Most producers of Made-In-Nigeria products ultimately fail, not because their products are of inferior quality as many people assume, but because they don’t sell up to their sales potential and because the cost of sales is comparatively higher. Those two fundamental problems confronting our manufacturers must be solved if more Made-In-Nigeria products are to survive and grow. And unless they thrive and grow our import dependence will continue and our unemployment problem will remain largely unsolved. Permit me to illustrate the point by using as example a uniquely Made-In-Nigeria brand and a long term survivor, even against brands marketed by multi-nationals.
Everywhere on Nigerian roads and even in some West African countries, very observant individuals can see sales vans branded ALABUKUN. The basic analgesic (pain killer) in powder form was launched into a crowded market by one of Nigeria’s first pharmacists – Chief Odulate. ALABUKUN first caught my attention in 1975 when as National Sales Manager for BOOTS NIGERIA LIMITED, the brand was listed among thirty-four (34) other brands with which I had to compete. Twenty three (23) of the competitive brands were imported or produced in Nigeria under licence. The leading brand was PHENSIC marketed by Beecham – which had close to 48 per cent of the market share and was backed by a multinational. But, today, ALABUKUN which was not given a rat’s chance among twenty hungry cats has outlasted them all. Why?
Product superiority has never been its unique selling proposition. Being in powder form and more quickly absorbed was one feature which helped considerably. But, in my six years – 1975-1981 – competing against ALABUKUN, I discovered three elements which contribute to the brand’s success and which its competitors – even multi-national cannot match. Together, they constitute a unique selling approach which has worked for the company and which others marketing Made-In-Nigeria products and brands can learn to train their sales staff to adapt to increase sales and to reduce costs.
Most Sales Managers and Directors operate under the mistaken impression that their jobs end when sales are made. Even some Managing Directors or Executive Chairmen hold to this fallacy. In actual fact a professional Sales Manager or Director has a dual responsibility. He must organize his sales staff to generate sufficient income for the organization; he must also ensure that costs of operating the sales department are kept to the barest minimum. Of what use is it to the company if N5 million sales are made but the selling cost is N6 million? Yet, these are some of the factors leading to success of companies that most of our local producers don’t take into account – either because they don’t know how or realize the importance.
Back in the 1970s, the Sales Managers of ALABUKUN known to me were the most cost-conscious sales managers in the business. Generally not as well-paid as those of us working for multi-nationals, they ensured that the sales people covered more ground for far less than those of their richer multi-national competitors. ALABUKUN salesmen were the ever-present faces of the analgesic sub-sector of the Over-the-Counter, OTC, of the health care industry. The persistence, the tenacity of effort and the strong belief in the brand has paid off till today.
Even now, forty-two years after my first professional encounter with ALABUKUN, as I undertake market surveys for clients and visit several open markets nationwide, I am still amazed at the intensity of efforts by the company’s sales people. It is like observing several “Davids” doing battle successfully with so many “Goliaths” over forty years.
Because it will be unfair to ALABUKUN to reveal the entire strategy and how it has worked for them, permit me to briefly point to two which should be obvious but which most producers of Made-In-Nigeria goods miss.
While BOOTS and Beecham, as well as others, had several brands to push in the market, sometimes in three or four sectors at once, ALABUKUN sales people had only one product and one sector to face. There is a lesson there about focus for all our producers with only one product to sell. CONCENTRATION of efforts becomes the master key to success. What constitutes the elements of concentration cannot be fully discussed here, but, they result in increased sales and lower costs of selling. Once the company gets moving in the right direction, the accounting department will be the first to notice the change as the “bottom line” starts to move up. The companies’ bank(s) will also notice the change for the better.
Underlying all these changes which will lead to prosperity is the change in the itineraries of the sales people – from the Sales Manager to the most junior sales staff. At least half of the company’s sales potentials are lost on account of faulty itineraries. And, most of the unnecessary costs go with them. Unfortunately, without training, most sales departments cannot, on their own, develop effective itineraries.
That is where to start to be successful selling Made-In-Nigeria products.