The eventful ‘German’ career of a salesman from Enschede.
He was taken hostage, signed contracts on ski slopes and is never more at ease than in the presence of his neighbours from the East. Cees Fiselier’s (68) career reads like a children’s book. The sales manager at BOA Recycling Systems from Enschede has been in the business for 40 years. ”I have lived in the right time.”
‘Cees, isn’t this something for you?’ In the early eighties, his mother drew Cees’ attention to a vacancy at BOA Recycling Systems in Enschede, the city where he grew up. After gaining experience in the aircraft and playground equipment industry, the twenty-something year old returned to the East. BOA’s office turned out to be the start of a forty-year career in the recycling world, during which he developed into a sales manager for Germany and Eastern Europe in particular, both at BOA and during a brief spell at competitor Bollegraaf Recycling Solutions.
In Cees’ early years, recycling was still a relative term; it only involved the processing of used paper. But business was already booming during that period, says the sixty eight year old whilst celebrating his jubilee. Russians were queuing up for bale presses and conveyor belts, while Cees, as a field employee, was talking non-stop all over Europe from the end of the eighties onwards. Just think: “Mondays in Greece, Tuesdays in Bulgaria, Wednesdays in Hungary, Thursdays in the Czech Republic, Fridays in Poland and then quickly back home.” To his wife and two sons.
Cees sees the recycling business change gradually. Plastic processing is booming but it has not affected his sales tactics in all those years. Well actually, tactics, for the Enschedean it is more a natural attitude which gets him places. Colleagues agree: if you work with Cees at a trade fair, he is the icebreaker. Cees knows everyone and everyone knows Cees. He opens doors that would otherwise remain closed with a playful ease.
“I am not a price-seller. If someone tells me we are too expensive, I often refer to heart surgery. Imagine you need it, do you want a cheaper operation that sometimes fails or do you want to spend a bit more and be sure that it goes well? Delivering quality and building relationships, that’s what it’s all about. Visiting every customer at least once a year, this way you see and hear new things. As a family, we have become good friends with a customer from Austria. We arranged the purchase of machines on a ski slope.”
Sometimes things don’t run as smoothly as we would like them to. Take that day when Cees visited a customer who had not yet paid his invoice in full. The discussion got out of hand, and the Enschedean was unceremoniously locked up in a dingy office. “I was held hostage for about four hours. The invoice was eventually paid in full. And a little while later, Cees was back on the road as if nothing had happened.
Germans. Cees has always had a great relationship with his neighbours to the East. A relationship that has grown naturally over the past decades. “In the office I used to get very nervous when I had to say something in English, but with the Germans, I got on really well.” He has three rules of thumb: always allow a German to finish their sentence, make sure your style of clothing matches that of the person you are talking to and don’t drink a drop of alcohol with a German during the day. “And a car is very important in Germany, so if you are visiting a customer there, park your Mercedes right in front of the door.”
Cees recounts anecdotes, one after the other. The stories he has about smaller clients are the ones that make a lasting impression. That is where he feels most at ease. “I have also had conversations with larger companies, with their lawyer sitting at the same table. Terrible.” Building trust, maintaining relationships, that is what has given him satisfaction for the past forty years. “I have lived in the right era.” But, Cees cannot deny it: smaller companies are disappearing, the recycling world has become more big business-like. “And”, he admits honestly, ”my usefulness to the company is becoming less and less, my peers are leaving.”
But those with forty years of experience in the recycling business have a lot to teach their younger colleagues. “Preparation is everything, determine the objective of your conversation. An offer must be 100 per cent correct, take the customer very seriously. Even the little ones, because they too can become big. Make sure you know who your competitors are, but never talk negatively about them. Emphasise your own strengths, be honest and fair. And when you are travelling, make sure you work. Do not hang around the bar every night as you won’t be sharp the next day. And do not underestimate what such a job does to your family, it has to be okay with them. If you have a partner, it is very important that he or she is independent.”
And now what? The Enschedean has now reached the pensionable age but there is no talk of a definitive farewell yet. “I’m going to slowly phase out. The corona crisis will speed this up a bit because it’s difficult to maintain contacts at this time.” His wife puts an arm on his shoulder: ”Is he still talking now?” Cees smiles: ”I have actually never seen myself as a salesman, I think I’m more just a sociable guy in this industry.”