The evolution of sanitation marketing

Posted in — Cambodia Sanitation > Overview
January 14, 2019
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Photo by Chris Nicoletti/iDE
iDE Global WASH

The right product, energized businesses, and an innovative sales and marketing strategy combine to scale.

LESSON LEARNED: The enterprise engagement model must evolve over time.

iDE Cambodia’s sanitation marketing program is one of the largest market-based rural latrine development interventions in the world. In less than a decade, iDE Cambodia helped facilitate the purchase and installation of over 300,000 latrines, increasing latrine coverage in the program areas from 29% to 69%, and effectively improving health outcomes for those communities. Along the way, iDE Cambodia’s WASH team has proved to be a pioneer and leader regarding pilot-testing and scaling sanitation marketing supported by research, design, marketing analysis, and business logistics.

Ide Wash Cambodia Wash Team 2019
iDE Cambodia WASH Team (photo by iDE/2019)

It’s tempting to state that iDE’s sanitation marketing in Cambodia was an overnight success, but like many other business success stories, the full story reveals that it took a flexible and energetic team to overcome obstacles and avoid dead ends. From the very start of the sanitation intervention in Cambodia, program directors were encouraged to identify innovative ways to strengthen the WASH market and pivot in response to new learnings and market changes. The following history provides a better understanding about several milestones along the evolutionary pathway that contributed to iDE Cambodia’s successful adaptation.

Iteration 1: Holistic Training Program

While the pilot project focused on developing a scalable and sustainable model, a key hypothesis going forward was that improving business skills would develop sustainable capacity and motivation for the market to continue driving uptake. To support iDE Cambodia’s effort to improve the capability of latrine producers to develop sustainably, the training program had to be more holistic and intensive. When businesses signed up to receive training, they could select topics “a la carte” according to their needs and interests:

  • Latrine Manufacturing and Quality Control
  • Sanitation Knowledge
  • Latrine Installation and Maintenance
  • Order Management
  • Sales and Sales Agent Management
  • Business Planning
  • How to work with government and NGOs
  • MFI Credit Test Program – 9-12 months for select Latrine Business Owners (LBOs)

The only mandatory courses were Sanitation Knowledge, Latrine Installation, and Order Management. All businesses were welcomed to sign up for training, but those who chose to receive the complete training package were prioritized as it was most likely those businesses would be well-equipped to succeed. After the core training was finished (typically three weeks), the LBO and assigned sales agent could continue to receive coaching from project staff. Regional Managers provided weekly one-on-one coaching to the project staff, observing them on the job and giving feedback and advice. The Regional Managers in turn also received coaching from a sales consultant from Whitten & Roy Partnership (WRP) and the Deputy Program Director, both of whom observed their coaching and training and gave feedback. Although the coaching was very intensive and hands-on, it proved to be key to improving the sales skills of LBOs and sales agents.

Iteration 2: Extended Support (late 2012)

As time went on, it became clear that LBOs were not becoming fully independent or sustaining high sales after only three months of support. Therefore, the project shifted to an “extended support” model, continuing to offer support beyond the initial three months and monitoring the LBO’s progress towards independence along four categories: Production, Delivery, Administration, and Sales Development. With this strategy, the project continued to encourage and train LBOs to adopt all aspects of training, including sales management. LBOs interested in managing their own sales received the training and coaching to do so as originally envisioned. These LBOs were phased out of training and coaching once the project had determined that they were capable of continuing on their own. For those LBOs who were not motivated or capable of managing their own sales team, but did well in at least two of the other areas, project staff continued to provide support in sales management.

Iteration 3: Project-Managed Sales (early 2013)

While some LBOs showed capacity and commitment to managing their own sales force, the majority preferred to only focus on production and delivery. As such, the project shifted focus from training and coaching LBOs to training and coaching sales agents directly. This shift saw positive results in terms of sales and a greater optimization of resource allocations. Because the project staff managed sales agents, sales agents were no longer beholden to a unique LBO. Rather, project staff were able to better align demand and supply; stronger sales agents could be matched up with stronger LBOs who could meet the high demand that the strong sales agents were creating. LBOs were able to focus on their core competencies of production and delivery. The increased management support for sales agents also improved commitment and reduced turnover. Of course, the evolution of the market facilitation model challenges initial notions of sustainability and scalability. While there is not yet an answer for the best model, it is important to recognize the constraints of focusing on small and medium enterprises to sustain active promotion activities.

Iteration 4: Data Intelligence (2015)

The implementation of a global data collection system based on enabled program managers to analyze sales and delivery data, discovering bottlenecks that had been leading to sales cancellations. Some LBOs had so many orders that they had to delay delivery while another LBO that was nearby had stock in hand but no orders. The analysis revealed that a strong contributing factor to these unbalanced work loads was the effectiveness of the sales agent, and since all sales made by an agent went to the LBO they were associated with, a very effective agent could be responsible for selling more than a business could handle. iDE uncoupled the sales agents from LBOs then used the information management system to implement a load balancing mechanism, driving down cancellations and expanding sales and deliveries.

Iteration 5: Market Saturation (2018)

Latrine deliveries peaked in 2014 and have been declining every year since. While sales were still strong, analysis of sales data compared to latrine coverage percentages indicate this trend is likely due to market saturation with the remaining market predominantly very poor customers for whom a latrine purchase is a major investment, even for the most inexpensive version, with another major market segment populations that live in challenging environments. Possible options that were researched included training LBOs to offer payment installment plans, providing partial subsidies based on poverty status, and new designs to address high water tables and other challenges.

Increased coverage is also a factor in another challenge, which is how to handle latrines that have become full. Research on how to address fecal sludge management was begun resulting in a new design that focused on training LBOs to install a second pit and redirect piping. This leaves the full pit in place while the new pit is being used; in a few years, when the new pit becomes full, the old pit can be emptied more easily and safely as the contents will have decomposed and the piping can be redirected once again, alternating between the two pits over time.

The Future: Reach Universal Coverage and Continue Innovating

While sanitation marketing in Cambodia has focused on achieving full coverage, and that remains a clear and foreseeable goal for the team, the future could be an expanded mandate to other sanitation issues. Enabling the last segment of the population without a latrine, typically the poorest people in the most rural locations, will be key. Dealing with ongoing maintenance, addressing handwashing and clean water needs, and ensuring LBO sustainability are also key to increasing sanitation in Cambodia, resulting in increased health and improved living conditions.

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