November 08

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LivingWell in Zambia, chapter 9: birth of a saleswoman

Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard…

Aptly enough, a line from The Scientist, by Coldplay, which was playing this morning as I started writing this blog. This scientist never expected she would be managing the day-to-day running of a sales business in Zambia, and it’s tough going. Selling healthcare products here is difficult; and made more so in recent months – there is very little money in circulation as a result of the government reducing the maize price by 25% this year, and many farmers are still waiting to be paid for their crops. It’s also made harder when your colleagues are reluctant to try your ideas, because you’re neither Zambian nor a salesperson…

As a start-up business, Live Well needs to try new things, and if they don’t work, learn, adapt and move on. It also needs to make money. To date, the sales targets have not been achieved. Though the business model is that we sell through our community health entrepreneurs, we only have a presence in 5 of the 30 compounds in Lusaka. As it’s time consuming and expensive to recruit and train new CHE, the quickest solution is for our sales team to sell directly in these areas. My repeated efforts to suggest shop sales fell flat, so I decided to take a different approach and proposed a sales competition. I got all the staff, not just the sales team, out of the office for one day to sell. We only took four products to keep it simple – Aquafresh toothpaste, Supacereal fortified porridge, Yebo medicated soap and Maximum condoms.

As two teams, the staff managed to sell over 2000 units in a day (29% of the monthly target), with an average profit margin of 28% which is on a par with GSK’s margin in Zambia, so very respectable. Most importantly, everyone really enjoyed it and agreed that shop sales should be part of the Live Well business model going forward.

So already the sales team have made shop sales part of the standard week at Live Well, and October was the first ever month that Live Well exceeded the unit sales target!

This doesn’t fix everything and isn’t the solution to all of Live Well’s difficulties, but it showed that it’s possible to disrupt the norm and rapidly effect some change. And that sometimes you need to think creatively to solve a problem. And to put your neck out and take a risk on your instincts. Hopefully that’s something I can leave with the team here, and take with me in future.