Interview with Dr. Christoph Reinkemeier, Head of Interroll's Global Sales & Service
Let's start with a slightly provocative question: What do you actually sell?
Interroll is not merely a product procurer; it is equally important for us to have the right solution package for every customer at the right place at the right time. Guaranteed availability is a key issue. Our customers face increasing time pressure and have a specific understanding of precision and quality. Some international customers are focused on transferring quality standards to other regions. Providing the right product consulting is essential for us. We are always working with an integrator or plant manufacturer.
How much consulting is involved in Interroll sales?
Our salespeople are technically trained and have quite high internal qualification standards, including customer applications. All of our sales representatives have to keep renewing their "Interroll driver's license." We take annual measurements, and there are assessments and regular training sessions in our own Interroll Academy. The focus is on product knowledge and on understanding the customer. The salespeople also consult with application engineers who can provide in-depth consulting and work with the customer. And then there is a third stage, a companywide expert level, which, in individual cases, can also be used to decide whether we adjust our range of solutions to specific customer requirements.
What opportunities does the sales department have to incorporate customer feedback into innovations?
We are a medium-sized company that is organized in a very "hands-on" way. All of us know each other personally in product management and development and it extends beyond country borders. Sales is the first to have its ear to the market. Customer requests account for a large part of our innovations. They develop in the regions quite differently, which we also take into account.We are committed to developing a solution that advances the profitability of the overall solution.
What do you think is the biggest difference between a purchaser's objectives and those of the seller?
Both sides have definitely realized that we are in a repeat purchasing environment, and so purchasing organizations and those of us who are sellers have a similar objective. We are committed to developing a solution that advances the profitability of the overall solution. But the question that always comes up in every conversation: "Couldn't things be a little cheaper?" The question is legitimate, but that's also how we keep evolving.
Are there new trends in purchasing?
Global value chains are becoming increasingly important. Can the supplier offer me more than just satisfying my direct needs? Am I talking to the right person? Can we evolve together? That's what we mean when we say we are an "enabler."
Is the partnership getting stronger?
In some segments yes. Some customers want to strategically align themselves with Interroll. Other customers just want somebody who simply guarantees a reliable delivery plan, and still others need a full-range provider with a product offering as large as possible. We have something to offer in all of these dimensions. Another interesting shift is that some of our customers come up with contractually defined specific quality requirements, for example, lifetime warranties.
Quality is therefore just as important as the price in contract design?
Right. After all, our integrator and system builder customers sell an entire system. If the conveyor technology fails in one place, the entire system stops. The price is also always considered in relation to the other advantages.
Aim: More customer satisfaction
What are you proud of after five years at Interroll? And where do you see the company in ten years?
In developing our modular conveyor platform, we distributed a truly comprehensive, global customer survey for the first time about four years ago. That brought us into a new dimension. We created a product portfolio that we introduced in 2014, recently rolled out in Asia, and in the United States. It was entirely new for us to comprehensively survey every customer before launching an innovation. We will certainly be making use of that again. In the near future, we will also be looking into the convenience factor in customer relations: How can we make our services faster, easier, and more convenient for customers? For example, I could imagine further creating a type of project tracking system for our customers in order to offer important information and professional assistance for assembly, installation, and commissioning. With precise commitments for delivery dates, better documentation, and installation- optimized shipments, we could have a large part in creating even more customer satisfaction.
Assuming culture plays an important role in sales, how do you manage this intercultural team?
For starters, sales don't happen by chance. I expect all sales teams to have a strategy that guides their work. How they then ultimately use it to convince different customers, for example, from Japan compared to the United States. The conversational rules are completely different, some more open, some more indirect. Decisions are made differently. In some countries, seniority is very important, and in other countries everybody participates in the discussions. Our salespeople are certainly familiar with the respective cultures because they are not expatriates; they are from these markets and feel at home there. Our salespeople see themselves as real customer advocates. At times, they can put up a quite a fight here internally for their customers.
We don't want fast growth just for the sake of growth, but to be sustainable and based on the right structure.
Sales must therefore have a structure; it's just that it can look different in Japan than it does in the United States. So what makes for a good salesperson in general?
Our sales representatives are usually with us many years; that is an important part of our corporate culture. The trust in the person and the entire team is therefore just as important as the trust in our product portfolio. Our salespeople see themselves as real customer advocates. At times, they can put up quite a fight here internally for their customers. We don't want sporadic fast growth just for the sake of growth. We want our growth to be sustainable and based on the right structure. In our project business, it is highly appreciated if we learn from past mistakes and are honest in our customer interactions. It is normal for something unexpected to happen in projects. Sometimes something happens with the customer, or the task changes— and we aren't perfect either. The important thing is to then quickly work out a solution in an uncomplicated way.
You have worked in the US for a long time. What experiences have you had there compared to Switzerland or Germany?
The US definitely has a different sales approach than Europe. I think that has made me more aware, more attentive and observant. But such differences also exist within Europe, for example between Scandinavia and Italy, or within Asia. In my experience, the Chinese prefer to get right to the point. Japanese customers are very traditional and their approach is characterized by pleasantries. The key is to give the local teams the necessary freedoms. We only set the framework in which our decentralized organization operates.
And when you personally participate in the contract negotiations?
I rely on the local, on-site team to give me my cues. It actually works quite well. I am personally familiar with most of the large customer projects. It is important to our board that the managing board and management always be involved in the operational side of the business as well. That is part of our company culture.
Do you like to go shopping?
Yes, very much. Not that I poke around in a designer shop every week, but shopping just interests me! I grew up in a supermarket. My parents had a grocery store, and by age five I was restocking shelves, by ten I was selling bread, bringing groceries to customers, and so on. In the US, for example, I like to go into a large supermarket and wander through the aisles. I can have a moment to myself there, and I thoroughly enjoy it.