Sales tiger or not?

Sales tiger or not?

di, 04/10/2016 - 10:35 | BoP Innovation Center
Growing a business at the BoP, like in any market, means you’ll need to sell your value proposition to your target group and therefore sales people are crucial to any type of business. However selling to the BoP can be particularly challenging since people will have limited cash at hand and are more likely to be risk-averse. They won’t just try out new stuff easily – the fear of loss is bigger than the desire to gain.

BoPInc has been working with many businesses, local or multinational, to develop  and implement scalable route-to-market solutions to the BoP. One strategy we’re currently implementing in four countries is to develop a network of micro (franchise) entrepreneurs. Many have heard of the ‘usual suspect’ cases like Shakti, Livings Goods and JITA. We are taking their best practices and tailoring them to our cases and contexts. In these projects we’ve been involved in selecting and recruiting hundreds of sales agents – often ladies. It led us to ask ourselves: How would we describe our ideal sales agent? What characteristics should we look for? 

Personality traits of top sales people

Research from the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business shows that the key personality attributes of top-performing sales people are:

Modesty: contrary to conventional stereotypes that successful salespeople are pushy and egotistical, 91 percent of top sales people had medium to high scores of modesty and humility. Furthermore, the results suggest that ostentatious salespeople who are full of bravado alienate far more customers than they win over.
Conscentiousness: having a strong sense of duty and being responsible and reliable. These salespeople take their jobs very seriously and feel deeply responsible for the results.
Achievement orientation: They are fixated on achieving goals and continuously measure their performance in comparison to their goals.

Having worked in sales positions myself for a number of years, I can only agree on these values. People don’t like obnoxious, slick ‘sales tigers’. They’ll appreciate modest, trusted and conscientious persons. And I believe it’s not much different at the BoP. 

So what does this mean when recruiting (door-to-door) sales agents that need to sell to the BoP? 

You should look for those people that are true believers in what you offer. Don’t pick the ones that have slick sales stories or are looking for quick bucks. Look for the ones that are trusted in their communities, show some modesty and still have a strong sense of duty and ambition. For example, in Ethiopia we found Yewegnesh and Kidist, two sales ladies working with the Ethiopian company Guts Agro,  who took their jobs to sell nutritious foods very seriously. They saw a big opportunity to increase their income and improve the lives of the families they are serving. They created mutual respect and are selling more every day. They embody the three values desribed above and therefore Guts Agro is now using them to further optimize our recruitment and training process.

Least expected

The most ideal candidates might be those you least thought of… BoPInc has been closely involved with UNDP in Burkina Faso to design scaling strategies for the Barefoot College model. Barefoot College has a unique model to distribute and maintain impact products like solar lights. The remarkable thing, however, is that Barefoot College doesn’t use the conventional young, aspiring sales people you’d expect. They use grandmothers! First of all, because they will often stay in their communities and won’t run of to any new opportunity directly. Secondly, they prove to better share knowledge with others. I bet they also score high on Modesty and Conscentiousness...

To enable door-to-door sales agents become successful, many other factors have to be taken into account. BoPInc has been collaborating with MIT PIA to develop a guide on best practices for door-to-door sales agents. So stay tuned,  as we will present the guide in the next few weeks!

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Written by Emile Schmitz