Choose your location and language

Episode 4: Sales (R)evolution - How the pandemic has changed sales


Text of the current episode:

Julia Ures: “Hello and welcome back to In Sight KTR. Today, we will discuss an exciting topic, namely how the pandemic has changed the work of the Sales team at KTR. And because of that, the discussion is today titled with ‘Sales Revolution or Sales Evolution and how Sales has changed during the pandemic’. And we will answer your questions about it today.

In case you are wondering why we speak English: As an international company, we naturally also want to be available to answer questions from our international customers and partners, and therefore we will publish German and English episodes in the future. My first guest today is Stefan Essing, Head of Sales Europe and Africa at KTR Systems GmbH, in the company since two years. Thank you for being here today.”

Stefan Essing: “My pleasure.”

Julia Ures: “And in the middle we have Gunnar Ehlers. Mr. Ehlers, you are sales engineer, specialized in hydraulics, in the company since 2016. Nice to have you here at In Sight KTR.”

Gunnar Ehlers: “Thank you very much. Nice to be here.”

Julia Ures: “Before we address the questions you have sent us, you, our audience, our viewers, via email and our social media surveys, let's start with a more personal question to you both. I've heard you are both passionate about sports. How has that helped you to deal with the difficult situation during the pandemic, Mr. Ehlers?”

Gunnar Ehlers: “Well, a good question. I think it has helped me quite a lot. In the times not being able to go outside, visit restaurants, meeting friends, it is very important to me to actually exercise, to loosen my mind and have a little bit of exercise to keep fit and healthy. So, it helped me in a lot of situations to overcome even little depressive moments, which came with the Corona time. So, I really enjoy it.”

Julia Ures: “Mr. Essing, what about you?”

Stefan Essing: “Yeah, it's pretty much the same. Fortunately, the sports I do, I can do it individually and it's out in nature. So, I'm a passionate mountain biker and therefore the pandemic hasn't influenced that a lot. So, yeah, the sports always is a good, let's say it's a good way to get rid of certain minds you have. And it really opens your view if you are in nature, if you accelerate your body, your blood circulation, some other things come to your head and always, or a lot of times, some new ideas. And therefore, yes, it helped me a lot and still helps. And the next Lockdown is maybe close, yeah, is shortly ahead. So that's what - this will help in these difficult times when you it's going to set you can't meet friends, you can't go to restaurants. So yes, it helped a lot and still helps.”

Julia Ures: “When we today talk about the pandemic, it's obvious that the situation has changed your everyday working life. Appointments in the customers’ offices were hardly possible anymore or the sales force cannot visit the customer. What did you actually do with all the time you have won, Mr. Essing?”

Stefan Essing: “So I mean; you can still visit or meet with customers, just on different - in a different way. So, there is a possibility to meet. The time you have available now that was former occupied by travelling or long-haul travelling, this has been used for strategic items, for rethinking of sales, rethinking of the way sales was, or thinking of how sales was and rethinking of how sales may be after the pandemic. How many or what can be transferred of the methodologies we have now, or the systems we have now, can be transferred after the Corona pandemic or will be still in place? And these are the things we do, because I believe that the pandemic will, might be over in regard to infection rates and all that kind of things, but the way we do sales, I would say, won't be the way as it was before.”

Julia Ures: “Mr. Ehlers, lots of more time or isn't that right?”

Gunnar Ehlers: “Actually, I pretty much agree with Mr. Essing. It was a challenge. First of all, it was a big challenge from one day to the other, specifically in my personal experience. Things have changed tremendously. And I had appointed visits with customers and from one week to the other, I had to cancel everything. So, there was the need to actually find new ways to stay in contact, to discuss projects you started, because the project didn’t stop, obviously.”

Julia Ures: “Which ways do you use?”

Gunnar Ehlers: “Actually, traditionally I use the telephone, but more and more customers equipped themselves pretty well. So nowadays we can use a lot of different products like teams or others to do video calls, which actually has become a very powerful tool, because you can discuss technical or economic issues in a very quick and solution orientated way, which helps to even speed up things and to get back on the road. As Stefan just said, I think this will influence the future way of doing business, because there will be the question ‘Is it necessary to do any personal visits or can certain things be discussed in a quick way via video chat?’ But most of all, I do believe that personal visits, being a sales engineer, will always be of high importance and will never lose the importance that it has today. Might be a bit less.”

