Emerging Market Sales: Five Mistakes Tips and Tech Can Fix
When global income and livelihoods development organization iDE began recruiting people to sell its “EZ Latrine” in Cambodia in 2009, it built a team which included experienced sellers from fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies. What it found, however, was that sales agent turnover rate was high and results lackluster during the early days of its emerging market sales operation.
“One of the most important mistakes often times that’s made is just recruiting the wrong people,” said Scott Roy, Managing Director and Owner of Whitten & Roy Partnership – a sales consulting firm which helped iDE retool its emerging market sales operation. “What people are looking for are people with experience in sales and what we find is that actually it’s not always the best person to bring in.”
While that conclusion may sound counterintuitive, Roy said it’s a blindspot and one of five common mistakes made in building an emerging market sales team. By focusing on these trouble spots and employing mobile and cloud technology to help manage far-flung sales teams, iDE has sold latrines to over 300,000 customers in seven Cambodian provinces over nine years and increased market coverage from 28% to 65% in that same time period.
Photo: iDE latrines. Source: Whitten & Roy Partnership
During a recent TaroWorks webinar, Roy joined Michel Dauguet, Director of the iDE Global WASH program in Cambodia and Gordon Lau, iDE’s Information Systems Architect, to share strategies and lessons learned from optimizing sales performance through better management and use of mobile technology.
Five Mistakes In Building Emerging Market Sales Teams
Here are the 5 most common pitfalls that Roy said hinder sales efforts in emerging markets.
- Recruiting the Wrong People: One potential challenge of hiring experienced sellers from FMCG companies in developing countries is that what the social enterprise or development organization is often selling is what Roy calls a “behavior change product,” not traditional consumer goods like those the established salesperson may already have experience presenting to customers. Oftentimes a better strategy then using experienced sellers – especially those with consumer products backgrounds – is finding eager novices with an interest and aptitude for selling and then teaching them the tricks of the trade, said Roy.
- Not Knowing How to Sell Behavior Change Products: The approach used to sell a behavior change product differs from other selling methods so it’s important for emerging market sales managers to work with their team to craft presentations that reflect such differences. Take the sale of solar products in developing countries for example. Roy cautions that sellers can become so enamored with these products’ impressive technology, that they emphasize features and benefits as the main reason for buying. To sell behavior change products, though, it’s much more effective to engage people in the problems these products address. In the case of latrines, focusing on a potential customer’s problem with open defecation (embarrassment, threat of illness, etc.) drives home the value of a solution like easy to install and sanitary waste disposal units.
- Insufficient Training and Development of Sales Teams: Training of both salespeople and their managers can focus too much on product quality and not enough on basic techniques for successfully approaching a potential customer, how the seller should organize their day and how the product or service solves a problem. Organizations also fail to develop the people on their team by not offering ongoing training to address challenges particular to each seller. Roy advises managers to listen carefully to what their sales team member is saying about her challenges, watch her sell in the field and not only give advice but have her manager sell the product as well so the salesperson can see a more seasoned seller in action.
- Misallocating and Mismanaging Sales Territory: “One of the biggest mistakes we see organizations make is they move too quickly through (sales) territory,” said Roy. “ … what we would like to do is have organizations slow down and concentrate their efforts … In the solar industry itself, the people who are going to win the day are going to be organizations that stay put in an area, drive stakes deep into that ground and have references, referrals and stories and names that creates a web of relationships in a territory.”
- Poor Data Management: It’s not just how you collect sales and other field data that matters, said Roy, but what data you choose to collect and how you use that data to manage your sales efforts or make other business decisions. Sales data collected in the field can’t just focus on the manager’s data needs and sales goals (like number of units sold and how actual sales compare to sales goals). Data must also shed light on how the seller is performing by tracking metrics like when the team member starts and ends their day, the number of sales calls made and the size of completed sales. Getting this type of data, which Roy calls “input numbers,” can help diagnose seller weaknesses while allowing the sales manager to provide constructive suggestions for improvement.
Photo: iDE latrine sales agent and potential customers. Source: Whitten & Roy Partnership
Selecting Technology To Support Emerging Market Sales
Many organizations – especially those operating in rural areas without reliable internet or mobile data connectivity – begin their sales process efforts on paper. This time-consuming approach makes it difficult for an emerging market sales team and its manager to assess performance in real-time and can bog down sellers in paperwork, cheating them of valuable time to sell. Through our work with TaroWorks, a field service app that facilitates logging a wide range of processes including sales and distribution efforts, and allows collaboration between the sales team and headquarters, we’ve learned there are three important considerations when choosing to equip an sales team in emerging markets with mobile and cloud-based technology like ours.
