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Episode 5: The magic word customer proximity


Text of the current episode:

Julia Ures: "Nice to have you with us for episode 5 of Insight KTR and our keyword today is customer proximity. The magic word is customer proximity and I have two guests here in the studio, in the virtual booth. Nice to have you here, you two. I would like to introduce you briefly: We have Guido Sandkötter here with us today, Head of Sales Germany at KTR, before that he was Head of Inbound Sales, working in the field service himself, and has been with KTR for 25 years. So I may say, you are already an old hand here."

Guido Sandkötter: "Yes, well, you can certainly say that because I've been here for so long and I've always had a lot of fun here, so it's certainly quite normal for me to have been here for so long. As long as you have nice colleagues, good products and can enjoy the proximity to the customer, that you can be on site, it's just a lot of fun as a sales manager."

Julia Ures: "Björn Stavermann has been with the company for half as long, namely 12 years here at KTR, Head of Marketing, and Mr. Stavermann, 'quick questions, concrete answers' is the name of our format, is the name of In Sight KTR. So 'quick questions, concrete answers' is the subtitle. We're already on episode 5, what do you actually get in response, what feedback do you get on this podcast and videocast?"

Björn Stavermann: "Very positive feedback, so of course we were also curious at the beginning whether the whole format would work, and to the best of my knowledge we are also the pioneers from our market environment who have moved or dared to move into this terrain. Of course, if you are in a mechanical engineering company, podcasting is always a medium or a channel where you say, okay, we'll just test that, and that's what we did. Our management was very positive about it. And the feedback we're getting now is just as positive. Whether the videos or the podcast episodes are really well frequented, sometimes in such a way that we are surprised ourselves, but we like it so much that we said we will continue for the time being. Let's see how the next episodes are. I think it's just important that we reach the customers with the topics and don't just say, here's an advertising event, and here's KTR and we're so great, but that we really, and that's the concept, receive the questions and then respond to these questions as competently as possible and answer them."

Julia Ures: "Now you have already just mentioned it and I would like to explain that to you again very briefly: It is part of the principle of In Sight KTR that the interlocutors do not know the questions beforehand. That is also the case today, and the two have agreed to answer these questions today, where they only know, very roughly, what it is all about, namely customer proximity.

And Mr. Sandkötter, I would like to pass on the first question directly to you. At KTR, customer proximity is very important, but we want to fill it with life a little bit. What is in it for you, what does it mean? What is your personal definition of customer proximity?"

Guido Sandkötter: "It's certainly an interesting question, but actually, from the first day I was here, I had supervisors who actually taught that. We have always been sales-oriented, i.e. it has always been the wish of KTR to be very close to the customer, to understand the problem of the customer, to think about how KTR can solve the problem. This presence, this proximity, can of course only be created if you have your own field service. They are then on site, meanwhile also worldwide, so in the many years that I have been working here, we have founded subsidiaries in many countries, i.e. we have more than 20 in the world. We have always sought to be close to the customer, to take up the problem on site and then to withdraw, to consider how we can expand or develop an optimal solution for the customer, and then ultimately to present this again. Of course, we have developed this further over the decades. Today, we have a product manager for every product, we have expanded the industries, so being close to the customer on site is very important to us."

Julia Ures: "For a company that operates in a technical environment, how important is it to have that kind of human proximity?"

Guido Sandkötter: "It is absolutely important. That was also the reason why I joined the field service for two years in order to feel this closeness, that this is important, and that we have that goal at KTR; I would say that many competitors have partly reduced the field service, maybe also during this time with reduced working hours. KTR has thought about it differently. We have said that we still need the manpower on site. Of course, this is not possible during Corona, but we have then of course tried to build up the presence nevertheless by video, by telephone. And we succeeded quite well."

Julia Ures: "Mr. Stavermann, Mr. Sandkötter has already mentioned this. We are still in the middle of Corona and a lot of customer proximity is achieved via digital possibilities. Can you give us a few examples of what KTR has implemented in the past few months and perhaps also launched for the first time?"

