In the age of the fourth industrial revolution and beyond, customers have ready access to a wealth of technical resources at the click of a button. In parallel with this digital awakening, customers’ requirements have become more intricate, causing astute companies to adapt their communication approach and service offering. The role of the salesperson, for example, has evolved from ‘solution-seller’ to ‘strategic partner’, requiring the adoption and nurturing of an entirely new approach and skills set.
The well-established and forward-thinking provider of portable air and power, Rand-Air, is part of the Atlas Copco Group, a company with a history dating back to 1873. Since its inception, Atlas Copco has placed a strong emphasis on training, a strength that has seen it grow from manufacturing steam engines to the major industrial corporate it is today.
“As a global company, we believe that our strength lies in understanding and embracing the nuances of regional markets,” explains Janne Scheepmans, Sales Excellence Manager at Atlas Copco’s Specialty Rental division in Belgium.
“The South African market differs from other territories like America or Asia. As a Group, we ensure that our training programmes are structured to meet local requirements. This approach equips our sales engineers with the vital skills needed to proactively add value and guide customers through their challenges,” Scheepmans adds.
The value of skills development is echoed by Rand-Air, which has long been known locally for its consistent investment in employee development; as well as its people-centric ethos. During a recent sales excellence training course facilitated by Scheepmans at Rand-Air’s head office in Jet Park, area managers and sales representatives gained fresh insight into implementing a strategic sales approach.
Drawing inspiration from the popular book ‘Challenger Sale’ by Matthew Dixon, the training session explored the mutual benefits of insight selling and storytelling as integral components of the sales and customer support process.
“This vital sales training session has amplified the insight and capability of our local South African teams. By engaging with the course material and learning from the collective experience of participants, the Rand-Air sales team has been very effectively empowered to assist our customers understand their options, and avoid costly errors,” shares Byrone Thorne, Sales and Marketing Manager at Rand-Air.
In the action-oriented training sessions, participants identified strategic approaches for assisting customers to achieve business growth. Thorne reveals that participants focused on how to engage different customer types, based on their industries and product usage frequency. Through practical exercises and idea-sharing, participants were able to acquire the skills required to meet increasingly complex customer needs.
“We tackled subjects such as calculating best-fit solutions based on product knowledge, analysing success stories and scripting commercial insights. One size certainly does not fit all: we were therefore encouraged to consider our customers’ unique and individual needs, and to tailor our sales messaging accordingly. It is not often that we can get the whole sales team together in one place, so by focusing on sharing experiences and ideas, we are able to get the best result out of the training days,” Thorne adds.
He is confident that the insights gained during the training will enable Rand-Air to grow its market share in the manufacturing sector; and to maintain its position as a preferred supplier to the mining, petrochemicals and special trade contractors’ industries.
Rand-Air sales staff have found these timely and targeted training interventions highly beneficial. “These sessions empower us with the insight we need to effectively implement a tailored customer-centric approach. By utilising story-selling, understanding the customer context, and applying superior product knowledge, we are able to identify solutions fit for customers’ particular circumstances,” observes Rand-Air Sales Representative, Natlee Bennie.
Fellow Sales Professional Gavin Croucamp echoes Bennie’s sentiments: “Understanding the customer’s unique requirements and asking the right questions were covered at length during the training. With that knowledge comes confidence and the ability to position ourselves as strategic partners to our customers, rather than ‘just’ sales people,” Croucamp explains.
The Atlas Copco Group furthermore values the insight and experience of its people and draws on the strengths of its business units to craft fit-for-purpose sales approaches.
“Everything we do starts with identifying and leveraging the wealth of experience we have in-house. During the sales excellence training, we focus on group interactions, real-life cases and practical tools. Sales engineers apply what they have learnt immediately after leaving the meeting room, creating more meaningful customer interactions from day 1,” Scheepmans asserts with confidence.
She believes that the success of Rand-Air’s sales excellence training lays in its ability to cultivate a sustainable mindset change in participants.
“What stood out for me was the eagerness of participants to learn and share. Some of the sales engineers have been doing the job for 25+ years; yet they all acknowledged that if they wanted to grow, they needed to improve themselves continuously. This mindset resulted in thought-provoking interactions between the different team members. They challenged each other to truly understand prospect and customer behavior, which resulted in a deeper understanding of what drives customers,” she reveals.
As part of its intensive customer-focused approach, the Atlas Copco Group has increasingly focused on marketing automation and customer segmentation.
“Adding true value becomes second nature when we start segmenting our customers and seeing things from their perspective – instead of from a product-only perspective. By constantly listening to customers’ needs and requirements, we are able to develop and roll out effective global sales interaction models. As a result, our sales engineers are empowered to detect where we can add the most value to our customer,” Scheepmans concludes.