Reaching prospective women customers in rural and small-town India, especially for adopting technology, is challenging.
The major roadblocks were a lack of channels through which potential women users could be identified, convinced, given demos, and converted into customers. However, women themselves can change this game.
At Powering Livelihoods (PL), a joint initiative of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and Villgro Innovations Foundation, we leveraged existing women users to deploy them as women demo champions.
Through their experience of a product’s usage, these women supported the promotion of cleantech in their areas. They generated awareness, communicated their personal experience and helped potential end-users with queries. They host product demonstrations within their local communities, address queries from potential users, and support new adopters.
Women and clean tech
Neetu Tandon, a user of multi-purpose food processors manufactured by Dharambir Food Processing Technology Private Limited, became a local demo champion for the city of Agra. The programme offered her a stipend of INR 10,000/- per month for three months and sales incentives to host 2-3 product demonstrations in her community monthly. In three to four months in her new role, Neetu generated four-five potential sales leads for the enterprise. We have put our learnings in detail in this independent CEEW study.
Neetu was also invited to give a demo to Smriti Irani, Union minister of Women and Child Development, at the G20 EMPOWER Inception Meeting in February 2023.
“As a women’s demo champion, I aim to empower 1,000 other women by making them independent so they can lead their lives in their own way,” says Tandon.
Traditionally, enterprises across the world have tried to involve women sales agents in their sales process for their ability to communicate better and engage with customers. And it’s a successful strategy too. A woman sales agent in Zambia, who was also a shopkeeper and could only work a quarter of the time compared to her male colleagues, made 75 per cent more profit than the average male sales agent, proving her effectiveness.
Leveraging women users in sales to reach last-mile customers presents a two-fold opportunity – it increases sales and outreach of enterprises. It creates a support system for women role models to emerge, a critical step toward their socioeconomic empowerment. Hiring an external person as a sales agent typically requires multiple training sessions and a long gestation period to build an understanding of the product's applications.
Engaging existing women users of a product to demonstrate the technology and leveraging them as commission-based sales agents can help bring transformation in enterprise sales, especially in rural and peri-urban areas.
With their first-hand product usage experience, they not only give a more credible sales pitch but also create a relatable one. It's easier to ask a female fellow user about new clean tech, whom you are also connected to locally.
However, getting women demo champions on board alone cannot solve the problem. Last mile distributors, technology manufacturers and civil society organisations promoting livelihoods will also have to create and promote women demo champions. They need to be involved in giving them enough exposure, capacity building, risk capital and market access. Enterprises must also assign a dedicated sales team to work with them on frequent sales follow-ups and query resolution.
Enabling an ecosystem to bring women-demo champions is imperative to accelerate the integration of more women in livelihoods and make the growth of the clean tech sector more inclusive.
Mousumi Kabiraj is a research analyst and Prachi Singhal is a gender specialist consultant at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), an independent, not-for-profit research organisation.