Sales in China

Going the extra mile for the customers

A willingness to listen to what the customer wants, coupled with a sure sense for the optimum solution – a hallmark of the KION Group.

Icy cold emerges from behind the raised shutter. An electric forklift truck whirs in and sets down a pallet of cardboard boxes full of eels. Large fish, loose or in boxes and deep frozen at minus 28 degrees, are piled up to the ceiling. The truck rolls back outside into the winter air of the port city of Fuzhou in southern China, where the temperature is a mild eleven degrees above zero. At Mingcheng, a firm that specialises in the cold storage of seafood, more than 100 Linde brand electric forklift trucks undergo this temperature change several times a day, which puts a severe strain on their motors and batteries. As a result, good maintenance is vital for durability, says Chen Da, a salesman for Linde in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province on the south-east coast of China. Chen travels to Mingcheng at least once a week to check the condition of the trucks.

“As well as talking to the managers, it is essential to speak to the drivers and the maintenance team because they are the only ones who know the trucks,” says Chen. He wants to identify potential problems before they turn into actual faults; that is what spurs him on every day. “I even like it when customers call me about minor things,” he says and grins. “No wonder my phone is always ringing.”

A skilled sales pitch and technical knowledge

This close contact with every customer is a hallmark of the KION Group’s brand companies. Around the world, 12,900 in-house and external service staff are in direct contact with product users. Chen Da is also able to answer technical questions on the spot, because he was a field service engineer for ten years before working in sales. He can also drive large trucks himself, so his skilled sales pitch is combined with a tremendous wealth of technical knowledge.

Every month, Chen Da travels 3,000 to 4,000 kilometres by car – on congested urban ring roads, new flyovers and motorways, passing suburbs where it looks as if everything has just been turned inside out. Old residential districts and mills give way to 30-floor apartment blocks and state-of-the-art factories – Fuzhou is also part of the Chinese boom. Directly behind the densely populated coastal strip loom steep hills covered in lush vegetation. Barges and freighters chug along the Min river along which, like Mingcheng, many cus­tomers have their warehouses. The long hours on the road do not bother Chen, far from it: “I enjoy talking to customers and getting to know what they want. And supporting customers by phone alone does not work in China. You have to sit down together, have a cup of tea and create a pleasant atmosphere.”

There are tea sets on large wooden trays in every office in Fujian Province. Tea is a fixed ritual at every meeting. The first brew is poured out of the teapot over the tiny drinking bowls to clean them and it drips through holes in the tray into a basin beneath. Then the host infuses the fragrant leaves up to seven times and pours the tea. Whilst this is happening, Chen Da recommends a new forklift truck model, details prices or solves problems. Chen laughs a lot and skilfully combines everyday subjects with business.

The most important visit: delivery

If a customer is building a new warehouse, Chen visits at the planning stage and takes a close look at the specifications to enable him to suggest suitable trucks. “The first thing to do is to listen closely to what the customer needs.” The height of the doorways is crucial. If required, Linde can also help to design the warehouse. The most important visit, particularly for new customers, is when the first trucks are delivered. Chen Da is always on site to check the trucks or to train the drivers himself. He stresses that this visit is when the foundations are laid for future relationships with new customers, because “the first 30 to 100 hours that the trucks are in operation are crucial”.

Chen considers that one of his greatest successes was winning back a customer who had left and was regarded as difficult. The customer works with metal that is bent at a high temperature – which puts a great strain on trucks. He had tried out several brands until Chen, together with members of the company’s workforce, developed a strategy to ensure that the trucks run reliably despite the harsh conditions. Ever since, Chen reports proudly, the customer has only bought Linde trucks.