Route-to-market in emerging markets: Framework and key steps

A route-to-market or go-to-market is a plan of an organisation using their inside and outside resources, such as a sales force and distributors, to deliver their products to the outlet base and services their customers. A route-to-market (RTM) plan is a strategic document that outlines the steps and actions a company (e.g. consumer goods) will take to distribute and sell its products to customers. The plan typically includes information about the distribution channels, sales strategy, customer segments, channel partners, logistics, and marketing tactics that the company will use to reach its target market. The goal of a RTM plan is to ensure that the company’s products are easily accessible to customers through the most efficient and cost-effective channels, while maximising revenue and profitability.

An RTM plan is an essential component of a company’s overall business strategy, as it helps the company to understand how to reach its target market, what channels will be most effective and how to optimise distribution to maximise sales and revenue.

What factors do you need to take into consideration?

To develop a route-to-market plan, you need to take into consideration internal and external factors. In emerging market countries, special attention should be given to key issues such as infrastructure and regulatory environment that could affect your route-to-market design and implementation.  

Four phase approach

The Supply Chain Lab divides the design and roll-out of a route-to-market plan into four phases. Each phase comprises several building blocks, supported by analysis tools and key enablers. 

  1. Analysis

The first phase focuses on the analysis of consumers, channel, competitors, logistics providers, distribution partners, infrastructure, regulatory environment, and external stakeholders. The Supply Chain Lab uses several tools during the analysis phase, and we will discuss a few below. For the complete tool list (18 tools) and route-to-market framework, see our Route-to-Market Presentation, including the purpose of each tool, when to use it, how to use it, and material requirements. 

Route-to-market analysis steps

Product: When developing a product for emerging markets, it is essential to understand the needs of your targeted consumer and offer a product that meets those needs at a price that represents value. Cash is still the king in most emerging markets, so it’s essential to take into account affordability and the amount of money that consumers have in their pocket. Additionally, it’s important to consider the cultural and societal norms of the targeted market, when developing or introducing a product in the market.

Product Analysis Tool: The ranking values tool or Value Driver Tree (VDT) is a ranking values tool that studies the value drivers of a product or service. It is a visual representation of the factors that drive customer value for a particular product or service and breaks down customer value into different levels of value drivers. The VDT helps to identify the most important drivers of customer value and prioritise them in order to optimise the product or service. It also helps to identify areas where the product or service can be improved to better meet customer needs and increase customer satisfaction.

Consumer: It is essential to conduct in-depth research to understand the consumer when developing a product or marketing strategy. This includes determining who your consumers are, their demographic information, their purchasing habits, and their attitudes towards your brand and product. Understanding when and how consumers use a product can also provide valuable insights on how to optimise the product and target the right audience at the right time.

Consumer Analysis Tool: Consumer insights (CI) research focuses on the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that drive buying decisions. They help the company to understand what their customers want, need, and expect, and how they make purchasing decisions. Consumer insights inform the company’s product development, marketing, and sales strategies, as well as help them to identify new opportunities and areas for innovation. They are typically gathered through a variety of research methods such as focus groups, surveys, interviews, and online analytics. Brand teams work with CI to create the right product message aligned with consumer needs. 

Consumer insights can include information on demographics, psychographics, purchase behavior, brand loyalty, usage occasions, and product feedback. This can provide a holistic view of the target market and help the company to create more relevant and appealing products, marketing campaigns, and customer experiences.

Furthermore, consumer insights can also help the company to identify new market segments, predict future trends, and assess the effectiveness of current marketing campaigns. They can also help the company to understand the competitive landscape and identify areas where it can differentiate itself from its rivals.

Channel:  A consumer goods channel refers to the various pathways or methods through which consumer goods are distributed and sold to customers. These channels are the intermediaries that connect the manufacturer of the goods to the end-consumer. Consumer goods channels can include retail stores, such as informal traders, online marketplaces, direct-to-consumer sales, wholesale, and direct selling. The choice of channel depends on the type of product, the target market and the company’s overall strategy. Each channel has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and the company must carefully consider which channel or channels will be most effective for reaching its target market and achieving its business objectives.

Channel Analysis tool 1: Channel segmentation is the division of channels into separate parts or sections, based on the qualities they have in common, such as products or service, customers, and outlet space. By segmenting channels, you gain a better understanding of their product mix, service requirements, merchandising opportunities, and value drivers. This allows companies to more effectively reach and target their desired customers. By segmenting their market, companies can better understand their customers, and create more targeted and effective marketing campaigns to improve customer satisfaction and sales.