Julia Ures: “Thank you. Mr. Essing, lots of change has been made. How did your team adapt to the new situation? How's the mood in your team?”

Stefan Essing: “Well, the mood is, as far as I know, it's still good. And there is - I mean, it is obviously difficult for salespeople who used to be on the road, who used to be in front of customers, have interesting discussions with customers, now to be at home or to do it via video chat. And there is, when you talk to people to or to the colleagues, it is different, and you see the difference in the mood of the one or the other from day or week to week. It's a little bit like - I wouldn't say roller coaster, it's not that extreme- but sometimes some days some people are a more agile because I don't know, maybe they were out at sports and had a new idea, or sometimes they feel like ‘I've done the 15th teams meeting..’”

Julia Ures: “I think everybody knows what you mean.”

Stefan Essing: “So I would really like to go out again and see the colleagues or the customers in person. So, it's I think it’s a mix of both: of getting new ideas, then falling into a little bit of an emotional valley, I would say. But at the end of the day, I think when we see it all together, I think it's still a very good mood.

And when we see, we just had a review last week, the numbers of projects we have got, it’s tremendous because obviously engineers, responsible people at the customer site are available as well. Some things have been slowed down, because they were, and they still are not, on the street. So, there was more time, or it was sometimes easier to get certain projects over the line, because people were available. So as it is always in life, sun and shadow, Yin and Yang. So, as everything is, it has its pros and cons.”

Julia Ures: “Thank you. We have received quite some questions on this topic, so many thanks to you, to our community. Please continue to send us your ideas, your questions to or participate in our social media surveys. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram and your questions will be included.

The next question we received is for you, Mr. Essing, and you are responsible for the European KTR sales force. How prominent was covid-19 in their daily business in 2020? And do you see differences among the different countries?”

Stefan Essing: “It was very prominent. Yeah, it was basically the introducing topic to every meeting. So, it was subject all the time. Yes, there were quite big differences between the countries. When you look in the north of Scandinavia, we know that Sweden had a different approach to how to handle the pancemic than, for example, Spain or Italy. In Italy and Spain, we really had to close down the office quite early and switch to smart working or home office. In Sweden it was different. They still work, I mean they are still not working completely from home. So, some colleagues are at the office, because we have a small stock there as well. So, it is as well necessarily that people come in.

And the mentality as well is different due to the experience they obviously made. In Italy was the - we all have seen the pictures of the crowded hospitals- that is something for example the Netherlands or countries in Scandinavia haven't experienced that way. So, yes, difference between different countries.”

Julia Ures: “We talk about the pandemic today and we all know every crisis offers chances, too. Mr. Ehlers, in which way are you able to profit from the changed situation as a sales team?”

Gunnar Ehlers: “That's a very interesting question. In general, the chances that we found are diverse. Speaking personally, we started, for instance, the webinar, and my personal experience is that I gained more importance to my customers and relations have become increasingly more close. Where we have times that we, as well as our competitors, can't visit customers, it's a game changer now. It's not who's there the first time visiting the customer,  now it's really how you handle and keep the contact with the customer. This can make a change. So, it's a bit difficult to answer that question straight away. But I guess in general, KTR is taking a lot of advantages out of the current situation on the market and the time customers have to find new suppliers or make price comparisons or those things, that's offering chances. These weren't there in busy times before, for instance.”

Julia Ures: “You both talked about new ways of communication. Many companies switch to video conferencing when internal and external meetings are on schedule. What was more difficult, Mr. Essing, the technical setup or the onboarding process of team members?”

Stefan Essing: “To be honest, I find it both very easy. Our IT really did an excellent job. They provided the systems; they provided the infrastructure in a very short time. Microsoft Teams was part of our life before the pandemic, not to the extent as it is now. So therefore, when he [Gunnar] talked about opportunities as well, this was obviously a real push for this kind of communication. So, I personally think in the way we communicated, the way we communicate with our colleagues, I didn't experience a lot of hurdles or basically no hurdles, because we were somehow - I mean, if you deal with colleagues and if you lead colleagues in a distance or over a distance, I've done that before. So It wasn't very difficult. OK, so the tool was there, and it worked OK, was good basically.”

