Changes in sales: Interview with CRM expert Benjamin Braun

Marcus Klapprodt, Head of Operations, had the pleasure to talk to CRM project coordinator Benjamin Braun. After a thorough education as an industrial mechanic, our interview partner made a lateral move into sales. As the piles of visit reports and business cards on his desk grew larger and larger, Benjamin Braun decided to implement a CRM system. Since then, he is the responsible for the CRM system roll-out and implementation and their data quality improvement.

Note: At the time of the interview, he worked as a CRM project coordinator at Gebrüder Heller Maschinenfabrik GmbH.

Benjamin Braun

Project Coordinator CRM, HELLER Services GmbH


Gebrüder Heller Maschinenfabrik was founded in Nürtingen, Germany, more than 100 years ago. It started as a small toolmaker's shop but currently, it is a globally operating company and leading manufacturer in the CNC tool and machine sector with around 3,000 employees and five production sites. Benjamin Braun worked for the German machine manufacturer until June 2021.

Expert interview

Mapping and managing the entire customer relationship

Marcus Klapprodt: You initiated the introduction of a CRM system at your previous company and implemented it yourself. That's why Gebrüder Heller Maschinenfabrik was interested in you and wanted you as a CRM project coordinator, right? Please, tell us more about that: What do you do in your role as a CRM project manager, and what particularly excited you about the topic?

Benjamin Braun: I am a man of conviction, which is also important to me. I often hear that CRM is reduced to software. From my point of view, this is a too narrow perspective. As the name suggests, it's about organizing and managing the entire customer relationship. I try to start with sales, where things don't work well, and where something can be done. But that's not so easy. I take the existing issues and try to build relationships with the different interests. We have software-related boundaries as well as organizational issues and processes that need to be in place. This means that, together with several colleagues, we try to make processes more comfortable for the sales department. We also pursue the goal of having correct data. For example, on analytics or to automate a step in another process to be faster and more efficient.

CRM system and data quality

Klapprodt: You just mentioned the topic of analytics. You are often traveling e.g., as a guest at the snapADDY Customer Day or also with many other customers. What CRM trends do you expect to see in the next years?

Braun: I recently looked into this myself to see in which direction Heller Maschinenbau should continue to develop. The topics of "AI" and "machine learning" are definitely relevant. I find these very exciting topics and I could also experience them at snapADDY. I thought about what added value the application offers. There are often "sales advisors" in sales, which certainly works. However, I am skeptical regarding medium-sized businesses. The reason is that there is not enough data to allow the AI to learn and reliably recommend the next steps. In addition, there is no common thread in sales, for example, that A is followed by B. Our customers are more "freestyle." There are, for sure, patterns concerning a specific individual, but not about the whole. That's why "AI" is an exciting topic in lead management, where you have a large amount of data to reduce processing time. In general, I don't see "AI" in our company yet and I tend to be conservative in this case. I have not yet seen anyone who would see any added value here.

I'm more interested in analytics. It's important to analyze the data – which must actually be high quality – and also put it into perspective. It no longer necessarily has anything to do with CRM, but rather with sales controlling. I think it's important to put data into perspective to bring together different data sources and to classify data in the index, which exists in many points. That's how you find out what's going on. In addition, you can also try to create a closed-loop with the data, in which you can then check in retrospect whether you have the right data with the right quality and whether you could foresee where you are now. There are countless "business intelligence tools" that are also used in many ways to make better predictions about one's product, the market, and customer behavior. To do this, it is essential to capture the data correctly, keep it up to date, and have it in the right place. The automation of snapADDY helps with this. So especially combined with the classic "CRM features" there is a real added value!

CRM: More than just the implementation phase

Klapprodt: I think what you're saying also reflects Heller's corporate culture. You are generally very digitally oriented e.g., with predictive maintenance. That means using machine operating data to predict when a component will break, for example. You have been using SAP in sales and customer service for quite a long time. Are you a pioneer in this area?

Braun: The CRM system was introduced in 2017, so that was before I joined the company. The introduction is a process and people have to get used to it, of course. It's generally important to show employees the benefits of the CRM system and that it's not about controlling them, for example. You also have to constantly develop the system implementation – we have developed a lot in reporting. It is also helpful to keep questioning the processes. It's also important not to build a parallel world, which is a big challenge. I think that's a problem for most companies that already have established systems. Well, it is assumed, we "live CRM" more and more, but it is a long and not so easy way. It is helpful when it is driven from the top and multiple data maintenance needs to be avoided. For example, having to fill in both gender and salutation. That's a dependency that is easy to establish.

Klapprodt: It's exciting what you're talking about and that you're not just mentioning the introduction. Often people think that all problems are solved by buying new software, regardless of the processes. What is your experience and what are the key success factors in sales?

Braun: Sale is a multi-layered topic. I'm talking about the sales of capital goods, not merchandise. Good customer retention and a fast response rate are the best ways to convince customers. In terms of CRM, I believe that if I am well positioned and get fast feedback internally, I can then pass it on reliably. That's where commitment and reliability play a big role. Through the CRM, I can improve the image and project these company values to the outside world. I think there is no way around this in the capital goods sector.

Data quality: The basis is what counts

Klapprodt: I would like to elaborate on one point: Data, such as a customer's purchasing behavior, is the basis of a CRM system. However, the data is often lacking in quality. How are you working specifically to ensure data quality, or what tips do you have in general for other customers to improve data quality in CRM?