Channel analysis tool 2: A customer satisfaction survey or voice of the customer survey (VoC) provides insights into customer satisfaction with you and your competitor’s service. It is a survey that businesses use to gather feedback from their customers and ask them questions about their experience with the company, including the quality of products or services, the level of customer service provided, and overall satisfaction with the company. The information gathered through these surveys can be used to identify areas of improvement and make changes to better meet the needs and expectations of customers.

Competitors: Studying competitors is a crucial aspect of market analysis and strategy development for any organisation. It involves analysing various aspects of a competitor’s business operations, including their products, services, processes, and market activities. This information can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses in the competitor’s offerings and to understand what makes them successful or unsuccessful in a specific informal market.

When studying competitors, it’s important to start by defining the market you are operating in and identifying the key players within that market. This can include direct competitors, as well as indirect competitors that offer similar products or services. Once you have identified your competitors, you can gather information about their products and services. This may include analysing the features, benefits, and pricing of their offerings, as well as any unique selling points they have.

It is also important analyse the processes and systems that your competitors use to deliver their products and services. This may include understanding their supply chain, manufacturing processes, distribution channels, and customer service procedures. Understanding the efficiency and effectiveness of these processes can give you valuable insights into your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

Also keep an eye on your competitors’ market activities. This may include monitoring their marketing campaigns, analysing their sales performance, and tracking any changes or shifts in their market positioning. Understanding why your competitors succeed or fail in the market can provide valuable insights into the factors that drive customer behaviour and help you identify opportunities for improvement in your own operations.

Benchmarking Analysis Tool: Benchmarking is a valuable tool that allows organisations to measure their performance and identify areas for improvement by comparing themselves against other companies in their industry. By analysing key performance indicators (KPIs) and other metrics, companies can gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses relative to their competitors.

The process of benchmarking typically involves selecting a set of relevant KPIs, such as financial performance metrics, customer satisfaction scores, operational efficiency, or market share, and comparing these metrics against those of other companies in the market. This comparison helps companies understand how they are performing relative to their peers and identify areas for improvement.

In addition to KPIs, benchmarking can also involve comparing business processes and practices used by other companies in the market. For example, companies may compare their distribution models in informal markets, customer service processes, or supply chain management practices against those of their competitors. This type of benchmarking can help companies identify best practices and innovative solutions that can be adapted to their own operations.

It’s important to note that benchmarking is not just limited to internal comparisons within the same industry. Companies can also benchmark against best-in-class companies in other industries to gain new insights and identify best practices that can be adapted to their own operations.

Logistics and distribution landscape: Assessing the logistics landscape is an important aspect of any company’s supply chain management strategy, especially in informal markets. It involves evaluating the various factors that impact the flow of goods and materials from suppliers to customers. These factors may include transportation networks, available warehouses and distribution centers, and the availability of third-party logistics providers (3PLs).

In informal markets, 3PLs are not only third-party logistics providers, but they can also act as wholesalers, providing additional value to companies. Third-party logistics providers are companies that specialise in handling supply chain tasks, such as warehousing, inventory management, and last-mile delivery. Utilising a 3PL can help reduce costs and improve efficiency by outsourcing tasks that may not be a core competency of your own organisation. They can also act as wholesalers, offering a wide range of products and provide access to hard-to-reach areas in informal markets.

When evaluating potential 3PLs, it’s important to consider a number of factors, including their reputation, experience, product knowledge, and ability to meet your specific needs. You should also assess the quality of their warehousing and transportation operations, their technology and systems, and their pricing structure.

Pricing Map Analysis tool 1: A pricing map assesses the cost and revenue data of a group of a channel, distribution partners, or consumers. The activity helps to determine different mark-ups in the supply chain and assists with making a business case for a route-to-market model. 

The pricing map typically includes information such as the cost of goods, marketing, and distribution, as well as the prices that competitors are charging for similar products or services. By analysing this data, businesses can determine the ideal price point for their product or service that will maximize revenue and profits.

In addition to determining the optimal price point, a pricing map can also help businesses to identify different mark-ups in the supply chain. This information can be used to optimise the supply chain and reduce costs, which can lead to increased profits.

