Targeting consumers and businesses at the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) comes with a unique set of challenges and considerations, particularly for social enterprises. Looking beyond the “low price, low margin, high volume” model, what are some useful frameworks to consider when developing a sales strategy? And what are some crucial elements of building an effective sales team?
OnFrontiers explored these questions during a recent live online discussion with Managing Director of the Whitten & Roy Partnership Scott Roy, iDE Country Director in Cambodia Michael Roberts, and Co-Founder and General Manager of BURN Boston Nyer. The event was moderated by Saida Benhayoune of MIT’s D-Lab. You can listen to their discussion here:
Here are our five key takeaways:
#1: Fully own the sales function in the developing world
While it may be uncomfortable to talk about selling things to people living in poverty, social ventures will fall apart just like commercial ones if they lack good sales. The sales and what happens in “the last yard” between two human beings is “where the magic happens,” according to Scott.
The process of professionalizing your sales force isn’t a quick fix. It requires the introduction of a complete management system for recruiting, training, coaching, tracking and following up on data, etc. So it takes a significant amount of resources and time, but our speakers argued that it’s worth the investment. Mike, for example, found that the sales per agent in an agriculture program in Cambodia doubled following efforts to professionalize the sales force.
#2: Don’t lead with a pitch, lead with the problem and listen
Instead of thinking about selling as pitching and salespeople as talkers, think about selling as understanding problems and salespeople as great listeners. When you listen to people and the problems they have, you’re in a better position to create a solution and customize your product to a particular customer. Train your sales team on how to have a great, problem-led conversation – it’s about listening, asking thoughtful questions, and playing back customer responses. These techniques get customers to think more deeply about their own situation, which motivates them to find solutions. To penetrate the sanitization business, for example, you need to get people to think critically about the various problems associated with defecating in the fields.
#3: Appeal to both rational and emotional decision makers
We often forget that consumers are not always rational but also make emotional decisions. Boston shared the results of an pilot he conducted among his salesforce. He had one team of three people who had been selling cookstoves for nine months using a product-based sales pitch. A second team of three people using an emotional-based sales pitch for the same product was able to catch up to and surpass the first team within three months.
Scott agreed with the need to appeal to both rational and emotional customers, calling it “emotional logic.” He recommended discussing the problems faced by the customer (emotional aspect) combined with a calculation of how much the problem is costing the customer (logical aspect). A great sales presentation, Scott said, will guide the customer through the following question: is the problem serious enough and costing you enough that you want to do something about it?
#4: Establish a systematic approach
As engineers by training, our speakers advocated for systematic sales approaches with clear steps and tools to diagnose and fix problems. Scott described a model he developed called RACE, which stands for results = attitude + competence + execution. He uses this framework to spot and take action on problems within various organizations.
Mike and his colleagues used these concepts combined with trial and error in the field to develop what he calls “equations for success” for each of their programs. To be successful in selling water filters, for example, their salespeople need to have a certain number of village meetings per week, a certain number of prospective clients attend each meeting, and a certain number of clients that they convert. They can then track those numbers, identify exactly where they’re missing benchmarks, and provide specific tools to improve that aspect.
#5: Be strategic about recruiting
Our speakers warned against recruiting for experience. People with a background in selling fast-moving consumer goods are often trained for quick pitches. Instead, recruit people with the qualities important for good sales – good communication and organizational skills, a positive attitude, an eagerness to learn, etc. Hiring from the private sector or straight from universities and thinking strategically about incentives and compensation can be helpful. All three panelists agreed that it’s a significant challenge and can’t be improved overnight but that it’s worth taking the time to develop good practices.
Featured image taken by Russell Watkins, courtesy of Flickr user DFID – UK Department for International Development.