors seriously when they crow on about their allegiance to the market, but fail to substantiate it. Either back it up or tone it down.

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