Another benefit of creating a pricing map is that it can help businesses to make a business case for a specific route-to-market model. For example, a business may be considering selling their products through a new distribution channel, and the pricing map can provide the data needed to evaluate whether this is a viable option.

The Product Flow Analysis tool 2: The product flow is the study of product movement through the supply chain, from the manufacturer or brand owner to the distributors, wholesalers and ultimately to outlets and consumers. It also looks at the product returns and product rejections, or reverse flow. It is used to gain an understanding of where outlets and channels purchase specific products or product categories from, and whether they purchase from multiple sources.

The product flow analysis looks at the routes taken by products through the supply chain, as well as the various steps involved in the movement of these products. This analysis can help businesses identify any bottlenecks or inefficiencies in the supply chain, which can be addressed to optimise the product flow and reduce costs.

Another important aspect of product flow analysis is the study of product returns and rejections. This refers to products that are returned by consumers or rejected by retailers and must be sent back through the supply chain to the manufacturer or brand owner. This reverse flow can have a significant impact on the efficiency of the supply chain and must be carefully managed to minimize costs and ensure timely delivery of products to customers.

One of the primary goals of product flow analysis is to gain an understanding of where outlets and channels purchase specific products or product categories from, and whether they purchase from multiple sources. This information can be used to identify opportunities for optimisation and cost reduction, such as consolidating orders or negotiating better pricing from suppliers.

Regulatory environment: It is vital to understand the regulatory factors when entering a country. The laws and regulations of each country can have a significant impact on businesses, affecting their ability to operate, compete, and succeed in the market.

In particular, regulatory factors can impact a company’s route-to-market. For example, they may affect the distribution channels available, the pricing strategy, or the marketing approach used. By understanding the regulatory environment, businesses can identify potential obstacles or opportunities and develop strategies that enable them to navigate these challenges effectively.

Moreover, understanding the regulatory factors is crucial to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations. Non-compliance can result in significant penalties, legal action, or reputational damage. By understanding the regulations, businesses can avoid these risks and maintain a good reputation in the market.

Technology: It is essential to assess the technology infrastructure when considering entering a new market, particularly in developing countries. Poor and unstable internet supply can be a significant problem and can impact the ability of businesses to operate efficiently. In addition, the high cost of importing technology can be a barrier for companies looking to enter a market.

In many developing countries, the internet supply can be unreliable due to inadequate infrastructure, leading to slow connectivity and frequent disruptions. This can impact business operations that rely on digital platforms, such as e-commerce, cloud-based services, or remote work. Therefore, it is crucial for companies to assess the quality and availability of internet supply in the region they are considering entering.

Moreover, the high cost of importing technology can be a significant barrier for businesses looking to enter a market. Import taxes, customs duties, and transportation costs can make technology equipment prohibitively expensive. Therefore, businesses must assess the cost of importing technology equipment and identify any local suppliers that can provide cost-effective solutions.

To overcome these challenges, companies may need to adapt their technology strategy to suit the local environment. For example, they may need to use low-bandwidth solutions or invest in local infrastructure to improve connectivity. Additionally, partnering with local suppliers can help to reduce the cost of importing technology and ensure that businesses have access to reliable equipment and support.

In addition to assessing the technology infrastructure, it is also important to consider the prevalence of mobile devices and digital literacy in the target market. Mobile devices have become a ubiquitous tool for accessing the internet and conducting business transactions, particularly in developing countries. Therefore, businesses must ensure that their digital platforms are mobile-friendly and accessible to employees and users on the go.

Furthermore, digital literacy is a critical factor in the adoption of technology in many markets. The ability to use and understand digital tools and platforms is essential for businesses and individuals to participate in the digital economy fully. Therefore, it is important for businesses to assess the level of digital literacy in the target market and identify any potential gaps that may impact their operations.

By considering the prevalence of mobile devices and digital literacy, businesses can tailor their technology strategy to suit the local environment. For example, they may need to develop mobile-first applications that are easy to use and accessible to users with lower levels of digital literacy. Additionally, investing in digital literacy training programs for employees and customers can help to promote the adoption of digital tools and platforms.

Infrastructure: When analysing how infrastructure will impact your route-to-market in a specific country, it’s crucial to consider the condition of the country’s roads, ports, railways, airports, telecoms, and electricity supply. In many emerging markets, inadequate infrastructure can result in significant additional costs for businesses.