Braun: The first and most important issue is avoiding duplicates – nothing is worse than multiple data sets that have to be merged again in the end. This is also our most important topic, which is why we use snapADDY DataQuality. We already have isolated positions where data is only imported via DataQuality because the duplicate check works twice. What I have already seen, but which we do not currently use, is an address completion from Google. I think that's good too because it works directly in CRM systems. Currently, we only use snapADDY DataQuality as a gatekeeper for our CRM system. Neither data gets in there that is already in the system nor irrelevant data like "Jhon Doe" is recorded. Something else that contributes to good data quality is the amount of information you have to maintain. For example, the state should be filled in automatically if you have to enter zip code and country. This is because every manual entry that someone has to make costs money. Therefore, this should be avoided as much as possible. It's just frustrating for colleagues to check duplicate data.

Gebrüder Heller Maschinenfabrik x snapADDY

Klapprodt: In which sales processes do you generally use snapADDY?

Braun: We started using snapADDY VisitReport at trade fairs to record customer data quickly and in compliance with the GDPR. In addition, we needed to have the data to follow up during the trade fair. We didn't want our colleagues to be busy updating data at trade fairs. That's why we introduced VisitReport to capture business cards and surveys. We transferred the " fine-tuning" to the back office, which was not at the show but in the office. Eventually, we also used DataQuality, but we are still not that far along. Currently, the focus is on VisitReport, which we also want to use to record normal visit reports. Soon snapADDY will also be connected to SAP C4C, so hopefully, we will have live data and will be able to record our visit reports in even better quality.

Klapprodt: What kind of specific functions have you been able to perform so far with snapADDY that you have not been able to do with other tools?

Braun: An important decision point for using snapADDY VisitReport was the offline feature. Anyone who spends a lot of time at trade fairs knows that there is often no Internet or very poor Internet. Another big advantage is that you can not only register one signature per report but also several contact persons with the signature included. Fortunately, you have implemented this and it will certainly facilitate the day-to-day business at the trade fair – as soon as fairs start up again. In addition, we also needed two PDF exports, which you also implemented well for us.

Klapprodt: Where do you see the added value of snapADDY and what has improved for you as a result of using snapADDY VisitReport?

Braun: The VisitReport app is very intuitive and makes the daily work of colleagues at trade fairs much easier. I am very happy that we will soon have the "team coordination" function so that everyone can see where the colleague they are looking for is. DataQuality is an added value for lead management because you simply get ahead faster. Many insist on time savings, but I see the real added value in the data quality. I think the time comparison alone is insufficient because, of course, there is still some way to go.

Changes in sales

Klapprodt: What has changed at Heller in sales due to the COVID? What is planned for the next twelve months – given the current situation – but also for the future?

Braun: Definitely, what has changed for everyone is the attendance. If a colleague used to be on the road for 10 to 12 hours to meet with customers, today he has more time available for other tasks. He doesn't have time to talk to customers on the phone, because there have also been a lot of changes for customers and they are not always available. Everything that has taken place face-to-face so far is being done digitally. We also had a digital trade fair where a virtual space was created where people could communicate. So everybody had their avatar and there was also a live chat. There were also round tables where you could talk to customers about certain topics. I think the digital format will stay for people to "meet" each other online. We would also like to extend it further, for example with machine demos. We can't stop moving forward now. But I think we will find our way back to a new reality. So there won't be much more travel, for sure, but I think we will find a balance. Personal contact will certainly come back but in combination with digital solutions.

Klapprodt: What do you think will happen to sales after the COVID? In which direction will sales develop in the future?

Braun: I think with or without COVID there will be a generation shift with digital natives. Golf with customers –like in the U.S.– will certainly no longer exist in the future. Sales will become much more objective because people will increasingly look at figures, data, and facts. Of course, you first have to prove comparability to evaluate the whole picture. I think this is especially important in the technical field. In addition, time is becoming more and more valuable in general, so meeting for coffee is rather unlikely. Work-life balance and remote working are becoming more and more relevant for the younger generation so that work becomes more efficient.

Klapprodt: Did you also use snapADDY software in your previous company?

Braun: Yes, I met Jochen [Seelig, CEO] in 2016 and I had my first contact with snapADDY. We had Salesforce as a CRM system and we used the Grabber [today: snapADDY DataQuality] at that time. We had not yet used VisitReport, and I'm not sure if the software already existed to that extent.

Klapprodt: Do you have any advice for the next generation of CRM managers?

Braun: I would say the most important thing is not to stagnate. So start with the basics: account, contact person, and context. I would only perform lead management after that. What I mean is to properly map the customer base: which master data do we currently have and which do we want to keep in the future. For example, the fax number, which we still like to keep. However, in my opinion, it is possible to save the work in the future. Another tip is not to look at the data you already have, but the data you want. Instead, ask yourself what the CRM system should answer for you. What do I really want to know on a day-to-day basis? How much my customer invoices or how the sales pipeline is structured. This is an important point, but unfortunately, it is often overlooked. Also because many only have a half-knowledge of CRM systems and everyone has their own idea about it. So the main message is not to stagnate.

Klapprodt: Now, I will take up the questions from the chat: For which areas do you use Heller VisitReport besides the trade show report? Are all customer visits recorded with VisitReport?

Braun: No, but we have started with a test group in Germany with eight to ten users in customer service for customer visits. Depending on how that goes, we will look further. We also have to make sure that there are not too many variations because each area wants its own questions answered.

Thanks very much to Benjamin Braun for sharing his time and expertise with us and for his interesting insights into the company Gebrüder Heller Maschinenbau.

The interview was recorded on 01/13/2021and is available here.