The sales team powers the business
iDE Global WASH
How do you keep a talented and motivated sales team energized and happy in a really tough job?
By March 2020, the Sama Sama sales team consistently achieved over 350 sales per month in a challenging and geographically disparate market. This didn't happen overnight. In order for Sama Sama to achieve sanitation sales, we need a highly motivated and talented team of sales agents trained to understand (and ultimately sell to) our customers. The sales team is the engine of Sama Sama and its public face, so maintaining team spirit and motivation is a top priority for management.
A very tough job
While sales recruitment in Ghana was not a challenge, retention of trained agents has been. Selling sanitation is a very tough job. A sales agent travels village-to-village and house-to-house to find customers and talk with them about where they go to relieve themselves. Many of these potential customers have scarcely thought about investing in a high-quality toilet, and they often don't believe they have the financial means to do so. It's not only physically demanding but it takes a strong personality and positive attitude to keep trying and not give up.
If our sales agents don't see sufficient sales in their first few months on the job, it is our management team's responsibility to step in with critical support before we lose a person who may have potential. We've found (in Ghana and elsewhere) that the most effective way to retain sales agents is through dedicated in-person coaching, but proximity and logistics make this a challenge. To support team morale, Sama Sama created a culture that reinforces training and personal connections centered around the collective sales effort, ensuring that everyone checks in frequently and posts their sales updates for others to see.
We've also found that team engagement is higher when the sales manager is part of the recruitment and hiring process from the start. By building a direct relationship at the beginning, sales managers are better suited to provide the ongoing coaching and cheerleading that such a tough job requires, and there is already some existing trust.
It is also important to ensure that toilet business owners (TBOs) are ready to produce (i.e., construct, install) as soon as the sales agents are ready to start selling. We realized early on that, in some cases, sales agents had to wait for a period of weeks after their initial training before they could start selling because we didn't have TBOs in place to fulfill orders. This often meant that our commission-based sales agents would have to wait weeks to see any financial benefits of working with Sama Sama. In addition, by the time sales agents in this position could start selling, they had forgotten some of their training. We also found that “market softening” activities like above-the-line marketing campaigns (billboards, radio ads, etc.) can go a long way to support sales in new districts. We've used these learnings to better sequence our supply-side and awareness-building activities to pave the way for our sales agents in new territories.
Enabling the Sama Sama sales team to innovate also helps improve morale. For example, in the last year, the team has searched for creative solutions to find prospective customers, including visiting mosques, churches, community associations, and going to other heavily frequented areas. The sales management team has had a heavy focus on ongoing coaching and mentorship, and ensuring sales agents have sufficient product knowledge and ability to use Sama Sama's virtual tools for entering and tracking sales.
What we've learned
Based on the the last four years, these are our Top 3 lessons for the future:
- Sales agents will shadow more established teams before they are deployed in their territories.
- Include new sales managers in the recruitment process of teams in their areas to create stronger engagement with their team members from the outset.
- Coordinate timelines of hiring, training, and deploying new sales staff with latrine producers' readiness to build product.