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Working in times of crisis: Sales teams working from home

Stefan Högel, Customer Director NIVEA Germany

The Sales team works closely with trade partners to ensure that Beiersdorf products are placed in the shelves of pharmacies, drugstores and supermarkets. Relationship management is key here. Working from home and social distancing, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, complicate this important task. Since March 16, sales relationships are limited to phone calls and video chats. This poses some challenges. “Usually, the personal exchange is key in our conversations. Facial expressions and gestures as well as the interpretation of the partner’s direct reactions are among the most important tools. In addition, the haptics and sensory qualities of the products can’t be experienced at the moment,” explains Sebastian Höhn, who is responsible for pharmacy sales in Central Germany. Stefan Högel, Customer Director NIVEA Germany, adds: “Currently, there are many changes taking place with our trade partners. There is new information every day and situations are constantly changing. Therefore, it is particularly important to be in close contact and to react flexibly to the situational requirements of our partners. They often face extraordinary challenges that go beyond the regular business”. For example, they have to protect their employees and customers. Due to the shortage of protective clothing and disinfectants this is not always easy. These days even their staff planning is more complex than usual due to quarantine and sickness-related absences. “Queues are getting longer and longer, especially in front of the pharmacies, and the staff is working at full capacity. Talking to the Sales department is not exactly at the top of their priority list,” Höhn describes.

Adaptations in times of Covid-19

In order to react flexibly and proactively to these dynamic developments, the Sales teams are updated daily by telephone calls. During these updates the team can check which current measures are working and where adaptations might be necessary. In this way it can be guaranteed that tailor-made solutions for the current needs of the trading partners are found and implemented. “In close cooperation with the Head Office, especially the marketing department, we were able to create new individual Eucerin and Hansaplast offers for acute pharmacy needs. The main focus is on cleaning products, as there is currently strong demand for Eucerin pH5 Handwash Oil, Hansaplast’s anti-bacterial Wound Spray, and of course hand creams. These offerings must be as self-explanatory as possible. In this way, telephone sales conversations are kept short and to the point. This is how we react to the great lack of time of our partners and are very accommodating to pharmacies. Our agile way of working thus promotes customer relations despite the challenging situation,” explains Höhn. The NIVEA Sales team also sees this opportunity, as Högel describes: “We continue to focus on intensive exchange. We talk to our trade partners on a daily basis and now even use video chats for a more personal level. In this way, we continue to receive important first-hand information that helps us to get our business partnerships through these uncertain times in the best possible way and even seize opportunities”. One risk lies in the development of hoarding and short-term cancellations, as the Customer Director continues to describe: “The purchases in the first weeks of the Corona pandemic have led to growth rates for NIVEA products such as soap, hand cream, shower gel and deodorant. But now consumers are well supplied with these goods for the time being. In combination with stay home measures, this is now leading to declining sales in some cases. In order to react quickly and optimally we are monitoring developments very closely. This also applies to unforeseeable measures, such as the cancellation of the European Championship. However, despite all current challenges, we also know that in times of uncertainty consumers are increasingly turning to well-tested and well-established products – and we are well positioned with our strong brand in this regard”.

Changes of customer behaviour

Nobody knows how the situation will develop, over what period of time it will extend and how the customer frequency in the pharmacies, drugstores and supermarkets will look like tomorrow or next week. Therefore, long-term planning is very difficult. This makes it even more important to listen to the needs and concerns of trading partners to strengthen relationships. “Understanding is crucial in any interpersonal communication in the current situation. Even if we are not always talking about Eucerin and Hansaplast from time to time. This strengthens our relation – in good times and bad,” says Höhn. Högel also experiences first-hand how competing trading partners show solidarity: “Joint advertisements and video messages are intended to raise awareness in society of compliance with current regulations, but also to reassure consumers – products will continue to be available – and to thank their employees in particular for their tireless efforts. I find this very sympathetic and it shows that in difficult times everyone sticks together”.

Sebastian Höhn, Responsible Pharmacy Sales Central Germany

Strong teamwork leads through difficult times

The change to working from home was a big deal for the Sales teams. Sales people are used to be on the road all the time. However, so far, the systems have been quite stable and provide good support for Sales work from home. In some areas, digitalisation has even been pushed ahead with, which will remain in use after the Corona pandemic. “My team calls 20 to 30 pharmacies daily. This is what you can describe as a call centre situation. Frequent rejections due to lack of time or staff are very challenging. My colleagues and the whole team are doing a great job and showing an immense degree of self-motivation. I am incredibly proud of this. They remain as efficient as always, they are going the extra mile and thus support the pharmacies just as much as our Beiersdorf business,” says Höhn. Regular personal contact with each other is important and is already routinely maintained. “We have our team update every morning. Everyone says briefly how they are doing personally and what current actions are working well or less well from home. In addition, we are discussing all current topics to think about how to master the extraordinary challenges in the best way. Every day our strong team spirit is demonstrated – that is awesome,” explains Högel.

A typical Sales working day at home

Instead of always being on the road, in stores and pharmacies the workplace was suddenly limited to the home. This was an enormous change. However, all Sales colleagues seem to have one thing in common: They become one with their phone. Sebastian Höhn therefore also jokingly describes his daily routine as follows: “Getting up at 7 am, drinking coffee, going to my desk, phone calls, drinking coffee, phone calls, e-mails, phone calls, phone calls, phone calls, phone calls and at some point, I go to bed.” With Stefan Högel it’s hardly any different: “At 6:30 am my alarm clock rings and I go straight to the coffee machine – listening to the news. Then my work and the telephone calls start. In order to recharge my batteries for the afternoon, I go jogging at noon. And then the phone calls continue. To stay focused, I take short coffee breaks”.

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Carolin Schreyer

About the editor: Carolin Schreyer

Carolin is responsible for our Pharmacy and Selective Brands within the Corporate Communications team. In this way she takes care of international communication projects of brands like Eucerin, Aquaphor, Hansaplast and La Prairie.