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Nigeria lacks sales people to sell made-in-Nigeria products – 1

By Dele Sobowale

President Buhari spoke in favour of it. Vice President Osinbajo is in support. In fact, it will be difficult to find any well-informed Nigerian who disagrees with the campaign to “Buy Made In Nigeria Goods”. Then, why has our import bill been rising and few people actually patronize those products? The answer is simple: we have no sales people who can sell Made In Nigeria Goods – which is like moving a mountain. We lack the sales people because we keep on making several mistakes.

Made-in-Nigeria campaign

The first mistake is the notion that good products sell themselves and all our manufacturers and producers have to do is to produce such products. It is pertinent in this regard to draw attention to my first course in Marketing during my MBA programme in Boston in 1968. The Professor entered and asked all of us: “Do you believe that the world would rush to the gate of the fellow who invented a better mouse trap?”

That was the idea made famous by American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1883. We, unanimously, agreed. Then, the Professor with scorn in his voice asked why a product regarded as the best in its product class was not selling as well as three competitive brands. We were speechless. That was how my education on Marketing and Sales started forty-nine years ago. It has not ended. It didn’t take long to realize that the “best” product is not often the largest selling, but the best sold product wins the prize.

Years ago, at the Nigerian Institute of Management, as a Senior Lecturer/Consultant/ Researcher, I conducted a study on preferences for fuel brands – TEXACO, TOTAL, MOBIL and AGIP – asking motorist which station sells the best petrol. TOTAL was first; followed by MOBIL, TEXACO and AGIP. The astonishing thing about the result was the fact that all the marketers collected their fuel from the same source – NNPC. The product was the same. Despite that, “sensible” motorists actually believed one petrol brand was better than others.

I conducted a mini-study two years ago on noodles – INDOMIE and HONEYWELL. I served people cooked noodles while switching the labels. More than seventy per cent of those who consumed HONEYWELL thinking it was INDOMIE said they enjoyed their INDOMIE while only forty per cent of those eating HONEYWELL expressed satisfaction. The difference might not be in the taste alone but in something else – selling. Perhaps the most aggressive sales people in that sector are those guys and girls selling INDOMIE.

So, the first lesson we need to learn is that products, irrespective of quality don’t sell themselves. Some well-trained people need to sell them. I will return to this shortly before closing this first part.

The second mistake we make is that Made In Nigeria products will be bought by Nigerians out of patriotism or because the President or Ministers ask Nigerians to do so. To start with, this is not the first government to ask us to buy locally manufactured products.

I returned to Nigeria in 1974 to find several factories opened at Apapa, Ikeja, Ilupeju in Lagos, Aba, Trans Amadi Layout in Portharcourt, Ilorin, Bompai in Kano and Kaduna sending out textiles, batteries, soap, detergents, packaged food, drugs, bicycles, plastic containers, beer, shoes, vegetable oil, stout, foam mattresses etc.

To support them, the Gowon administration launched a Buy Made In Nigeria Promotion. Murtala Mohammed and Obasanjo continued the campaign; so did Buhari and Babangida. Few of those factories remain open today; the textile mills can be likened to building a monument to a war we lost.

But, before the reader thinks this is a uniquely Nigerian problem, let me quickly add that in the 1960s the number of Japanese cars on American roads in any city could be counted on the fingers of a hand. Today millions of foreign cars are sold in the US; not because America has no car manufacturers or they have reached their production capacity, but because the consumers have been successfully sold something else by somebody else. I bought two Volvos while in the US and only one Chevrolet because a Volvo salesman came to my door.

To the question “why”? the short and almost hundred per cent accurate answer is SELLING. Let me illustrate with three examples for which there are witnesses alive in Nigeria.

For the first, one Dapo Ayorinde, FCA, I hope, and Ms Yomi Martins, female pharmacist, are my witnesses. I was recruited by SmithKline and French, now a part of GlaxoSmithKline, a global drug company, in 1979 to head their Sales Team. I was not a pharmacist and the Managing Director who recruited me knew that.

In fact, he recruited me from BOOTS COMPANY NIGERIA LIMITED, another global drug firm, without advertising the post as was customary in those days and he told me that SmithKline was about to launch a new product – TAGAMET – into Nigeria and he needed a good salesman to lead his team – all pharmacists. He did not make the mistake that TAGAMET, a revolutionary treatment for peptic, gastro-intestinal ulcer as well as reflux which was the very best; the leading edge in the treatment of ulcer worldwide would sell itself.

It had to be sold. When the pharmacists I was to lead threatened mass resignation, a new MD, replacing the fellow who recruited me, pleaded with them to be patient with the company. Later, I called the staff myself and promised them to resign in six months if they ask me to do so.

When I voluntarily resigned two years after in 1981 to go selling beer in Kano they all pleaded with me not to go – all the way to our office in the UK. All the pharmacists had become aggressive salespeople. We had phenomenal sales growth in the two years because nobody was allowed the complacency that goes with the feeling that “good products sell themselves”.

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