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Embedding a problem-led sales approach to increase access to safe water in East Africa

In the second of two blog posts Abhay Nihalani, the Marketing Director at Jibu, expands on the sales approach Jibu have adopted to help franchisees overcome challenges in selling clean water to customers in East Africa.

In my previous post I discussed how Jibu was supported by the Stone Family Foundation and Whitten & Roy Partnership (WRP) to cultivate a core element of our sales strategy: a “problem-led” methodology called Decision Intelligence (DQ). DQ puts the customer’s problem at the forefront of a sales discussion.

For us this means employing DQ to help customers in East Africa understand the potential hazards and inconveniences of drinking from public water sources and decide to switch to a safe water supplier, such as Jibu.

In this post I’ll highlight how we have started to practically test and embed this approach in a broader sales and marketing system across Jibu.

Jibu utilises a franchising business model, which empowers independent entrepreneurs to operate and profit from their own Jibu-branded and equipped water filtration and retail centres.

While this approach provides flexibility to entrepreneurs to leverage their business strengths and creativity to expand the brand in their territories, it can also expose weaknesses when it comes to sales and marketing capacity.

In addition to using ineffective “solution-led” approaches to engage new customers, many new franchisees also struggled to rationalise the investment in full-time field salespeople to focus on customer acquisition – preferring to rely on very infrequent or passive marketing. Even those with sales agents were not aware of performance management processes and metrics to monitor results and measure ROI.

Jibu’s strategy to overcome this involved four key areas:

  1. Learn from Experience, Lead by Example – hire a corporate sales team trained with DQ methodology to rotate to different franchisees
  2. Track Performance, Measure ROI – develop tools to monitor and establish benchmarks for sales performance
  3. Extend DQ, Expand Focus – adapt and customise DQ methodology into sales kits for different markets and priority customer segments
  4. Train at Scale – leverage these learnings and assets as the franchisor to deliver sales system training to all franchisees.

Learn from Experience, lead by example

To understand how to deploy DQ to support our franchisees we had to first adopt it ourselves.

We recruited, trained and deployed a 4 – 5-person corporate sales teams that would help us test DQ, measure the effectiveness of our sales methodology and ultimately support franchisees to increase their production volumes. This team was on a weekly rotation, supporting each zone with a targeted sales blitz that provided immediate boosts to production and sales.

During the process the team trained franchisee staff in the “Jibu way” to do sales, and gathered rich contextual market data on our customers, their preferences and the operational challenges experienced by franchisees.

This helped us iterate on the sales system to better meet customer demands, and solve operational challenges, such as efficient delivery schedules, price compliance and customer service.

Through this approach we gathered information on the profile of an ideal sales person, which came in the form of sales representatives from the life insurance industry, where the strategy is similarly about helping customers see “invisible” risks against which they need to invest to protect themselves from future harm and financial shocks. 

Track Performance, Measure ROI

To understand how to manage the performance of sales agents and establish benchmarks we needed to track every potential customer and order. Moving from paper-based trackers to an online system transformed the type and level of data we were able to collect.

Using mWater, a free online survey tool for safe water enterprises allowed us to develop a simple digital sales tracker and GPS-enabled CRM tool. This app, which was used by each sales agent, allowed us visibility into average sales metrics and where and how our agents were moving through the field.

Over a few weeks, we were able to establish benchmarks for:

  • Number of presentations per agent per day
  • Customer account closure rates
  • Order to sales ratios
  • Average purchase volumes by customer segment

As a business dependent on refills, Jibu thinks about customer acquisition in terms of the lifetime value of a customer (and their usually weekly refill purchases).

Looking at just the annual value of a Jibu customer secured as a result of our investment in the rotating corporate sales team, the initiative yielded a nearly ~300% ROI for Jibu Corporate. It also led to increased awareness and capacity of the sales system across franchisees. 

Extend DQ, Expand Focus

As many of our customers are from middle-income households we first adopted the DQ approach with this segment.  However, there are other customer segments important to our growth e.g. retailers who stock and sell Jibu products and help us expand our distribution coverage, improving convenience for customers and increasing visibility of the brand.

We utilised our sales team to gather intelligence about the challenges of the retailer segment and develop a customised DQ approach that supported retailers to promote the brand and sell Jibu products.

We developed a bespoke Sales Kit consisting of retailer-specific flyers, specialised DQ scripts, payback and ROI estimation tools, supplier contracts, targeted promotional schemes and special offers. We have extended problem-led selling to other customer segments using a similar approach.

Train at Scale

Our final step was to channel the experience, knowledge and assets back to our franchisees, who are the true frontline customer-facing agents in the network.

Our first network-wide DQ-derived Jibu sales training was extended to all 40+ franchises in Rwanda in Q1, with an explicit focus on the retailer customer segment.  As a result, Jibu achieved a ~30% quarterly growth rate in retailers and the highest quarterly increase in the number of retail points we have observed in Rwanda – a substantial achievement in our most mature market, which already has an existing ~600 retail points.

Franchisees gave positive feedback on the training and their salespeople felt better prepared and empowered to sell Jibu products and have the tools and information they need to promote Jibu through retailers. 

We plan to roll out more trainings across our other markets and continue to customise DQ and our sales system for an array of other critical customer segments.

We are also preparing to digitise a Jibu sales management system which will allow all of our franchisees to access customer details and track field sales performance through a tablet or mobile phone, allowing them to deepen their understanding of the business and customers.