Björn Stavermann: "Yes, Corona has of course put us under a bit of pressure in many places, I have to say. We've always been well established digitally, but we didn't use certain channels before, and that's exactly what Guido also says, that proximity to the customer is simply immensely important for us, and a trade fair, for example, is a tool for being close to the customer. We were, or are, a very trade fair-oriented company, because we believe that this is a good opportunity to show our entire portfolio on the market.

And as we sit here now in these premises, in our showroom so to speak, I would also take up this topic. This has certainly developed in the last few months. We have said: 2020, there are no more trade shows, 2021 the first half of the year is also already canceled, what happens in the second half of the year, no one knows. So we need a digital opportunity to make what we have done at the trade fair available to the customer at Corona times. That's why we've built a showroom here that can be physically walked through, that's why we're here, but which has also been completely digitized. So, I can walk virtually through this booth, just as I can walk through San Francisco via Google Maps, I can also walk through this booth here, I can navigate to the various products and select information via touchpioints and I can also digitally connect with our colleagues, and to a certain extent I have the feeling that I'm really walking through the booth with a colleague who can also advise me on the matter.

But that's just one example. We've developed webinars over the last year, we've ramped up our social media activities on a wide variety of channels, there's certainly been a lot going on there. The podcast –

Julia Ures: "This format is new."

Björn Stavermann: "The podcast, exactly, is new. We've focused a lot on digital before, but certainly got more momentum there because of Corona."

Julia Ures: "Now you've made people curious about the digital trade fair stand. Where can we find it for anyone who wants to take a look at it now?"

Björn Stavermann: "So, of course, you can find on the web. We have created our own website where we show a lot of new topics, this page I can see both the virtual booth, I can look at the podcast episodes, I can see what webinars we offer on a schedule, I can register there directly.  So, for our digital topics we have created this stand-alone solution, because we say, our main domain, should be primarily for products, of course, so that the customer also immediately finds what he needs in the first place, and that is products and information and in the second course on the page he then finds such nice things like this virtual exhibition stand."

Julia Ures: "We cordially invite you to click in and see what this digital booth can offer.

You send us a lot of questions to, questions for this format, for In Sight KTR. And so we also received this question for Mr. Sandkötter: Despite all the digitalization that we have already talked about in detail, customer proximity implies a personal and also a local component, i.e. usually that you can also meet in person. Mr. Sandkötter, how can you ensure customer proximity in everyday life in these times when customer visits are not possible?"

Guido Sandkötter: "Of course, it's difficult at first not to realize the presence on site. Now, of course, there was still quite a time during the Corona period, especially the customers we have in northern Germany, who were much more open on this subject, while it was much more complicated in southern Germany, with much larger companies that clearly said there would be no field service visits in the purchasing department anymore. The reduced working hours were also a factor, which meant that many of our customers' employees were not available on site. Nevertheless, we as KTR considered: 'How can we reach the customer?

In the end, our field service has used Microsoft Teams as a medium, that means they have virtual meetings with the customer, in the purchasing department, in the technology department. We were able to realize this, just like an on-site visit.

The next thing that was helpful, of course, was that we have the trade show booth here, where our sales representatives were also able to contact the customers accordingly, invite them, and then carry out the visits digitally here. Of course, not only are our innovations and exhibits presented, but we also talk about the problems that exist.

What we were also able to see was that many of the projects were continued at our customer and we were also able to continue these projects. The good thing about this situation is that we were often able to realize that in these Teams meetings, when otherwise only the field service was on site, we were now able to bring many other employees to such meetings, whether they were from logistics, from the sales office, from technology, our management, we were able to bring all these colleagues to these meetings, which is otherwise not feasible when the field service is on the road alone. This also meant that we were able to move many projects forward much faster.

Therefore, of course, we are also thinking about the future. KTR will certainly continue to be present on site, but I think - I call it the hybrid meeting that will be possible in the future - we are thinking about what we have to do for this, what instruments we have to have, because generally we have to adapt to the medium of the customer, and you can see teams, zoom, Skype, so there are a lot of possibilities and we are actually already thinking about how to realize picture-in-picture in such a meeting. I recently saw something on this and we will certainly be able to shape the future with things like this, now and in the future."

