Sven receives his first business call of the day at 6.58 a.m. The subject: cheese. Organic Emmental, to be exact. On the other end of the line is an employee of a Duisburg catering company. The company has been a METRO customer for many years, but this time it's a special order at short notice. 16 kg of hard cheese are needed, a very specific type. And fast.
Coming up with 16 kg of cheese would normally be a cinch for the METRO sales force manager. But what’s ‘normal’ during a pandemic? The availability of goods certainly can often not be taken for granted these days. Field sales rep Sven gets on the phone and mobilises his in-house METRO colleagues. By just before 9 a.m., he has found half of the amount the customer needs. The 35-year-old is in good spirits: ‘We’ll have it all together by noon.’
When your competitors become your customers
Sven knows what last-minute interruptions in supply mean to restaurateurs. Originally trained in event management, he more recently managed operations for a catering company before joining METRO in 2020. ‘Most of the restaurateurs that are my customers now, I already knew personally,’ Sven explains with a grin. ‘A lot of them were my competitors.’ One of these is Frank Schwarz, a caterer who operates both nationally and internationally from his base at Duisburg’s central wholesale market. Sven visits him personally ‘practically every day’ and talks with him on the phone even more frequently – usually multiple times daily. As a delivery customer at METRO, the caterer obtains his goods via Food Service Distribution (FSD). The METRO truck rolls in 5 times a week, bringing dairy products, meat and pasta, as well as cleaning materials and kitchen equipment, to the company. For Frank Schwarz, proximity to his sales force manager is essential. ‘It comes down to the personal connection,’ he says. And: ‘You notice when someone is really giving their all.’
Like Sven. Because he was a METRO customer himself for many years, he knows his customers’ expectations and requirements exactly. Here, the service level is one of the strategic focuses on the METRO agenda – because along with a functioning supply chain from the supplier to the customer’s premises, the service level is a key success factor when it comes to customer retention and satisfaction. Critical factors in this are transparency and continuous improvements in procurement and sales. Valuable help comes from the ongoing development of operational processes and the use of supporting technologies. The Customer Toolbox, for example, offers components such as the ‘Planner’ which combines a calendar, current tasks and customer-relevant topics, and the ‘Dashboard’, which provides key information about the customer. Performance assessments and root cause analyses help to ensure a high service level across the company.
It’s all about contacts and empathy
At 11 o’clock, Sven’s tandem partner calls him on his mobile to say that most of the required 16 kg of organic Emmental has been sourced. After visiting his next customer, Sven will head back to the office to take care of paperwork. He looks after 600 customers in his territory and registers an average of 8 site visits per day. There is no standard programme. No two food service companies are exactly the same. Sven approaches each enterprise and each personality individually. Even with all the tools and data available to him, he explains, ‘a great deal depends on contacts and empathy.’ Tall and relaxed, he says this with convincing credibility. Just like when he comments that the food service industry is a business that is close to his heart.
At 11.23 a.m., his mobile rings again. The office tells him that the 16 kg of organic cheese is there. Right on time for lunch. Sven nods, satisfied, and puts his mobile back in his pocket. Then it’s off to the next customer. Quickly, simply and personally.
METRO’s growth strategy is based on intensive customer relationships and active sales. In this context, field sales reps play a special role as a personal point of contact. But just as important is the internal sales team, who look after existing customers and provide support in the background to fulfil customers’ wishes and ensure compliance with processes. METRO sales force managers therefore work in tandem.