‘Hands-Off’ Sanitation Sales Agents: Unlocking the Power of Marketing
The Hands-Off sanitation marketing approach leverages existing networks of trustworthy and influential people to help promote and sell low-cost latrines. Across our program areas, over 150 sales agents work with sanitation enterprises.
Incentivized through a small commission (USD 1.00-1.50) per latrine sale, these agents actively promote through village sales event and door-to-door sales. They receive free sales training from the WASH-M team, including hands-on demonstrations and training in the use of simple sales materials and tactics.
Many of the agents are recruited from the ranks of the Commune Council for Women and Children (CCWC), or other groups of respected community members. Read their stories…
TOUK Dalis – Using her sales commissions to upgrade her own toilet
Touk Dalis has embraced her new job as a sanitation sales agent in Prey Chhor Commune. Before she was recruited as a sales agent, she did not have her own household toilet. But shortly after she began selling toilets, she used her savings to buy a toilet from the enterprise she works with, Lay Heng Heng. She was so committed to a new toilet that she even dug the pit all by herself – it took her 3 days to complete!
Rather than taking her sales commission in cash, at the end of each month, Touk Dalis requested her commission in materials – sand, brick, cement – for upgrading her latrine. She started out with the basic ‘core toilet’ set with simple natural shelter, but Dalis has already added tiles, a brick wall and a zinc roof. And she has plans to continue to upgrade, preferring to take her sales commissions in-kind.
Dalis’s first-hand experience as a buyer and user of the product she sells has helped her to become a first-rate sales agent. In her first 3 months, Dalis sold over 60 toilets in the 8 villages where she works. One of her key strategies is to encourage every commune official, village chief and deputy to buy and use a latrine. ‘They all have a latrine now…to be a model for the villagers.’
SORN Sok – A veterinarian’s influence
In the 12 villages that comprise Sorn Sok’s native Trean commune, the percentage of households with access to a toilet stood at less than 10% in 2008. But since Cheang Pros, the local concrete manufacturer, began selling low-cost toilets, things have been changing quickly.
As the commune’s only veterinarian and a commune council member, Sorn Sok was not an immediate choice for a toilet sales agent. But he was soon demonstrating his sales skills. His strategy: leveraging his influence and reach as a trusted local vet. ‘People usually call me to inject their cow or animal. At the same time, I talk about toilets. I go all over the commune to many villages and talk about it.’ On his village vet rounds, he keeps checking up on toilets as well, advising people on when and how to install their toilet after purchase. In his first 2 months, Sorn Sok has sold over 90 toilets – and he believes he will be able to influence many more to purchase in the months to come.
PHAN Saroen – No need to wait for subsidy anymore
Before Phan Saroen became a toilet sales agent in Soutip commune, she was the CCWC member responsible for hygiene and sanitation. She was off and running soon after attending some WASH-M supported training and demo sales events. But it felt strange at first: in the past she had explained in very general terms about hygiene and health, but now she had a lot more tools to help persuade people to buy – and an actual product to offer them.
Phan Saroen’s strategies included comparing a toilet to a mobile phone and asking villagers to think about which is more of a priority. When people say they have no money, she asks them about their assets. ‘If you don’t have money, you can sacrifice a ring or necklace and then you can buy it. If it is harvest season you can sell only 2kg of rice and you can buy it.’
In the 8 villages in her commune, Phan Saroen goes door-to-door and conducts sales events each month. She sold 57 toilets in her first 4 months, and has plans to sell much more. One of her biggest challenges is convincing villagers where a previous project has given away subsidized materials. ‘In my commune there is an NGO that says they will give away toilets for free. Some villagers decide not to buy because they are waiting for the NGO to give them one, even though they have the money…’ Although they may be able to invest, they continue to wait. But how long can they wait, wonders Phan Saroen? She hopes her sales messages can persuade them and wants to see word of the low-cost toilet spread. There is no need to wait anymore.
PHUONG Phoeun – Selling from experience
Phuong Phoeun began his side ‘career’ as a toilet sales agent at a district workshop held by the WASH-M team. Although he wasn’t shy about public speaking, he didn’t know much about promotions. After attending the WASH-M training and watching some sales demonstrations, he was soon out doing his own promotions.
One of Phuong Phoeun’s most effective strategies is to talk about cost: the money people spend when they or their family members get sick from diarrhea is easily more than the cost of one low-cost latrine. In some villages, he also reasons, ‘If you want to go to do open defecation, you have to go 300 meters. But what about when you have diarrhea? It is not easy to try and ride a bicycle or walk to the defecation place when you are in a bad condition. A toilet is a good idea for you and much easier.’
Phuong Phoeun speaks with first-hand experience – he also did not have a toilet until very recently. ‘When I first joined the sales agent training, they asked ‘Who doesn’t have a latrine?’ and I raised my hand. They called me to the front and encouraged me to buy one. As the sales agent, I should buy one to be the model.’ Phuong Phoeun had to borrow money to buy his latrine, and later used the income from his toilet sales commission to pay back the debt. Now that he has his own toilet, he speaks with confidence about its benefits: ‘Having a toilet is much easier and more comfortable.’
BOUN Sambat – ‘They call me Miss Shit’
At 30 years old, Boun Sambat is married with two young sons and is the member of the CCWC tasked with promoting water and sanitation in Kraing Dei Vai commune. Through her CCWC linkages, Boun Sambat was approached to be a toilet sales agent in early 2011. She received training from the WASH-M team and watched some sales demonstrations, learning how to use different tactics to get people interested in toilets. ‘At first I was shy to sell toilets, but now I am not. Some villagers even call me Miss Shit.’
Sambat goes door-to-door and conducts up to 3 village sales events per month to promote Om John’s low-cost toilets. In her first 6 weeks, she could sell 27 toilets – which she believes is a very good start.
And how about her own toilet? Back in 2007, Sambat had bought concrete rings and a ceramic pan from Om John to build a toilet, but she didn’t know how to construct it. She just kept the materials under her house and continued defecating in the open. When she found herself selling Om John’s toilet sets a few years later, Sambat decided to buy the low-cost ‘chamber box’ and slab. Om John even installed her new toilet free of charge – a reward for her great sales work to date.