For instance, poorly maintained or non-existent roads can make it challenging and expensive to transport goods from one location to another, leading to longer delivery times, increased transportation costs, and even product damage during transit. Similarly, limited or inefficient port facilities can cause delays and additional expenses when importing or exporting goods.

Accessible and reliable telecoms infrastructure is essential for businesses since it enables efficient communication and data exchange. Without such infrastructure, businesses may find it challenging to communicate with clients and partners, resulting in delays, lost sales, and decreased productivity. Furthermore, stable and reliable electricity supply is necessary for businesses to operate efficiently. An unstable or limited power supply can cause costly interruptions to operations and equipment damage.

External stakeholders: When considering entering a new market, it is important to study how you could collaborate with other external stakeholders in the country. The convergence of profit and purpose has made it essential for companies, governments, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to work together towards achieving common goals. Collaboration can help to align development goals and create mutually beneficial outcomes.

Working with other stakeholders in the market can provide opportunities for shared learning, innovation, and access to resources. For example, collaboration with local governments can help to navigate regulatory requirements and provide access to local networks and resources. NGOs can provide valuable insights into the social and environmental context of the market and help to identify areas where businesses can contribute to social impact.

Moreover, collaboration with other businesses can create opportunities for partnerships, joint ventures, and shared expertise. Companies can work together to build local supply chains, share marketing channels, and jointly develop new products and services. Such partnerships can also help to reduce risk and enhance market access by pooling resources and expertise.

Collaboration can also enable businesses to contribute to the development of the communities they operate in. Companies can work with local communities to identify their needs and develop programmes that address their social and economic challenges. For example, businesses can partner with NGOs to develop education and training programmes, provide access to healthcare, or support local entrepreneurs.

2. Design and enablers

Once you have completed your analysis, you need to start the design process. Our design phase is segmented into four major building blocks that include the model, sales, logistics, and execution & measurement.

2.1 Model

The distribution model building blocks consider the model type, territory, financials and the need for an outlet survey. 

Territory: Determine the size of the distribution territory and how many potential customers exist within a given area and how easy it is to reach them. This will help determine the optimal size of the distribution territory.

Distribution model: When expanding your route-to-market, you need to decide whether to build your own physical distribution network or use third-party providers, including organised distributors and wholesalers. Also understand which functions you would like to control such as account development and recruitment. The model you choose for your distribution system will play a significant role in determining the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations. It is common for distributors to be given exclusive rights within specific territories and channels.

Financials: When considering different distribution models, it’s important to ask yourself how much investment each one will require. It’s also essential to understand the trade margins associated with each model and whether they align with your financial assumptions. Another crucial factor to consider is the profitability of each route-to-market model – do you have a clear understanding of how much profit each one will generate?

Outlet survey: An outlet survey is essential in emerging markets as it provides valuable information about the retail landscape and competition. In emerging markets, the retail sector is often fragmented, unregistered and unorganised, with a large number of informal retailers. Conducting an outlet survey can help companies understand the distribution channels, the number, and types of potential outlets, as well as their locations and sizes.

2.2 Sales

The sales building blocks focus on sales, order management, outlet development, and money collection activities. 

Recruitment: Design the steps to identify and activate a new outlet. Recruitment can be done by adding the responsibilities to a salesperson’s role or creating a dedicated team of outlet activators or recruiters. 

Order management: Develop all activities related to managing customer orders, both manually and electronic, such as ecommerce. Consider documentation and tracking of orders. 

Outlet development : Review the outlet development plan and how to create additional demand, sales, and profits within existing customers. These activities include selling new products, negotiating space for products, and developing close relationships with the customer.

Collection: Map out the receiving of money from the customer. This could be done electronically or by collecting cash in person. It is important to understand when cash is collected. In some informal markets, getting the order and collecting cash are done at separate stages. Sometimes cash is only collected later in the day — when the outlet has sufficient cash to pay for the goods. 

2.3 Logistics

Logistics refers to the overall process of managing and transporting inventory from manufacturing to storage, and to the final destination. The final destination could be an outlet — ready to serve a shopper and end consumer. The logistics building blocks focus on warehousing, inventory control, transportation and routing. 

Warehousing & Inventory: Review warehousing and the act of storing goods that will be sold or distributed later. Consider where products are stored, shelving and racking system, inventory control system, material handling equipment, security, and yard management. 

