President, DSV Air & Sea US, Niels Larsen's recipe for success: Go face to face with your customers as often as possible
When the figures are added up each quarter, the results in the US evoke the biggest smiles among our shareholders. For good reason, too, because the 36 offices (as well as 4 in Canada) are among the very best in terms of DSV earnings, and they increase their financial performance almost every single quarter. This is how it has been for the past many years under changing "presidents" all of whom cultivate the same culture and recipe for progress: complete transparency for each individual’s performance data and meeting as frequently as possible with new and existing customers.
The 48 sales managers are monitored in terms of their performance data, which includes the following:
financial status on new and existing customers;
- number of sales meetings and customer visits;
- number of new accounts in the pipeline.
Getting a competitive edge
All sales managers and branch managers have complete access to performance data for all colleagues throughout the US, so they can keep track of exactly how they are doing in the nationwide ranking. "Sharing this in-your-face data is indeed one of the reasons why I believe our sales force is doing such a good job. It keeps them on their toes," Niels Larsen says. Niels has been president of DSV Air & Sea in the US and Canada since 2014.
At the same time, he emphasises freight forwarders' efforts to pass on good sales tips to sales agents as a way of generating more business from each customer. Also, many freight forwarders attend sales visits where they also get to see the customer in person and this helps increase customer loyalty to DSV. "Granted, we can always do better, but based on the criteria we have set for our sales managers in DSV US/Canada, we're at a level where very few sales managers do not achieve their goals," says Niels Larsen, who opened DSV’s Los Angeles office in 1985.
Decentralisation – as long as it makes sense
Then as now, the corporate culture was decidedly decentralised, and it was and still is the branch manager who is responsible for the sales managers working at the office. There is no national sales manager, as is often the case in other DSV countries, and this model has worked well in the US where the 48 sales managers generated a "very satisfactory" financial performance from new and existing customers alike in 2016.
"This model has worked perfectly for us," Niels says. Even so, over the past year, he took the initiative to centralise parts of the organisation to enable the US organisation to be more flexible in serving global customers together with the rest of the network: "We're ardent supporters of decentralised management, but naturally we have to adapt to the rest of the organisation so we can better exploit our global power and target our efforts," he says.
Everyone has to get out and visit customers
A branch manager in the US does not just sit back and make sure his/her sales manager is doing a good job. In the US and Canada, it is equally important for other managers to meet customers face to face, and, according to Niels Larsen, it is actually this involvement at all levels that makes the difference.
"Many of our key accounts were landed through the efforts and often direct involvement of our branch managers, just like I like to be in front of as many customers as possible," says Niels Larsen. He estimates that he spends roughly half his time (as President of Air & Sea USA) on direct sales and customer visits."I love selling, and although we've had our share of challenges in the US over the past year, while implementing a massive integration, by and large, I have only met satisfied customers," he says.
Running a flexible operation
In order for branch managers and other managerial layers to maximise the time spent on sales and customer visits, day-to-day operations must run as smoothly as possible. Integration was the order of the day in 2016, but even so, US branch managers and sales managers managed to carry out no less than 15,000 sales visits with new and existing customers alike. "They deserve great appreciation and recognition for their efforts and for giving sales such a high priority," Niels says, singling out five of the most successful sales managers who are jointly responsible for generating about one-quarter of the turnover: "They did a fantastic job," he says.
Bigger global customers
The future for sales managers in DSV includes bigger global customers who have different demands to the typical small or medium-sized customers, which have mostly made up DSV's customer base till now.
"We don't just contact one person now. We meet quarterly with the entire logistics department at the companies to review our services, discussing data quality, future strategies, new markets, IT interfaces and much more. It's a new world - one that is very different from the old one - and it is very exciting," Niels says. He encourages everyone to not forget the small and medium-sized customers after all, because they are still "crucial" for DSV – all over the world.
"Sales managers must keep focusing on small and medium-sized customers, but they must also be familiar with the skills required for serving global customers. You have to know what DSV stands for, know our tools and our overseas colleagues. And don't forget that more than ever, we need to cooperate closely with colleagues in operations, so we can deliver the quality expected of us and promised to our customers," he says.
Can make quick decisions
And to the branch manager and managers above that (himself included): "Work hard at operational excellence to allow yourself time to continue maximising your face-to-face contact with your customers. From a management point of view, face-to-face contact with a customer has become a huge and important skill for DSV and something we must continue to thrive on, as it is something the competition is greatly lacking,” Niels says, adding: "More and more customers like the fact that, when dealing with DSV, we can make fast decisions, we know our products and we are quick to react when things need to change. We cannot lose that edge, cannot!” he says.
Niels Larsen encourages his DSV colleagues to become thoroughly familiar with the products, including the IT solutions, and stay open to all the opportunities that are emerging. And not get wrapped up in internal discussion about "this and that". "We need to see ourselves as a customer-driven company, and we need to take ownership of the tasks ahead of us. If we can manage all this, I do believe we have a bright future ahead of us," he says.