- On 11. January 2018
Rasmus Kriegel has a background as a pharmacist. He got his degree in 2002 and after he completed his education, he worked at Rådhusapoteket in Lyngby. Here he developed a broad knowledge of pharmaceutical products and got acquainted with sales; The “good sale” which is about entering into a dialogue with the customers to identify their actual needs and give them exactly what they need. Already here, Rasmus developed a good understanding of how to meet a need despite the fact that customers are not always aware of exactly what solution will solve their challenges.
After some years at the pharmacy, Rasmus felt like seeing the world in a slightly broader perspective. He became district manager with the Danish company Orifarm where his primary responsibility was to spread the knowledge of Orifarm’s products and consolidate the distribution of these to the pharmacies. Orifarm was at that point in time a challenger in the market for generic pharmaceuticals and the pharmacies were hard-pressed on their earnings. Rasmus was very successful in shifting attitudes and creating focus on the value for the pharmacies. With many daily customer visits over the 4 years, he walked his first “sales miles”. He became acquainted with a lot of tools he could use to work in a systematic and structured way with sales, and again, he felt like expanding his perspective.
Via his contact, as a consultant, with the consumers at the pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry, Rasmus had acquired special knowledge of the connection that existed between Orifarm’s products, the pipeline and the consumer. Orifarm created a position for him as Business Developer. His new role included conducting marketing analyses and clarifying what was happening on the Danish market, but also going out in the world and finding suppliers for the areas Orifarm wanted to approach. One challenging assignment led to another and made Rasmus internationally visible, and thus led him to Cell Biotech – a South Korean biotech company specialising in production of probiotic products. The purpose of hiring Rasmus was to identify potential partners in Europe and to set up distribution agreements via, among other channels, the network he had built in Europe. Rasmus succeeded within a relatively short time span to establish agreements with some big customers in countries like Finland, Spain and France. The job was crammed with days on the road, lots of key account management activities and providing a great deal of support to the customers, drawing on his experience from other markets. Beyond having the responsibility for the international markets, Rasmus at the same time filled the position of country manager for Denmark, his responsibility being the establishment of a sales force. This is when his transformation from being a salesman to being a sales manager started. Rasmus was responsible for discussions and feed-back, and coaching and made sure that everybody was pursuing the right targets, so today, he is a professional salesman with in-depth experience of sales management, strategic work and a structured approach to sales.
What made you accept AlfaNordic’s offer?
I sensed a strong passion. There is a lot of pride and a lot of experience. I felt that here are some people who know what they are talking about. When I entered the offices I got a distinct feeling of professionalism. I was met by a kind of entrepreneurial spirit. You know, the tendency to always look upwards where the bar should preferably be at the very top, and then the expanded agility; In reality a knack for doing what is right or in a way that we wish to – we can also call it a short decision process. All these things are in keeping with the things I have worked with earlier.
I also liked the way the entire recruiting process took place at AlfaNordic – they relatively quickly asked me how I could help them achieve the growth targets. I drew up an overall plan for this, and the result was of course that I became even keener on starting and participating in this journey. I am absorbed in figuring out how I can contribute, for example by structuring and applying a sales-strategic approach to how AlfaNordic acquires customers, how the employees may contribute to bringing home more and new assignments.
Before I knew of AlfaNordic, I was actually at a crossroads with regard to my career. Did I want to sell probiotics now and in the future? Where would I find my next development step? I then realised that it is not that important to me what I am selling, but that what I am selling is good and unique and that the people I work with are people who share my values and who basically are on the customer’s side in the sales process. This is the reason why I was extremely open to talking to a company that sells something entirely different from what I know. My wife and I had actually agreed that if there was even the slightest doubt, I should refrain from accepting the offer. Working with sales management of the management group was a good match with what I want as the next step in my career. And the possibility of having access to support from some senior people is also something I highly prioritise, and the chances for that are good at AlfaNordic.
If we are to continue to increase our growth, where in the market will we find it? To answer that question, we are working with an actual growth strategy. So that the entire process requires some good old-fashioned sales management, and this is where I enter the picture. I have identified two areas where I will build up my competencies and my role in the company. The first is as the salesman. I must know something in detail about the individual business areas. I will go through a learning process before I am as knowledgeable as I must be to fulfil my role when visiting our customers. The overall role is as sales manager, – I have to guide the area directors in prioritising to the highest extent possible. In a workday where we continue to grow the company, priorities become a key issue. I have to follow up on and absorb what they don’t have the time to do. At the start, I can do some of this work myself, but later, we probably need to hire more people to take over some of that work. I will, to a great extent, be the owner of that organisation, being the person with the overall responsibility for our sales activities.
Will AlfaNordic conduct sales in an entirely different way in the future?
