Marketers are taught about gatekeepers, purchase influencers and deciders but when it comes to the real business in the African corporate world, the line is seriously blurred. The deciders, influencers and gatekeepers are all united in one thing- demand for bribes. Parroting the benefits of your products, your corporate profile and your marvelous CV does little to shake this cohort. You either play ball or forget the deal.


Obviously this African corporate bureaucracy is a direct assault to integrity-that glossy slogan in most corporate mission statements. As it is, there is no marketing school that can teach you how to maneuver and win those lucrative government contracts. From bitter experience, this is our take:

1 – Have Allies at policy Level
Almost all major purchase decisions of corporates- private or government -are guided by policy as crafted by the board. That is the more reason that marketers must be available to engage the decision makers during their budgeting season. This is usually towards the end of the financial year. Your marketing team should play a critical role in influencing the target corporate policy during the budget. At times, it may not be possible to influence this policy in your favor. Still, you should be privy to the policy direction that the board has agreed upon. Find out what the organization is planning for and craft your role in it. It is a giant step in overcoming the famed African corporate bureaucracy.

2 – Design your product with the need in mind.
You may offer bribes for all I care, but your product must meet the expected need. You are never going to be spared on performance as demanded by the agreement simply because someone was bribed or has interest in the deal. At the end of the day, you have a brand and a reputation to protect. If you find that the corporate bureaucracy demands will injure your brand or reputation, you are much safer keeping off from the deal. No deal is worth sacrificing your brand for.

3 – Say No!


In Africa, obscene requests to inflate prices to cover for those who want bribes are common place and carefully couched under corporate bureaucracy. Cases abound where products are quoted one thousand times over the normal price. Corporate marketers are forever tempted to yield to the demands of the bureaucrats by inflating their prices. It is a catch 22 situation. You are doomed if you do and doomed if you don’t. Whichever the case, protect your bottom-line. You have a business to protect. Say NO to those extreme demands.

4 – Convince the users.
No purchase will be done by any corporate unless it is approved by the end users in the self-same corporate bureaucracy. Once you understand the general direction that the board is taking in regard to the future of the organization vis-a-vis your products or services, you as the marketer must convince the users of the products to recommend your specific product. Actually, corporate bureaucracy – the formal part- dictates that it is the users who influence the policy makers about the product that they need. As a marketer, be very close to the users and make sure you understand their frustrations and expectations.

5 – Discover the power flow patterns.

Power and authority flow in organizations is never linear. Authority involves the duties that are delegated to an individual according to their title in the hierarchy while power is the possession of control that allows an individual to influence the actions of others. Most individuals who are in positions of power often have some type of authority. Conventionally, this is the expected norm. However, the true picture on the ground is not always like that in Africa. The IT director may not be the one making purchase decisions in matters IT nor the HR manager responsible for HR purchase decisions. Never be surprised to find the tea girl being more influential than the manager in this quagmire of corporate bureaucracy. Marketers should be guided by the information on the ground and not titles.

6 – Have your ears on the ground.
The gate keepers are very influential in corporate organizations. These are the watchmen, receptionists, drivers and personal secretaries of bosses. It is important to have these gatekeepers in your pocket. They hold vital information and access which can go further in guiding your decisions. A chat with the receptionist in an organization may give you great insights as to how the corporate bureaucracy in the company works and who makes which decisions and to what extent.

7 – Know who holds the purse.
Once you are certain your product or service is on the budget, you must know who controls the purse. Offering a service is one process, getting paid for the product within the corporate bureaucracy is another matter altogether. You must understand the payment circle of every corporate you are dealing with. It is also pays to know who can fast track or slow down the payment Never jump in until and unless you know the depth of the pit. It’s a jungle out there.

8 – Don’t protest too loudly.


Yes. You may lose a deal, unfairly. You have all the facts and justification. But somehow you have lost. Let those responsible in the corporate bureaucracy know that you were the best although you were overlooked. Keep your protest formal and civil. Painful as it is, resist all temptations to hit the roof and fight back. Never sue the bastards. Remember these are employees. They move. All that goes round comes around. Your day in this corporate bureaucracy will come too. One day.

Article from African Market Media.

For more on branding and other topical business issues, you can reach us at: info@africanmarketmedia.com

Leave a Reply