Julia Ures: "You just said something exciting in a half-sentence, and you said that it's often a matter of finding out what the customers' concerns and problems are. Digital meetings, digital discussions are often very goal-oriented, so there is often not enough room for coming across a different topic by chance. How do you do that? Well, that brings us to the topic of listening, maybe just picking up on things that happen on the sidelines. Do you have any tips on how to incorporate this into everyday life?"

Guido Sandkötter: "Yes, so you certainly have to deal with it and also take the time for it, not only the time line project meeting, but also a preparation and a follow-up, so that a few personal words can come across accordingly. We had also made a training during the Corona time for the field service, so that we are also trained on it, because clearly, all were trained to be on site, but no one was trained to realize such a meeting via video and just as you send the field service or the technicians to a training for a trade fair, a trade fair training, you must also deal with such virtual topics and that will certainly be further expanded in the future."

Julia Ures: "Yes, and we all know situations like this where the really important things happen on the sidelines, perhaps outside the actual conversation.

Mr. Stavermann, the next question goes to you again. At the moment, it's clear that you have less direct contact with customers. Marketing is generally a communicative link within a company, that is marketing's very own task. How does KTR marketing manage to be especially close to the customers during this time and to provide tangible support for other departments?"

Björn Stavermann: "We are well connected within the company and that has always been a hallmark and a predicate of KTR, which is why I like working here so much. The cooperation is simply very important and of course we work very closely with the sales department, we work very closely with the technology department, but we also work very closely with all other departments. When I mentioned our social media channels earlier, we also have two channels, Instagram and Facebook, for example, which I would actually rather bring into the area of recruiting, uh, that is, we also work very closely with our HR department, of course. This good networking already ensures that we can collect or learn information that we can use again for our communication measures, but we also collect information that the other departments can use. So due to this good connection, which also applies to KTR as a whole, this exchange is just very good.

We in Marketing may not have a direct access to the customer, but we do of course use certain tools to gather information. So for example, there's a webinar. If such a training is offered and carried out, questions are asked by the participants and these questions can of course also be used to say, ok, this is perhaps important for our customers, we have to make this information available somewhere else.

Or we offer a live chat on the website. Here, too, communication takes place via this live chat, which, by the way, is not a chat bot, something like that is also common. We as KTR have decided to really have people behind this, who don't just spout standard phrases, but that the customer also has the feeling that he has this personal contact. We said earlier that personal contact is difficult, but personal contact is still there through certain channels, just not physically. That's why this live chat offers us the opportunity to always readjust, because we simply have to know where the shoe pinches, where we can improve and readjust, because I think nowadays - and this is not due to Corona - time has changed, buying behavior has changed. Customers nowadays expect more from companies, and that's why we naturally also use these opportunities to listen to the customer where possible and then readjust and share the information that we collect with our colleagues, so that everyone at KTR also benefits from it."

Julia Ures: „"Mr. Sandkötter, the next question is about trade fairs. We already touched on this topic marginally earlier. Trade shows often play a very, very important role in connection with customer proximity. A great deal of customer contact takes place at trade shows. We don't have any trade shows at the moment, and there's no telling how the whole thing will develop in the future, i.e., when the trade show business will pick up again. What role do you think trade shows will play in the future, will they be back?"

Guido Sandkötter: "I really believe in it, because the trade fairs which were already quite general and did not have a real topic were already very difficult in the past, but KTR has always had the focus on specialized trade fairs for a long time and, as I said, there are many leading trade fairs worldwide, whether it is the bauma in Munich, the ACHEMA in Frankfurt, a marine fair in Hamburg, so there are very many trade fairs where the entire clientele comes to one date and that is why they are, of course, so important, because we - these are all industries that are very important for us and there we of course also come together very intensively with the customer. But the decisive thing is that we can talk to the customers about how they imagine the future, how the industry will develop, and that is of course very difficult at a general trade fair like the HANNOVER MESSE, there are certainly things that work, but the specialized large trade fairs, the international ones, that is certainly what KTR will also expand in the future."

Julia Ures: "And you're assuming that the trade shows will come back."

