Q&A: Growing The Indirect Channel & Empowering African Women With Multi-Level Marketing

Growing your indirect channel can be challenging but thinking outside the box can reveal new sources of untapped revenue.  

Lavindra Gurie, Maplewave’s Business Development Executive, can certainly speak to that. In this blog, Lavindra explains how he used a multi-level marketing strategy to empower women and boost indirect sales for Vodafone Zambia.  

How did the project for Vodafone Zambia come about?

Prior to joining Maplewave, I was the Executive Head of Indirect Channels at Vodafone Zambia. I had a mammoth task of setting up the indirect sales strategy for the Group (Zambia, Uganda, Ghana & Côte d'Ivoire).

We started with Zambia’s National Chain stores, deploying “store in store” concepts and expanding their dealer channels. But I needed to find new ways to drive revenue.  

Tell us about your strategy for growing indirect sales.

Empowering women is an important issue in every African country. I saw an opportunity to create an indirect sales model that could help rural women become financially independent. As indirect resellers, these women could manage their own start-ups and have their own source of income. But most of the women that signed up had no prior experience. I also needed to involve established female entrepreneurs so they could help guide the less experienced.  It was a great idea, but how could I execute it?

I decided on a multi-level marketing (MLM) model. The strategy is similar to companies like Tupperware, Herbal Life, AMC Pots, Avon, etc. At that time, no other telco had used MLM to boost their indirect sales.

I built the model with tiered commissions in each layer. Each tier started with 10 females who empowered each other to sell more across all tiers and downlines. The model provided a great financial incentive to sell Vodafone’s products and services, as well as recruit other indirect sellers.  

What were some major wins?

  • There were several things that really stood out to me:
  • The ambition and the drive of rural woman to sell. There was a real hunger for disposable income.  
  • The project taught them they could also earn money on their own and not be dependant on their husbands or family for an income.  
  • The project taught them how to manage their finances, commissions, and how to manage stock.
  • They also learned business acumen from the experienced entrepreneurs.
  • Vodafone gained brand awareness in rural areas, and their revenue grew 200% month-over-month from this channel.

What were some of the challenges?

Most of the challenges revolved around Vodafone’s POS:

  • Vodafone’s mobile POS had limited “Know Your Customer” capabilities.
  • It wasn’t possible to view sales in a live dashboard.
  • Agents couldn’t view their downlines in an app.
  • Commissions were done manually – agents could not see their earnings at the end of each day, which could have helped drive better performance the next day.
  • Tiers could not see their team rankings.  
  • There was no way to geo-fence sales in the rural areas.  
  • Product/service training only occurred face to face once a month, which was a logistical nightmare.  

What was the effect on the women who took part in the program? Did they achieve additional wealth? Did their status in the community change?

By selling Vodafone’s products to their family and friends, the rural women were able to generate income and create a revenue stream through their upline tiers. Cultural barriers were affected, as rural women normally dedicated their lives to their husbands, children, and home.  

Digital disruption affected many households as the women gained a new level of financial independence. Their homes and lifestyles also changed by being able to provide more for their families. UNICEF also joined this project from an internet education perspective.  

A lot of women who were not part of the MLM project also wanted to join as they saw how the program had benefited the women who were part of the program.

What is the opportunity for other telcos or MVNOs to implement a similar plan?

All African telcos have an opportunity to implement a similar program. The MLM model is a new way of doing indirect sales that brings digital transformation to rural areas (i.e., access to the internet), expands the network, increases revenue, and drives maximum ROI within a short period.

How could the right technology solutions make this model even more effective?  

Investing in a telco-specific indirect app would solve all the manual processes and pain points I mentioned above. This makes it simple to sell and understand what stock is needed. It makes it possible to see commissions at the end of the day to motivate future performance. And training videos can be incorporated in the app to help drive sales, convey new product information, and launch campaigns. It also becomes possible to create sub distributors in rural suburbs to manage the distribution of stock to agents.  

If Vodafone had a dedicated app like this, many of the challenges we experienced in this project could have been avoided altogether, and the ROI could have been even higher.

Focused on providing digital solutions for the global telecommunications market.

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