Building an effective sanitation sales team

Posted in — Cambodia Sanitation > Sales
March 18, 2019
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Photo by Chris Nicoletti/iDE/2017


  • Recruit people with empathy for others and have the ability to remain motivated despite the fluctuating nature of sales.
  • Selling is a skill that must be learned with ongoing monitoring and coaching.
  • Effective sales needs management support that adapts to changing market conditions.

During the Cambodia pilot project, iDE’s sales strategy focused on recruiting village leaders to serve as sales agents, since they were natural leaders with influence. While some village leaders were indeed effective sales agents, there was a lack of consistency, and often they were less motivated to sell outside their village, posing challenges to scale such a model. As we moved to expand sanitation marketing from two to seven provinces, the team focused on recruiting against a specific profile—those who demonstrate persuasive public speaking skills, the ability to work at least half time and travel beyond their own village, exhibited empathetic ways of relating to customers, and had the ability to remain motivated despite the fluctuating nature of sales. The revised recruitment strategy did not preclude village leaders from becoming sales agents, but recruitment no longer targeted them.

Experience throughout the next several years showed that often the most successful and dedicated sales agents were young, university-aged women who had dropped out of school. They often had more time and energy to devote to sales than village leaders, some electing to even stay overnight in a village to capture higher sales on the weekends. As women, they could also easily relate to the women in the households, who often had more reason to need a toilet that was convenient and located nearby. Thus, to recruit more similar-minded sales agents, the program prioritized recruitment activities at universities and through the social networks of existing sales agents.

Ongoing coaching, not just one-off training, is key to success for both sales and general management

Successful sales skills cannot be taught in a single training or even a series of trainings. Rather, selling is a skill that must be learned with ongoing monitoring and coaching. iDE worked with Whitten & Roy Partnership (WRP) to professionalize the sales approach by establishing a tiered sales management structure that provided the ongoing support necessary to grow sales.

Learn more about how to develop effective sanitation sales techniques.

Addressing high sales agent turnover

Sales, regardless of industry and market, generally sees high turnover because it requires initiative, persistence, and an ability to deal with unstable incomes. For much of the program, high sales agent turnover was a challenge given the low-commission rates and the lack of interest from latrine business owners to manage sales. In an effort to reduce turnover, iDE tested a number of strategies during the first phase of the program:

  • Increasing coaching and management support for the sales agents from project staff
  • Increasing the commission paid to sales agents
  • Reducing the waiting time for sales agents to receive their pay by requiring customers to make a deposit, which the sales agents keep as their commission
  • Increasing work hour flexibility so that sales agents could work from half-time to full-time and at times that were convenient to them

iDE Cambodia found that all of these changes helped in recruiting new sales agents but the most effective factor in reducing turnover was increased management support. Sales agents that met with their managers more frequently (ideally daily) to receive coaching and encouragement were more likely to stay with the job longer.

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Photo by David Graham/iDE/2014

Balancing results-based pay versus a salary approach

The project initially developed a results-based staff compensation structure using performance incentives to motivate staff to focus on achieving results. Staff went through quarterly reviews and the incentive structure was modified quarterly to reflect the core objectives of each quarter. For example, at the beginning of the project, the focus was on building up a solid foundation of latrine business capacity, so staff were incentivized on how well they trained and coached these businesses as measured by managers’ observations. As the program progressed, achieving high sales targets became the focus and staff incentives were primarily based on sales results. As the project shifted to focus on capacity development of sales agents, the incentives were based on the number of high performing sales agents recruited and trained. The results-based pay structure was an effective tool because:

  • It keeps staff focused on achieving the defined immediate objectives
  • Provides clear metrics of success that staff are measured upon
  • Allows flexibility for updating objectives given changes in program focus

However, for the sales agents themselves, increasing latrine coverage meant that fewer households needed to buy a latrine and thus the number of sales (and thus the possible commissions) began to decrease. This led to sales agents departing due to their inability to make as much money as they had in the past. To retain high performing agents, in 2017 the program made the decision to put the majority of sales agents on a guaranteed base salary. Agents were still receiving commissions, but the payment of commissions became conditional on effective latrine deliveries rather than latrine sales. By making the payment of the commission conditional on a delivery outcome, the program refocused desired sales agent behaviors to better-ensure customer commitment to their purchase decision. Through better management of client expectations and post-sales follow-ups until the delivery, sales agents are expected to work towards the actual program target: deliveries, not sales.