Julia Ures: “Mr. Ehlers, which experience did you make?”

Gunnar Ehlers: “For me personally it was relatively easy, because in my former working life, I used to do conferencing quite a lot, like Stefan did it. I think, looking to the German sales force, there might be differences depending on age or also in experience. But overall speaking, the entry was very easy for all of us, and we all acted very fast with the support of our IT. So, it finally became a very easy change for all of us. The German sales force at least, I mean I can't speak for the colleagues in Europe or America, but I can speak for the German colleagues.”

Julia Ures: “Mr. Essing, the situation demands changes of every department in the company. How did working with the other departments at KTR change?”

Stefan Essing: “Well, it changed in the way that from one day or from a very short period, in a very short period, the videoconferencing or the let's say the calls, I think it's voice over IP. That was mandatory. So, more or less the old landlines were cut. Teams is a tool we use for calling for more normal audio calls, for video calls. So, yeah, I think Covid-19 or the pandemic accelerated the small or the slow development in this direction. There was, as I said, we had this development before, that we changed to two different systems, but from one day to the other it was mandatory. And to be honest, I like it, because then there wasn't the question of ‘How can we do it? Should we do it?’ No, we had to. And as it turned out, it was good. It works. It really works well. And it gives a lot of flexibility and a lot of different ways to communicate. And I'm a big fan of it.”

Julia Ures: “We have today twenty minutes, as always at in Sight KTR. We have twenty minutes of our talk and we slowly come to the end. I have a last question for both of you. What would you say now -Mr. Ehlers, you first, please - is it a sales revolution or evolution that has happened to you all, that we are in?”

Gunnar Ehlers: “Partially both, I would say, but in general, I also think the pandemic is just accelerating the development, that evolution to use the word, that would have come anyway, and that's unstoppable. And there are also some developments or changes that I would call a revolution, but more for a company view. It's not a general economic revolution, but there might be some as well.

One thing I'd just like to add more to the question before: I would even say, and that is a real revolution to me, the ways of communication brought me much closer to my colleagues than ever before. And this is really good. I think I haven't been in close contact to my colleagues as much before as I am now. And it wasn't ever that easy to have a couple of words.”

Julia Ures: “Can you explain how it works?”

Gunnar Ehlers: “With the new systems, specifically the videoconferencing. I really do enjoy talking to the people because now you have a face. It's not just a voice on the phone. You can see they're mimicking, and you can see gestures, that really much helps to get a better understanding.”

Julia Ures: “Sometimes you can see their private rooms.”

Gunnar Ehlers: “In my case, you see children in it and that makes it so sympathetic and brings us so much closer in a way it wouldn't have happened during a meeting in an office or in a meeting room somewhere else or having them on the telephone. So, this is the major revolution to me personally, at least now, I really enjoy that.”

Julia Ures: “Mr. Essing, revolutionary or evolution?”

Stefan Essing: “In different areas it can be a start or a revolution or a strong evolution, and especially the real personal face time to the customers. That's something that will be, I think is part of a - not a destructive revolution - but it's part of a revolution, because of a lot of things we are talking about now, like digitalize or digitalization of our sales, digitalization of processes. That has been there, that have been topics before the pandemic. But now this got a real acceleration. And I think as well as it was the communication, as I mentioned before, a lot of processes we have done or a lot of the ways we did sales in the past will be questioned in the future. The numbers of visits, the so-called ‘Milk Can Rides’ you have done before, are they necessary? And there was one saying in in a webinar I heard a few weeks ago, there was one person saying everything that can be digitalized will be digitalized. And I think the pandemic accelerates this. And I think there will be a lot of interesting topics in the years to come and I'm really looking forward.

Julia Ures: “And our 20 minutes have already passed again. And I want to thank you very much, Mr. Ehlers and Mr. Essing, for your interesting answers and to you out there for the exciting questions you have sent us. And I want to tell you that you can hear our episodes as a podcast, see them as videos or read the text we provide for you. Please share them also to those who are interested in KTR, too. Next time, it's all about customer proximity. So, tune in again. All the best and see you soon. Bye.”

We look forward to your questions and feedback! Mail to!

KTR Insight