Mike Summers, Kemppi UK Ltd Technical Sales Engineer

6.30am on a midsummer’s morning in Bristol, South West England. The Sun’s up, birds are singing and breakfast’s on the table. As the city rub its eye’s open for the day ahead, Mike Summers, Kemppi Technical sales engineer, kicks his day into gear with a family breakfast. Sitting in his kitchen with a mug of hot tea in my hands, I know it’s going to be fine day!

Mike’s mobile phone bursts into life. Taking his first call over the breakfast table, Mike reassures the caller that he’ll deal with the matter the moment he’s on the road. I put it to Mike that he seems to have a real sense of customer awareness and responsibility to the job, and ask if early morning calls are common place, Mike comments; ‘Separating business from domestic life is sometimes difficult. But if you want to succeed you’ve got to provide the service and get used to the intrusions. Fact is, if you don’t serve customers promptly, they have a habit of going elsewhere’. A quick kiss on the cheek (for his wife, not me), and a cheery wave and were off on our travels.
Jumping into the Black Mercedes Demo van we head off down the M5 motorway. As the road stretches out before us, you get a real sense of what this business is all about for these guys. It’s certainly more than a job, its almost evangelic, like a religious belonging. Within the hour Mike’s answered three phone calls and is now on his second call out. He finishes his latest mobile call and gives me one of his customary smiles and a wink; ‘Another one in the bag Frosty, another happy customer. Two FastMig Pulse and best of all, we beat the competition’, he says, in that fabulous Bristonian accent.

7.50am. The first main call of the day, a small engineering business where we meet a representative from one of Kemppi’s Premium dealers. Following some customary banter, Mike introduces himself to the workshop foreman, discussing the welding needs and the task ahead. Returning to his van, he unloads the necessary equipment and prepares his presentation. Technical sales demonstrations are an art form, and like any artists, preparation and organisation is the key. Mike quickly sets and fires the machine, swiftly completing a few sample welds, and then proceeds to make a basic product introduction, producing some lovely weld samples in the process. Mike raises his welding helmet and smiles at his audience, ‘Now then, who wants to have a go? Three grown men shrink in their safety boots. But it’s all in good fun and the guys are soon producing great weld and are clearly very happy with their success.

11.45am We load and ready for lunch! Where will eat I thought, I was feeling quite hungry. A nice Somerset village pub, overlooking a cricket pitch? Apparently not, we’ve got to provide some ‘refresher training’ promised by our dealer. But never mind, its all part of the job and their must be a fuel station where we can grab a sandwich, right? Wrong, not a fuel station for miles, just another Engineering yard. I suggest to my new boss for the day ‘that I might be a little hungry and thirsty’. Another wink of his eye and a big smile; ‘come on Frosty’ he says, as he exits the van door, (That could get annoying!).

12.20pm Signing in at reception, we make our way onto the noisy workshop floor. Judging by the comments suggesting ‘self abuse’ directed at Mike Summers, he’s obviously been here before. Head up and wearing his customary wink and a smile, he greets each man enthusiastically and sets about providing a series of instructions in the use and setting of a Kemppi Pulse Mig machine. Now handling this situation takes a little courage. A group of older men in their own environment against one 6’3’’ outsider from Kemppi, dressed in a bright orange overall. What chance does he stand? Well quite a good chance; they’re interested, engaged and genuinely grateful to see Mike back again. Content to listen carefully and make a few notes on set-up and technique, One welder comments that, ‘for him Kemppi service makes a real difference and a welcome change’, (to some of their previous suppliers).

14.15pm. Back in the van and heading north towards Bristol. It seems so quiet and peaceful in the cab after being in the noisy workshops. Providing training and instruction can be quite tiring, trying to make your self heard over the noise of metal fabrication. One cup of tea since Breakfast, I consider pulling on the vans handbrake and mounting a ‘terrorist demand’ for food and water, but suddenly, like a desert oasis, I see a service station sign. Will he stop? I look across the cab in hope; he must surely see the desperation in my face?
You know sometimes, when you’re really hungry and thirsty, any food can taste good. Well I’m telling you, I could have eaten the chair I was sitting on that afternoon. Happy meals indeed.

3.30pm The next call was a Dealer visit. Mike’s responsibility stretches from technical sales demonstrations to Dealer management and today he must try to secure commitment to the coming sales campaign. Dealers, like so many other businesses have to carefully manage their cash flow, and in this case there were some tricky issues to discuss. For obvious reasons Mike wanted to handle the meeting ‘one to one’ with the Dealer, so he politely asked if I’d mind waiting a while as he completed his meeting.
The showroom of the Dealer premises was well organised and they were obviously committed to Kemppi brand. Good, knowledgeable, committed dealers are a valuable asset and Kemppi are fortunate to have more than a thousand such Premium partners within Europe alone. We have always been careful to manage our Dealer business relationships in what we hope our partners consider a ‘proper’ manner. But of course business is tighter presently, and it’s difficult for all parties in the current climate. Kemppi also have to manage our business well and that includes accounts receivable. Mike is under instruction to collect an overdue balance as well during this call; it’s going to be a tough discussion.
After forty minutes Mike emerges from the office, a little red in the face but still managing a smile. As we drive away from the Dealer premises, it’s clear that Mike failed to achieve everything he set his sights upon. He explains something of the political and business circumstances and is happy to have collected the outstanding balance and also the stock order for the current campaign month. But he’s pleased for the dealers support and is committed to help them wherever possible.

4.30pm Our last call completed and we’re on the way back to Mike’s home. Today will be an early finish from a reasonably early start, but not everyday is the same. Today we’ve been fortunate and quite local. We’ve covered about 240 miles and made three technical/sales visits. Mike has taken and made numerous mobile phone calls, providing technical and pricing advice. The opportunity to keep on serving, to keep selling is almost limitless. With each new month a new sales target, and that of course brings its own pressures. It’s fair to say this job is hard graft (in the modern sense), and a strange mix of skills. But the job also has a particular attraction. The customer relationships, the smell of the workshops, the challenge of each welding tasks faced, plus the competition for business and market share, all combine a heady, but attractive mix.
As I ready to leave for home, it’s clear from Mike’s demeanour that he thoroughly enjoys the role, and clearly it’s something he’s very good at. But for those who think technical selling is all about Coffee and Cake with a bit of idle chit chat, then think again. It’s a tough call (Although at times today, Coffee and Cake would have been most welcome).