- Know Sales Team’s Goals and Operations: Technology should be chosen to aid existing business practices – unfortunately there are no instant sales processes. Build your field sales processes first, even if it means using paper and spreadsheets while you’re refining your system. As your sales and business processes develop, you’ll notice that you may need faster sales information, data for calculating incentives or real-time inventory information. At that point, assess technology that can amplify and ease those existing processes.
- Use Technology to Guide the Sales Process: Salespeople are the frontlines of your organization and therefore are in the critical role of building and maintaining relationships with your customers, so the technology they use should support a wide range of robust day-to-day tasks. That means the technology may need to do things like allow emerging market sales teams to log attendance at product demos, capture sales or print itemized receipts for the customer. Additionally, tools like TaroWorks that have a jobs-driven interface will help the salesperson keep to a standard operating procedure and help them prioritize their tasks for the day. When all of this information is synced with a cloud-based database, managers will be able to see activities and results and be able to refine the process on an ongoing basis.
- Provide Salespeople with Access to Information: In order to be successful, salespeople must have the right information at their fingertips for them to do their jobs – especially when they’re not connected to their branch office. This could include automated offline assessment scores so they can give quotes immediately, or histories of previous visits or orders so they can have a more informed conversation with customers. Field service apps that push information out to the salespeople can be a powerful support system so salespeople can make the most out of their limited time with prospects.
Photo: Sales agent for TaroWorks customer Peripheral Vision International. Source: PVI
Lessons Learned Combining Sales Management and Mobile Tech
Building a sales team in Cambodia and managing its growth taught iDE important lessons about how to optimize a field agent sales network and overcome the challenges that crop up along the way. Among the program’s accomplishments in its first four years was improved sales team recruiting, introducing behavioral change sales methods, incentivizing sales performance with appropriate commissions and bonuses and building a dispersed supply chain of over 200 individual contractors. These and other milestones led to a doubling of its original sales goal from 70,000 units to over 141,000 units (approximately $3.5 million and $7.1 million respectively) from 2011 to 2014.
“All of the processes that go around sales are really purely human processes,” said iDE Cambodia WASH Director Dauguet. “There is no such thing as sales automation and sales force automation.”
Dauguet said phase one of iDE’s work was shaping those human processes and “… only then, could we move on to the next stage which was adding a better information system to support those human processes.”
After Dauguet’s team rolled out TaroWorks and its companion Salesforce.com cloud database in phase two of their Cambodia WASH program, it became clear the collected data and resulting analysis could bring needed focus to the processes that were not working well.
“We watched in horror at some point our (sale) cancel rate going to 40%, which was huge. But from this point it was measured and we could act and try to understand the issue and reduce this cancel rate,” said Dauguet.
One of the discoveries that shed light on the skyrocketing number of cancelled sales was iDE’s ability to measure the average time in days from a closed sale to the fulfillment of the toilet to the client. Dauguet explained it took 30 days when first measured but is now 14 days, given iDE’s ability to measure and then act on such data.
“We have developed a keen interest in documenting unsuccessful sales,” said Dauguet. “It gives us invaluable market intelligence about the market we are not successfully servicing.”
Using their field service app and cloud database analytics also helped iDE balance supply and demand issues that had hampered the sales and product fulfillment process. (Read More)
Image: TaroWorks mobile app in use in Cambodia. Source: iDE WASH program.
According to iDE Information Systems Architect Lau, a number of other lessons have come from using technology to manage and fine tune the emerging market sales process.
- Be Data Driven in Real Time: The ability to collect and analyze sales order information in real time (rather than receiving the data via telephone or email for transfer to a spreadsheet) is crucial to gaining quick insights about the sales process and to devising solutions for problems before circumstances change on the ground.
- Decentralize Sales Administration: Configuring mobile phones and setting up field agent user accounts was previously centralized but created bottlenecks and took time away from other tasks at headquarters. When such work was dispersed to the district field level, things ran more smoothly.
- Mobile Devices Can Help Retain Salespeople: Latrine sellers who stayed with the iDE WASH program for a certain length of time could buy the mobile device they were using at work for a discount when they left the company. This program also gave the team liquidity to buy new devices.
- Look For New Data Stories: Team members wondered, “What if we collected data on prospects we could not close,” said Lau. For example, what could they learn if they tracked the number of attempted sales vs. the number latrines ordered. In so doing, they developed a “closing rate” which became a good performance measurement. They also determined the reasons why an order might not have be placed including a lack of funds to make the purchase, product or service issues and other factors the emerging market sales team could address.
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