The Fire-Starter

November 30, 2015

With one swift flick, a match flies 5 feet through the air, lands in the chamber of an unlit HomeStove and a flame ignites, all in a matter of seconds. The surrounding crowd cheers in amazement drawing the attention of a few passers by. As a few stragglers join the circle that has been created, Himanshu, a BioLite Sales Promoter prepares for the main attraction. People are craning their necks to see what he’ll pull next. Not unlike a street performer drawing the crowd close, his intention is to keep their eyes on him 100% of the time. He smirks; it’s time for the grand finale.

This is Himanshu’s signature move, one that has given him quite the reputation among other Sales Promoters in India.

He grabs a willing volunteer and asks the man to join him standing on the HomeStove (an unlit one this time). This is Himanshu’s signature move, one that has given him quite the reputation among other Sales Promoters in India. He and his volunteer bounce up and down, demonstrating how sturdy the stove is, heads nod with approval.

Himanshu wipes his brow and encourages the crowd to ask him any questions. As people disperse, he starts collecting information so he can follow up. After he’s gathered a list of potential customers and answered everyone’s questions, he hops on his motorcycle and drives off. He’s got a big day ahead. House calls to potential customers, more demos, inventory management, and back to the field office to check if any customers need service visits that day.

Himanshu has been one of BioLite’s top Sales Promoters since our 2014 launch in India. He’s responsible for sales in the Mayurbhanj district, a district made up of hundreds of villages and towns. Born and raised in this district, he knows it like the back of his hand, which is helpful when he has to introduce a brand new product to its residents. He's a natural orator with a captivating pitch; at demos his passion transcends language and can likely be heard from villages away. His energy and determination are rivaled only by his passion for better fires and deep understanding of BioLite technology. His attitude and approach has become a model for future hires – okay, maybe not the match flying through the air, but just about everything else.

Himanshu doesn’t have a website, but his job as a local Sales Promoter does all the same valuable work, without an Internet connection. You are probably reading this story right now from a phone or computer with an Internet connection, and enjoy the fast and vast benefits the Internet has to offer with regards to news, product information, and purchase channels. For our customers in India, Internet service can be spotty and most of our customers don’t have access to a computer, making a website far less valuable.

But we’ve got something better than a website – we’ve got showmanship. High-energy, enthusiastic demonstrations can make all the difference in making a connection with a new household or community. Over the last two years, Himanshu has set the bar high and is well known for his creative sales tactics.

"Himanshu keeps the audience engaged and never lets them get bored,” says Biswajit, a fellow Sales Promoter. “Even while he's operating the stove he's still talking to the crowd and keeping them interested. He has energy to speak for hours and an excellent sense of humor.”

The Power of A Local Salesman

Most of our customers in India have never heard of BioLite and we want to make sure that they are introduced to us in the most seamless way possible. That means learning about our products from someone they feel comfortable with, someone they can trust. We employ local Sales Promoters like Himanshu who know their regions well and can tailor highly specific presentations in the local dialect.

...his mother who loves the HomeStove so much she's sold 40 stoves on his behalf.

When a potential customer hears Himanshu’s first hand experience switching from an open cooking fire to a Homestove it’s a game changer. He explains in great detail how much easier it is now that they have a HomeStove. His family no longer suffers from smoke inhalation, he leaves for work feeling better about his family’s well-being and talks about how nice it is to have on-demand access to electricity. During his demos, Himanshu goes even further to tell potential customers the story of his favorite customer, his mother who loves the HomeStove so much she's sold 40 stoves on his behalf. Himanshu has been using the HomeStove for so long that he anticipates customer’s questions and concerns and handles them with ease. He’s got an answer for everything.

Give a Man a Stove vs. Teach a Man to Sell a Stove

At BioLite, we don’t use a one for one model and we don’t donate our stoves. We’ve seen that when customers make a personal decision to buy a product and purchase it on their own (rather than getting it as a charitable giveaway) they take better care of it and use it more often. We want to ensure that customers experience the full benefits of the HomeStove so we’ve worked hard to create a sustainable model that fits their needs. We open up shop on the ground, hire and train local staff that can relate to our customers, manufacture relevant products our customers will use, make these products easily accessible and provide top-notch customer service. We call this model Parallel Innovation and every BioLite purchase goes towards expanding our work in the markets we serve. In order to expand our work we need to ensure that our staff is well trained and supported to succeed in their roles. By investing in our field staff’s success, they then provide amazing service to our customers and ensure that we are fostering lasting change within these regions.

Himanshu is a man on a mission that goes well beyond making sales and upholding excellent customer service. To him, cleaning up cooking fires is personal. His family, neighbors and friends cooked over traditional fires and he has first hand experience with soot’s effect on homes. Working in BioLite’s field office, his day-to-day tasks are key in driving large-scale social impact. It is his creative communications that convince people of the importance of cleaning up their stoves and his animated education about clean energy and new cooking options that ultimately get stoves into the hands of those in need.

Finding The Right People to Join Our Team

At BioLite we are dedicated to providing amazing experiences for all of our customers. We hire the best local engineers, salesmen and project managers to organize interactive demonstrations, serve as informed resources and fulfill after sale service in each region we work. Upon joining our team, Sales Promoters embark on a 3-5 day intensive training period where groups of Sales Promoters work with their General Managers to learn basic sales tactics, an in-depth look behind our technology and participate in workshops that prepare them to lead demonstrations on their own. During these training periods we make sure that new hires have the opportunity to learn from Top Sales Promoters and their Managers in the region so they are set up to succeed. Himanshu and his teammates work hard to Get Soot Done everyday but there is still a lot of work to be done.

In the year to come, BioLite will expand our existing operations in the Indian state of Orissa and go even further by entering into new regions. In order to staff new operations in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar we need to get more Himanshu’s into the field to serve as Sales Promoters. Will you help us?

Get Soot Done
This story is part of a series on our efforts to bring clean cooking to 50,000 homes in India and Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016.