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Sales strategies for increasing coverage and providing safe water

To mark World Water Day 2019, in the first of two blog posts Abhay Nihalani, the Marketing Director at Jibu, describes the challenges their franchisees have faced when selling clean water to customers, and some of the tools and approaches they have adopted to increase market penetration.

Jibu employs a franchising business model to enable local entrepreneurs across Eastern Africa to operate their own localised water treatment, bottling and retail facilities in order to rapidly expand access to safe drinking water. Our target market segment across the five countries we operate is lower-middle and middle-income households who currently waste time and money, and risk health complications, from drinking boiled or untreated water from unsafe public sources.

Challenges in Jibu’s sales approach and reaching target customers

Jibu has faced the challenge of establishing a balanced sales and marketing model between franchisor and franchisee (which will be explored in the second post). However, after a period of organic growth that almost all of our franchisees enjoy for up to two years after opening, we noticed a general plateau of sales volume, even though analysis suggested we had achieved only 5% market penetration.

We realised that initial growth had mainly come from savvy early adopter customers in a higher income bracket than our true target market, and that relying on this market segment would constrain our growth.

Franchisees were depending on our exciting new brand, aspirational bottle designs and unique business model to capture “low-hanging fruit” customers, without investing in trained sales agents or pro-active marketing tactics to engage directly with customers in our target segment.

We further discovered that while most of our franchisees were skilled in business and management, they had less direct sales experience.

Strategies to boost sales and increase market penetration

With support from The Stone Family Foundation, we were able to seek the counsel of experts from Whitten and Roy Partnership (WRP), a global sales consultancy, to take a critical look at sales activities across our network in Uganda and recommend new strategies to increase penetration in our target market segment.

There are many interconnected elements necessary to design the best sales system to meet our objectives including recruiting the right candidates with sales experience, designing appropriate incentive schemes and establishing effective field deployment and monitoring processes.

Perhaps most important is the idea of approaching each customer with a customised sales pitch – something we decided to focus on as the most fundamental customer-facing element of the process.

  1. Understanding customers

The critical nexus where marketing and sales interconnect is understanding the customer’s true problem and then offering a solution that meets their needs. It is the role of marketing to understand customer problems and to develop effective products and solutions in response; it is the role of the sales team to help customers understand and adopt those solutions.

Too often however, a sales pitch starts with the solution first, before a customer’s problem is explored by the sales agent or even acknowledged by the customer.

This “push” approach to sales is rarely successful, especially when selling a novel product under a young brand that is not yet widely known. Many customers we approached initially stated they had no issues fetching and boiling water, as it is what their families have done for generations. There was a crucial process of understanding the limitations of this approach with the customer and offering a transformative solution from the business.

  1. Developing a problem-led sales pitch

WRP’s Decision Intelligence (DQ) methodology for sales directly addresses this challenge by taking a problem-led rather than solutions-led approach to sales presentations. WRP’s coaches assisted Jibu’s sales agents to embed the process of calculating the customer’s costs and wasted time associated with fetching and boiling water into the sales pitch.

WRP also helped us to develop a flexible sales pitch script that emphasised asking customers questions upfront to guide their acknowledgement of the potential health issues they might encounter when drinking water from unsafe sources.

Finally, our collaboration with WRP yielded a physical sales tool that helped sales agents remember the flow of conversation while providing some photographic cues to enable the customer to better visualise their problems.

  1. Embedding sales training and empowering staff

The DQ methodology has gradually evolved to form a vital characteristic of Jibu’s model. Today it is the basis for the sales and marketing training that we provide to franchisees and Jibu’s Uganda sales team.

When gathering feedback from trainees once they have started using DQ in the field, the most common feedback is that they feel more confident in front of potential customers and are able to form lasting relationships with clients due to a new-found understanding and empathy for their needs.

In a future post, we will explore how we have leveraged DQ to further develop an effective sales system that re-balances sales and marketing responsibilities between franchisee (typically responsible for direct-to-customer sales and local marketing activities in their territories), and franchisor (responsible for investing in brand marketing and awareness).