I don’t think that the way we do our selling needs to change much. I believe it needs to be refined. The way we are organised around it will be changed. Quite simply because taking our current resources into account, we will not be able to increase the number of work orders without spending more time on sales. Every new employee we hire is an employee we have to sell to a new assignment. If we assume that every time we hold 3 meetings we get an order, and this again means that every time we hire a new employee we need to have a lot more meetings, and a meeting takes the time a meeting takes unless we can organise things in a way that we hold more meetings across the customers’ organisations at the same time.
Part of the solution could be increased project sales so that we, to a greater extent, sell a combination of CVs to a project which can then each solve its own part of the assignment, and then we take ownership of the execution of the project. We don’t do this a lot today. We do not have a lot of people available who will be able to pointwise contribute with a wide range of tasks. We can of course ask our consultants whether they want to work on tasks in parallel with the tasks they are working on today, but at some point in time this will create bottlenecks. So in that sense, there is a linear context in the way we handle our sales today. One of my tasks will be to try to figure out whether there is a way to break this linearity.
Doesn’t network selling contribute to breaking that linearity?
Yes, true. The first time you sell something you must prove a great many things. The next time, a little less, but you still have to sniff out the task. Is it possible, as part of the delivery and by being structured, already at that point to uncover whether other entities of the organisation need our services, you automatically gain some information about potential assignments.
The challenge may for example be a situation where a QA manager in department 1 is not aware of precisely what needs a QA manager in department 2 has for a consultant. So what might of course be interesting would be to try to detect some needs across departments so we can uncover the need of an entire organisation, instead of the need of the individual middle manager. That would put us in a position where we could support the customer much more efficiently. An optimal scenario would be to have a meeting with all QA managers in a company at the same time, but that is often not possible in practice. So we have done what is possible; we meet with the individual managers a little at a time. I think that we will clearly challenge that method in the future.
Why does it to a greater extent get more important to organise the sales processes at AlfaNordic in the future?
One of our current challenges is that if we want to continue growing, it is not enough to just work 320 hours a month. This does not necessarily yield the expected output, so we must figure out how to better create value for our customers within the work hours actually at our disposal. One of the things I worked with a lot when I was a district manager, was precisely a structured approach to who to visit when. One of the issues that the pharmaceutical industry has worked a lot with for the past 10-15 years is segmentation. We must make sure that the meetings that we spend our limited time on actually make sense. If we visit a customer that we want to deal with long-term, at the same time also knowing that this customer does not have a need here and now, the visit must be made intentionally. We then invest in this resource here and now, we invest resources in talking to the customer even though we know that there will be no profits in the immediate future, but at the same time we do it with a view to a future return on our investment. It is actually this “deliberate expense” approach we have to apply to some of our activities. Is this what makes more sense for us at this very moment? And then at the same time we must look at the different interested parties in the company. We need to build a system that helps us keep track of these activities. Gaining this overview across the area directors makes it possible for us, in the first place, to create a more structured approach to the individual point of entry and then to share the current tasks and share the available contacts, in order to make the most sense.
Many of the consultants are today already working as a kind of sales force. What is your perspective of this for the future?
First of all I think that it is an absolute necessity. In this area, I think that we also have to establish some form for segmentation. What I have experienced is that it pays off to focus on the individuals who feel like also making an effort this way. If you work in a large pharmaceutical company with 100 scientists and researchers, – who do you want to focus on? The 5 scientists who are the least motivated or the 5 best researchers? Who do you think are most likely to deliver the turnover of the future? It is possible to release a much higher degree of drive by getting hold of the people who really want to perform. These are people who do it almost subconsciously. People to whom it comes very naturally. You also have to detaboo the concept of sales and avoid thinking of the persisting telephone salesperson. The concept of sales covers a lot of other things, and we want to switch focus from ”push” to a form for dialogue that creates some ”pull”. This constitutes a service to our customers. A dialogue with the customer should not focus on: I MUST sell the customer this project. I should in reality try to create a dialogue that makes the customer feel like taking a closer look at what we offer. These are 2 widely different issues. If you ask me how to be best at selling, then it is exactly via this dialogue. There is no short-cut guaranteeing that the customer simply makes a purchase. You have to understand the need. So it is actually a question of making the starting point of where the customer wants to be – a point where they become better and where they obtain support in getting there.
How is it possible, quite specifically, to get more knowledge of the customer’s needs via this dialogue?
Here is an example: If I ask you what your beach looks like. I can ask in two different ways: “Do you have sand on your beach?” I do. “Do you have seagulls on your beach?”. A few. This is an example of how not to put the question, but instead I could say: “Imagine being on a beach. Can you tell me what it looks like? What is it that you feel?”. I make you think of what it is that you see and feel when you are on that beach, so instead of verifying the image of my beach by talking to you, I ask you what your beach looks like. It is always important that we conduct a dialogue with our customers where it is their beach we paint and not our own we are trying to paint. We run a risk that our solution does not match the beach that is actually inside the head of the customer if we apply a questioning technique that limits our possibility to understand the details and the customer’s need. Most of the area directors actually already apply this technique, but they do it subconsciously. They are not aware of their competencies. What makes this exciting to work with is to make them aware of their competencies and then to develop these competencies further. This is an area that I myself work with educating myself. I learn these methods and practise them and get them ”under my skin”.
