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Reaching Your Customer Segments

There are five core stages of activities1 that are carried out through channels:

  1. Awareness raising
  2. Evaluation
  3. Purchase
  4. Delivery
  5. After-sales

The six channels that are commonly used in the development and humanitarian sectors are outlined below.

Online/Social Media

Definition: This channel involves using the internet to reach your customer segments and stakeholders. This can be through your own website and/or through social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Context: This channel is used slightly differently in the humanitarian and development sectors. Customers in these sectors will generally want to see a demonstration of the digital product or service before buying or adopting it. Therefore, your online activities will mostly be around awareness raising of your brand, products, and services, and to build credibility through thought leadership.

Stage of activities most used for: Awareness

Stage of activities sometimes used for: After-sales, purchasing

Top Tips

In the humanitarian and development sectors, an online presence and social media strategy are best used for credibility and promoting your brand. Unlike with private-sector, business-to-consumer marketing, online and social media are not the primary channels for sales in the development and humanitarian sectors. You should approach your online presence and social media strategy as being one of brand positioning and awareness, rather than a sales channel.

Twitter is one of the most used social media platforms in the development and humanitarian sectors and is a good channel to follow potential buyers and users and to promote your solution. However, it is important to do your research to identify the most popular social media platforms in the countries where you are seeking to sell your digital solution. Social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn sometimes have local groups for digital development in a country or city and can be useful for making connections. Whichever platform you decide to use, ensure that you map out who the influencers are and which hashtags are most used.


Definition: These are formal events attracting a large number of participants.

Key Resources

Context: Conferences are one of the key places for people in the humanitarian and development sectors to meet and find out what is happening in the sector. A list of some of the most important conferences can be found in the key resources box. If your digital product or service is targeted at solving problems in a particular technical sector (e.g., education, health, or civil society) then attending conferences for these technical sectors is also useful.

Conferences can be expensive, so you need to be judicious in deciding which conference to prioritize by assessing who attends, how large it is, what reach it has, whether the proceedings are published, what location it is in, and the associated costs.

There are a number of strategies and tactics to maximize these conferences as opportunities for engaging with buyers and users. They should be prioritized by the amount of visibility and interaction they will provide. Options include:

  • Sponsorship (conference, track, session, breakfast, or happy hour)
  • Facilitating a workshop
  • Chairing a panel discussion
  • Speaking or being on a panel in the main session or side session
  • Running a real or virtual booth or stand

Stage of activities most used for: Awareness, evaluation

Stage of activities sometimes used for: Purchasing

Top Tips
  • Panel appearances should be used for thought leadership, not trying to sell your product or service.
  • Provide free branded merchandise at your stall, like pens, badges, and notebooks. Wear some branded clothing such as a T-shirt to build your brand awareness.
  • If you have a stall, use it as a demo space. Being able to interact with your solution will help potential buyers and partners appreciate its potential use.
  • The sessions are not the main way to reach your potential buyers and users. The main purpose of attending conferences is to network. Research who is going to be there and reach out to potential customers and partners to arrange meetups during coffee breaks and other times around the conference proceedings. Making connections and building relationships will be key to laying the groundwork for future sales opportunities.


Definition: These are less formal gatherings that are designed to bring people together in more organic forums to network and learn together.

Context: Convenings in the humanitarian and development sectors are often place based, but many have moved online since the COVID-19 pandemic. A list of some engaging and informative global events can be found in the key resources box. There are also local events and meetups in many countries. If you want to go beyond participating and organize a convening yourself, you should target people involved in ICT4D or the technical sector that you are focused on.

The types of activities that can be convened are:

  • Webinars
  • In-person meetups and drinks
  • Workshops
  • Training series
  • Host speakers

Stage of activities most used for: Awareness

Stage of activities sometimes used for: Evaluation

Top Tips

When hosting a convening, do not use the group activities to sell directly, but rather use them as a way of showing your thought leadership, raising awareness of your brand, and building trust. However, when your digital solution does become a good topic for discussion, you should not shy away from giving your sales pitch. You don’t have to be an expert to convene. Just reserve some time to plan and host the convening.

Word of Mouth

Definition: A word-of-mouth referral is when one customer or stakeholder recommends your service or solution to another person.

Context: Word-of-mouth recommendations are critical for selling into organizations and governments. However, they are not likely to lead to direct sales opportunities, as many organizations still require some form of open procurement process.

If you are referred to a potential adopter/purchaser, make sure you follow up with the connection quickly to ensure you are top of mind with potential partners and buyers when they are thinking of partnerships or putting out a tender for a digital solution like yours. When you do follow up, try to ensure as many internal stakeholders in the organization as possible are part of the conversation, as shown in the Buyer, User, and Target Impact (BUTI) segments section of this guide. Key roles that will often be involved in getting to a “yes” at a country level are:

  • Technical adviser for the sector (e.g., health, education)
  • Digital lead
  • Innovation lead
  • Program manager or director who has oversight of the development, humanitarian, or advocacy program.
  • Finance staff member
  • Supply chain/procurement lead

Stage of activities most used for: Awareness

Top Tips

Getting to “yes” at the country or project level is easier than at the regional, global, or core IT’ level for many international organizations. At the global or core IT level, you will need to cover the same types of roles, but you will also need to be ready for discussions on integration and compatibility with global systems, processes, and digital architecture. This can also be an issue of project IT (i.e., short term, often used by program departments at a country level), which is grant to grant and contract to contract. Core IT requires enterprise sign off but is a more consistent and reliable funding model.

