Open-market sales in a not-so-open market

Is a new sales channel really the answer? This week, I had the opportunity to pick Chitwan Singh’s brain. Having contributed to the growth of FMCG leaders such as Britannia, Olam and now Godrej, his experience in working across multiple geographies is enlightening.  

 As you know, 70 to 80% of sales for Nigerian FMCG companies come from open markets. But given the pandemic and its repercussions that we will be facing in the coming year, can these ‘high-contact’ markets still deliver as expected? 

 Many FMCG leaders are saying, “the new go-to-market strategy has to involve a lot of ‘push’.” Manufacturers and distribution companies are scratching their heads, trying to identify new sales channels, and working on ways to do last-mile delivery to ensure they meet their targets. 

 Traders hold such a powerful position in the distribution of any product, that no matter which new channel a company explores, they will remain in the focus. 

 Chitwan and I discussed the idea of strengthening existing channels alongside looking for new ones. What does this mean, you ask? 

 Well, let’s start with the objective: continue to SELL with limited movement. The entire SELLING process is made up of various elements so to simply state the challenge as ‘sales’ is an injustice! 

Let’s dig deep to identify what the challenge really is. 

 Due to devaluation, your products’ prices may have increased. If you’re selling non-essentials, currently your sales may be at a standstill. If you’re selling in Nigeria, this is not the first time you’re dealing with devaluation and lockdown restrictions will be lifted time and again so people would have a little more freedom eventually. So, these two are hardly the problem. 

 The showstopper is not being able to get your products out there, in the markets, on the shelves, and in people’s baskets. People are no longer able to meet in offices, so they are having virtual meetings. We are not able to physically sign documents, so we are moving to e-signatures. I’m still getting groceries from the supermarket but I’m placing the order online. The channel, you see, is not changing, I’m still ‘going’ to the grocery store. But the channel is simply being digitized. 

 What we then need to think of, is that what all touchpoints in the current supply process can be digitized.

  • Can your traders and consumers place orders digitally?
  • Can you, your key distributors, and logistics partners collaborate digitally to process and fulfill orders from resellers and consumers?

 The answers to these questions are a few that would help in identifying the right tactics to grow sales. There is no doubt that the world is moving towards operating digitally, more so, given the current circumstances. And the future requires planning. 

Needless to say, for companies who have not yet explored e-commerce, sales to retail outlets, and other channels that have proven growth in other parts of the world, now would be a good time to test the waters.

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