Transportation: Assess the process of physically transporting goods from manufacturing to the customer, and unloading products at the customer location. The actual sale becomes a reality when the delivery team delivers the products —  ensuring the products are available in the outlet. Transportation also needs to take into consideration the optimum fleet and maintenance. 

Routing: Design the service frequency and delivery routes. Routing aims to simplify the work  – ensuring a clear call sequence for the sales and delivery teams, and maximising the daily number of standard calls.

2.4 Execution and measurement

The execution and measurement phase focuses on merchandising, equipment management, channel standards, and compliance. 

Merchandising: Assess the activity of promoting the sale of goods in the outlet. Display products at the right time, at the right place in the outlet, in the right quantity, and at the right price to increase sales. Merchandising activities may include product display techniques such as stock rotation, placing equipment, and point-of-sale material.

Equipment management: Identify the need for equipment such as racks and coolers, and the placement plan in visible and high-traffic areas to maximise sales. Ensure equipment is clean and well maintained. 

Channel standards: Set execution standards for the sales team. Determine what success looks like for the organisation when in the market and identify the brands and SKUs that need to be visible in the outlet, and where you would like your products displayed in the outlet. 

Compliance: Design minimum standards for the sales and distribution teams and implement an audit system to track compliance. For example, distribution partners could be measured on their minimum inventory levels, warehouse layout, personnel, and delivery process.

3. Enablers

The final activity of the design phase is to develop the key enablers to support the building blocks.

3.1 Key performance indicators: Develop performance measurements which can demonstrate how effective a company is in achieving its key business objectives. KPIs can add value to your business and highlight opportunities for process improvement. 

3.2 Process mapping: Map out business processes and all the steps needed to complete a task. Focus on the detail that is required for the project. A process mapping describes the flow of materials, information and documents, and indicates the various tasks contained within a process. It indicates the decisions that need to be made and demonstrates the essential inter-relationships and interdependence between the process steps. 

3.3 Routines: Design routines or actions regularly followed. This could be a sales routine, and the steps a salesman follows to complete an order in an outlet.  

3.4 Technology: Consider equipment such as smartphones, mobile applications, and cloud-based software, that are starting to digitise supply chains in emerging markets. Assess how you can simplify operational processes and create real-time visibility in even the smallest outlet.

3.5 Financial support: Determine the financial support required to support retailers and smaller distribution partners. Consider partnering with financial institutions and fintech providers with a focus on SMEs. Financial institutions don’t typically work with small businesses in emerging markets, as they mostly lack a paper trail and credit rating.  

3.6. Human resources: Consider the acquisition and retention of skilled staff. Create the right environment for employees to learn and grow and put the right policies in place.

3.7 Remuneration and incentives: Determine the sales compensation, including base salary, commission, and additional monetary incentives. Set incentives based on execution and compliance standards for the sales and distribution team.

3.8 Coaching: Develop coaching programmes and equip employees with the tools and knowledge to complete their tasks in the workplace. Basic coaching steps include accessing the current skills, setting clear goals, agreeing on actions, and following up. 

3.9 Training: Implement training programmes to increase knowledge and skills of employees. For sales staff this could include product knowledge, merchandising skills, and how to handle objections in the market. 

3.10 Collaboration: Identify organisations and businesses that you could collaborate with. Businesses, government and non-profit organisations all have rich networks and can play an important role in facilitating relationships. Collaboration could lead to cost savings, resource pooling, and reduced overheads on projects.

4. Pilot & scale

The third and fourth phase focus on piloting and scaling your route to market model. 


A pilot project or initial small-scale implementation, tests the viability of a route-to-market model. The pilot project enables an organisation to manage the risk of a new model, identify problems, and make changes, before committing substantial resources. 


The project team can scale the model, once the pilot launch has been completed and the necessary changes have been made to it. During this phase you will also identify the barriers to scaling the model, and identify steps to overcome these barriers. Scale involves expanding the model, increasing sales, servicing more customers, impacting more entrepreneurs, creating more jobs, and selling more brands and products. 


For a complete framework and steps to design and develop a route-market plan, see our Route-to-Market presentation (220+ slides). It discusses each step in analysing, designing, piloting, and scaling a route-to-market model to service micro-retailers, and includes 18 tools to analyse the market and design processes. The presentation also includes 35 case study snapshots of companies and startups in Africa, Asia and Latin America — employing business models to service customers in emerging markets.

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