Making such connections can lead to opportunities where you can carry out internal presentations for the organizations. This can sometimes lead to direct sales opportunities if they have innovation funds to test new products or services or they are near the end of the financial year and have some spare funds they can use. However, the most likely use of such connections will be to enable you to build brand recognition and trust, and enable you to be well-positioned for when a request for proposal or expression of interest is issued by the organization. As with the online and social media channel, understanding who the influencers are in an organization and having them advocate for your solution helps with having your product or service adopted.


Definition: A partnership is when organizations, governments, and businesses agree to work together. It can be very structured such as a joint venture, a larger grouping such as a consortia, or an open network of organizations and individuals.

Context: Partnering is the preferred mode of the aid sector, particularly consortia that collaborate to submit proposals and tender bids for large funding opportunities. (See procurement processes below.) There are two main types of partnerships that are channels for funding opportunities:

  1. Partners that are a channel to funding may have better access to funding opportunities than you do. They can be the primary recipient of a grant or contract from a “back donor” and you could be a sub-grantee or contractor.
  2. Partners who are channels to access target impact segments. This can include providing support in adapting your solution to the local context and expanding it to other regions and countries. Such partners, particularly in humanitarian contexts, can be critical for you to be able to access the target impact segments, which may be difficult to reach or in conflict-affected locations.

Partners can also act as a community of practice with practical experience in addressing the same issue in a different geography.

Stage of activities most used for: Evaluation, delivery, after-sales

Stage of activities sometimes used for: Purchasing

Top Tips

Partners that are channels are not your customers, they are channels for either accessing funding or target impact groups that you can’t access on your own. This is an important role that they are playing, but it should not be confused with your customer segment. See Key Partnerships to explore different types of partnerships.

Procurement Processes

Definition: Procurement processes are the methods used to acquire a good or service by an organization, government, or business.

Key Resources

Context: A significant amount of sales occur through competitive procurement processes. The primary reason for this is that much of the funding that is used to pay for digital products and services comes from donations or public funds, which means that strong, transparent, and competitive procurement processes are required. Calls for proposals/requests for proposals (CFP/RFPs) and tender opportunities are the most common mechanisms for this. A list of procurement types can be found in the key resources box. Be aware that the digital component of a CFP/RFP may often be buried within a larger program, so you will need to partner with other organizations on such proposals (see Key Partnerships).

Stage of activities most used for: Purchasing, evaluation

Top Tips

For some buyers, you will need to be registered and pre-qualify to be able to take part in a procurement process. This often involves being registered in a database such as the UN Global Marketplace. You should also ensure that you are monitoring key websites to track calls for proposals and tender opportunities.

Procurement processes take a significant amount of time and effort. Make sure that you fulfill the criteria before taking part in the process. Also ensure that you have the time and skills to create a strong tender document or proposal.

Interactive Tool: Channel Strategy Mix
  • Methodology: Group or individual exercise
  • Time estimate: 30-90 minutes

With the many channels and stages of activities that channels are used for, developing the right channel strategy mix is critical to achieving partnerships, adoption, and sales. Use our interactive tool to help you work on your channel strategy mix.

Go to the tool
Case Study: Mixed Channel Strategy for Awareness, Evaluation, and Purchase Activities

SurveyCTO is a mobile data collection platform for researchers and professionals working in offline settings. It is built upon the ODK software employing a hackable model.

SurveyCTO takes a multichannel approach to sales, using different channels to build on each other as a branding exercise (awareness) to keep their name in people’s minds. Twitter is used to promote and convene (awareness), while conferences and webinars provide opportunities for more in-depth showcases of features, case studies, and conversations (evaluation). SurveyCTO consistently posts on Twitter, sharing updates on projects its software is being used for, but also to share external resources linked to its expertise (evaluation).

Seeing digital solution providers at conferences is important for existing customers as it is a reminder to them that they chose a reputable, leading company (awareness). Additionally, conferences are used to reconnect with existing customers and to engage with new and prospective customers.

SurveyCTO runs the Safe People and Data initiative, convening other actors and discussions in line with its values. This allows the organization to be viewed as a thought leader as well as a supplier (awareness and evaluation).

Key Takeaways

  1. There are five channel activities.

  2. There are six channels that are most common in humanitarian and development aid.

  3. Create a channel mix strategy to plan your channel approach.

Complete the following in your Business Model Sustainability Canvas
  • Outline the key channels that you will use from your channel mix strategy.