Guido Sandkötter: "Yes, of course we don't know exactly when, which is why we have cancelled the first half of 2021, but we are very optimistic. There are two major trade fairs for the coming year 2022, so it would have been this year in Frankfurt the ACHEMA, which is already postponed and we have next year then also the bauma and there we are actually all sure that we are hopefully by then with the topic Corona to a large extent through and the visitors can come again worldwide, our customers and we can discuss with them again."

Julia Ures: "Mr. Stavermann, you have already mentioned that there are different media channels. The next question that reached us is actually precisely about this marketing mix and this channel mix. Customer proximity can be achieved via different media channels, so perhaps we can summarize that again briefly: What formats, what placements, in other words, what media do you use? Where does the customer find content and, above all, how do you keep track of it and decide what to put on Instagram, what to put on Facebook, what to put on LinkedIn, YouTube, etc., on the website?"

Björn Stavermann: "So that was a good blueprint, there were already a few things there, which you have now listed. Yes, of course we have numerous channels, but our centerpiece in this entire channel mix, as you called it, is of course our website. So that's kind of the anchor point. Everything plays into getting the customer to our website because that's where they find all the information. The website is structured in such a way that we think the visitor doesn't have to search for a long time either, but comes directly to the product, has various entry options, we have online design tools, for example, so that even if he doesn't yet know exactly which product suits him, he can already find out online without help which product is right for him.

Of course, there are now various channels staggered around this. If we now have a new product like EVOLASTIC®, which has recently been launched on the market, then we naturally consider, and by we I mean primarily the team that works in marketing, what we can do, where it might make sense to provide information, then we coordinate with sales again, there's the networking again, and then we decide; So then LinkedIn is of course a medium for really broad distribution and then there are webinars that we offer, but there are still the long-established digital media such as customer newsletters and a customer mailing, i.e. a direct mailing to address customers and there is also the press. There, too, it has changed a little bit. We've talked about trade fairs, but the press has changed a bit as well, but then we just consider in the team what information fits where and also in terms of timing, in order to support such a market launch, but always with the goal of bringing the customers to the website, because that's where everything is bundled and where everything is available for the customer in a convenient, bite-sized format - hopefully."

Julia Ures: "We are a condensed format, In Sight KTR has around 20 minutes each. We're at about that mark now and that's why we have room for a quick answer to the last question. One question I just want to pass on to both of you, maybe Mr. Stavermann, you first. The chat function that you also mentioned, that you use, in this context you can ask the question, how should customers be serviced in the future. Will the Internet replace the face-to-face conversation?"

Björn Stavermann: "I don't think so. Well, I guess we all feel that way, I long for the day when I can throw my headset in the back and have a coffee with my colleagues in person. We are all in the home office at the moment. There will be a balance somewhere, so what Guido said, that it is now easier to get the management to join us virtually, is of course somewhat more difficult in physical appointments. That's why there will always be appointments that take place virtually, even in the future, but I believe that a large part of them will return to face-to-face meetings, because there's simply a need for them and we'd rather be together than sitting alone in front of the computer."

Julia Ures: "Mr. Sandkötter, now I just said, short answer, we're at around 20 minutes. Do you see it the same way?"

Guido Sandkötter: "Yes, I absolutely do. It's always what's added, and there's just a lot added in 2020, and it's an addition, so the live chat is just that the customer can relatively quickly answer - ask questions and then relatively quickly get answers, we have a team of merchants and technicians there in the background, so I'm sure that a lot of new channels there that have been established in 2020 will be further expanded in the future, so that's going to be, I'll say, exciting years for sales."

Julia Ures: "Guido Sandkötter and Björn Stavermann, thank you very much for answering our questions today. Many thanks to you for your interest, for sending in your questions and your suggestions for topics. We would like to invite you to continue to do so, just feel free to send us a small, short, simple mail to and feel free to recommend our podcast and videocast, which you can access on Youtube, on the website and of course as a podcast wherever podcasts are available. We'll see you again in episode 6 or we'll be happy to hear you again as a podcast in episode 6, then on a different topic and I'd like to ask you to stay healthy, until next time."

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