The better you are at playing ball with the person sitting across from you, the better the chances are of getting that person interested in your ideas. If I ask you about your beach with my own beach as a starting point, you will at some point or another become irritated, not consciously irritated, but subconsciously irritated, because I am not matching your own beach. I am matching my own beach. You simply feel that there is something in this communication that does not work.
Good relationships with personal contacts have from the start formed a part of the foundation in AlfaNordic’s way of delivering services. Do we not run a risk of losing some of that when we organise and structure the entire sales process?
We need to have a clear picture of the state of things so that we can set our priorities in relation to how much time we have. It would make a lot of sense if for example I am the one who knows a person and I am then the person with the personal contact. What has created the success here has been the good network that the area directors brought along with them from their careers. This will not change, but it will slowly be switched to a more structured approach where we still maintain the personal aspect.
The challenge is how the task is delivered. When I ask the customers generally, I get a lot of positive feed-back on AlfaNordic. This basically requires that the product we deliver is good. And I have no doubt that it is, but we can improve the way our services are delivered, so that AlfaNordic’s image is emphasised more in that connection. How does the assignment start? How do we continuously follow up on the project? And how is it concluded? These are some of the issues we will be working with in sales. How do we get the package that we deliver to make a more distinct and positive foot print with the customer, so that the customers themselves call again or call their friends and say ”You simply have to call AlfaNordic, they have over-performed to a degree that nobody could have anticipated or hoped for”. This will require training, we will have to develop some guidelines in this area, establish some structure as to how to start, how do we assess performance as things are moving along, and conclude the project so we get the best possible dialogue with the customer about the project. In the final analysis, the value that we create for our customer is what the customer remembers us by, and not because the customer and we are “very nice people”. We have the extra advantage that the people we have employed are indeed very nice people, but in reality, it is very important for our company and our future growth possibilities that this aspect is firmly anchored in our organisation and that we have established some routines to pass on the baton if we lose some key employees. This provides our customers with stability and a sense of security.
How do you consolidate the quality of the product when you deliver a service like AlfaNordic does?
The quality is the very core of our engine room. We are talking about recruitment of the right employees, retention of these employees and quality assurance of the delivery. In reality, it starts with an attitude, as I see it. It starts with our area directors having the attitude that we MUST deliver to our customers, an agreement is an agreement. This is one of AlfaNordic’s 5 principles, and when I heard about these principles, I thought: This is fantastic. We are not afraid of letting people know how we want to appear to the outside world. This provides for a shared understanding of how to consolidate a good product jointly.
So, as far as consolidating the quality of the product is concerned, I believe that AlfaNordic is in a good position today. I believe this is due to the fact that we have been able to hire and retain the right people. Time is also of the essence here. If we want to continue growing and passing even more orders through the system, than we do today, then we are faced with a mismatch. It will simply not be possible unless we restructure so we keep the core competency of prioritising recruitment of the right people and making sure we can retain them. We may risk getting into a situation where we keep making sales but cannot deliver the product. So we must make sure that we move resources to where the bottleneck is. This again requires that I can pick up some sales tasks from the others so that they get more time to also take care of the part of the business that relates to the quality of our products.
At AlfaNordic, we systematically ask our customers how they perceive their experience with us. We are mature enough to take in the given feed-back and to convert it to another way of looking at the world if something can be improved. I believe that the product is good. This is one of the things that made me accept AlfaNordic’s offer. A company that continuously asks its customers whether the service they deliver is good and who actually works with the customers’ feed-back to improve their services, that is the kind of company I like to be part of. It is of course not always possible to predict the customers’ reaction to everything, but we have to listen to the market.
24R (24-hour response time) is another of AlfaNordic’s principles. How important is speed to sales?
It is paramount to being considered for a project. Until you have had a dialogue with the customer, you don’t know how crucial a time frame may be. A dialogue is not the same as delivering a solution on the spot. What you have to do is, say: “Thank you for contacting me. The service you are asking about, when do you actually need it? Tomorrow? I will call you right back”. The customer may also very well say that Monday next week is fine. We have now established the first contact and the nature of the service is understood. If we are to supply a service to someone who will be boarding an airplane heading for Iran, then a 24-hour response may not be sufficient at all. So time is crucial, but it isn’t necessarily important to find a solution within the 24 hours. It is important to find a solution within the time horizon that the customer needs. This is where I make a distinction and where the rule can be made acceptable for ordinary people who also have a family
In principle, the response time is actually shorter at AlfaNordic, so a 24-hour response time is maybe not the real description of what we do, but I feel the most important thing is that it constitutes one of our values, that we make each other abide by it and actually live by it because it reminds us of the fact that time is always of the essence.