In my experience working as a sales person for different multinational companies in Kenya that dealt in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), there are valuable lessons that I learnt in as far as sales and marketing is concerned. Different market segments respond differently to execution strategies. Understanding the demographic qualities of your target audience is key to determining the approach to be used.
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Given that I was often tasked with pioneering the introduction of certain products to rural markets in Kenya, it became paramount as time went by that I had to be innovative in my approach if I was going to succeed. This was a tough lesson as even the market segmentation strategies that I had been previously exposed to bore little fruit. Most of these looked good on paper but failed miserably upon their execution and deployment.
The most important lesson was that building relationships with the business owners and staff determined how well the product performed in informal retail markets. What came out clearly was the importance of the business owner to eventually perceive the sales person as a value add to their business. By this I mean that winning their trust to the point where they saw me as a manager of their business and consulted on matters regarding the adoption of business strategies was a game changer. The staff are a key element in this equation because they are the interface between your product and the customer.
Another strategy that worked well was tapping into the distribution networks that exist within these informal markets. Given the limited resources in terms of market coverage, establishing networks with smaller distributors within these markets and linking them with the established distributors emerged as a win-win situation. By going the extra mile to make initial visits to the smaller distributors and establishing and fostering linkages with the larger distributors through the negotiation of better profit margins for them broadened the market reach of the products I was selling.
Also, promotional materials that were provided by these companies are more valued in rural markets than urban ones. Leveraging these beyond the customer in these markets goes a long way in cementing brand royalty. As alluded to earlier, if successfully brought on board, the staff of small businesses will be key product ambassadors in a way that is cost effective for the company. A good example is that of providing them with tee shirts which they can use as uniforms. This enhances the strategic brand’s visibility and presence in those markets especially if it is coupled with product activations.
It would be wrong for me to paint a rosy picture of the gains made without pointing out some critical aspects that hampered the gains. It is with this in mind that the issue of risk management comes to mind. Multinational companies that are looking to make headway into African markets that are dominated by a huge informal sector need to factor in the risk angle into their operational budgets. This will help them mitigate some of the setbacks that are experienced while establishing market presence such as cases of business closure, poorly coordinated government policy; both at national and county level and the menace that is corruption.
Informal Economy Analyst