Article published in Helsingin Sanomat on 29th November 2015
“Finnish engineers are like sponges, they take learning seriously.”
There was a time when engineers were slandered in Finland. At the end of the 19th century, the head of state J. V. Snellman publicly asked if the nation will ever get any use out of these technical professionals:
“No private has thus far needed an engineer in this country”, stated this vexed senator in the society critical publication called Litteraturbladet.
But now Finland is the promised land of engineers, and although unemployment has increased in the field since the prime years of Nokia, Finland educates relatively more engineers than any other industrial country. This volume has only increased in the past years.
The profession has now, thanks to the Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, been established as a respectable one.
However something is still missing. Finnish engineers are known to be on the serious side and not salesmen. “Sweden is the land of salesmen, Finland of engineers”, quipped the sales director of Finnish trade promotion organization FINPRO Kimmo Pekari, who has lived in our western neighbour for years
British consultant Kevin Fox has a mission: to get Finnish engineers to sell.
His company Business Linked Teams has worked for 15 years and delivered over 600 training sessions in Finland, getting inside the heads of Finnish engineers during this time. Their client list includes leading companies, such as the Kone, Wärtsilä, Outotec, and Konecranes.
In November Fox arrived from London to Helsinki to train the Finnish management team of Caverion. Mainly engineers, of course.
“Finnish engineers are technically excellent, which is why many Finnish companies are so successful globally. We want to also teach them people skills. An engineer has to be able to get into the shoes of the customer and see the world from their perspective”, says Fox.
“It’s not easy”, he adds. Fox spent seven years as an aviation engineer, so he knows what he’s talking about.
“For someone who’s deep into the technical world, it can be difficult to communicate to the customer the actual value that they’re paying for.”
It’s not just a problem for Finland, Fox consoles.
“All the technical guys from Mexico to the Middle-East need help with customers and so-called soft skills but maybe you discuss it here more, since you have such a large concentration of engineers.”
Fox has worked with Caverion for two years. He’s held about 40 training sessions, with at least the same amount left to go.
The British consultant is satisfied with their progress, with interactive skills and customer understanding being absorbed into the heads of the engineers at a decent rate. “The light bulb doesn’t always go off immediately, but the development’s fast. Finnish engineers are like sponges, they take learning seriously!”
The effects of the training programs can already be seen in Caverion’s sales figures in Norway and Germany, and customer feedback has also been very positive.
Caverion’s HR director Merja Eskola also views the training by Fox as being very useful for the company. Eskola herself has also improved her interaction skills under the instruction of the British consultant.
“It is crucial to not only sell technical features to clients but also the value. Understanding this is not necessarily foremost in the mind of a technical person.”
Caverion’s engineers are trained to understand clients using a very practical approach. For example, engineers practice selling features and services with each other.
“We aim to influence behavior, to change people’s attitudes. This means that you have to practice a lot, and get instant feedback.”
Caverion’s units in Finland and Sweden start their training programs this fall. Next year it is Denmark, Austria and the whole of Eastern Europe.
In Norway and Germany, who were the first to start the training by Fox, staff satisfaction has clearly increased, according to Eskola.
“We have been better able to get through life cycle deals. However, the negotiations in these cases are always long”, states Eskola.
Life cycle deal means that Caverion plans, for example, all the audiovisual and technical solutions for a new school or installation and upkeeps them for 30 years.
This is the direction Caverion wishes to develop its business. And in this kind of business it is important that the engineer understands the client.
“Nowadays, you can’t just sell electrical installations or your own little piece, you have to be able to justify why a broader whole is better for the client. Previously, you really did not have this.”
To communicate about the added value for the customer is more and more important when the buyer has less and less of a technical background.
“This is not only a challenge for Caverion. In other technical companies people have also sold their own narrow domain.”
An engineer’s ability to put himself in the client’s shoes stands out in an economic downturn, Merja Eskola believes. A salesman’s abilities are measured in tough times, she says: “When things are good, you sometimes think whether you should even try to sell. Now you have to be able to think about what are the decisive factors from the customers’ perspective.”
”A successful marriage of the product and the customer makes a Finnish engineer very effective”, the British consultant smiles contently. “And remember, this Finnish engineer can become a middle-manager, then a company manager and eventually even a prime minister called Juha.”