Question: I recently got an email from businessman in Angola who wants to import my company’s products. Everything looks very legitimate but it worries me that he emailed me from an Gmail email address. Should this be cause for concern?
Answer: Western business people are often put-off by African professionals making use of web-based email accounts such as those offered by Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail. Does this matter and should one treat such emails with suspicion?
In the West people expect companies to have professional looking websites and for employees to have email addresses that carry the company name. There is a perception that if someone uses a Gmail account for business purposes the person is not professional. In Africa, as with other emerging economies, this is not the case and people see no wrong in using their web-based email accounts. Because of unreliable internet services, official company email addresses do not always work and many prefer to make use of the more stable services offered by these web-based services. Business cards will often feature both an official company email address as well as a web-based email address. Company websites are also not always of a high standard and many sizeable firms in Africa do not even have websites. This, however, does not indicate that it is not a reputable organisation.
Foreigners should not necessarily be deterred from dealing with African business people simply because they make use of web-based email or if the company does not have a web presence.
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