Understanding of the local culture, in-country presence, personal relationships and technical expertise. According to Nicola Scudella, Tecnopool’s Sales Manager for North America, these are the key factors that have allowed the company to play a key role in the North American food processing market.
There’s a specific strategy behind this success and that has rewarded the Veneto based company.
“When I was asked to manage it, the USA and Canada commercial area was essentially in an embryonic phase; now this area represents our second foreign market in terms of volume,” explains the manager. “It is also the area where we have set all our records in terms of system size, for instance, the Kraft plant in Minneapolis that cools 10,000 kg/hour of Velveeta cheese. Virtually all Velveeta cheese in the USA is processed by one of our systems. This project took two years to complete. It is a continuous challenge in a commercial arena that’s as big as Europe and very demanding.”
Indeed, North America is considered a market with very high entry barriers. According to Scudella: “Americans, same as Italians for some typical and traditional sectors (i.e. food), are very protective of the “Made in USA”. The challenge is to overcome this initial resistance towards foreign products.
“It is true that on one hand Italian products have their strong points also here in the States. Take Italian design, for example. Compared to American plant engineering, which always tends to be a bit oversized, our design approach is more rational and therefore optimized in terms of costs. Another point in favor is the reputation of the production district to which we belong. Each time we present ourselves to a potential customer, we benefit from the credibility built over time by many companies in the area that operate with the same quality in the food technology sector. A virtuous collaboration that helps everybody; working well is a guarantee for success in the entire sector.”
While Italian quality is certainly a good selling point, it wouldn’t be enough without a solid understanding of the peculiarities of each market, ranging from the most obvious ones such as language and organizational barriers, to the most peculiar cultural dynamics.
Our company was aware of these market dynamics and that has guided our choices. “My personal experience and background were important. Having lived in the United States since the age of 15 supported the company’s decision to give me ample room for organizing my work, just after a period of apprenticeship in Europe and South America” adds the Sales Manager.
But what are the keys points for an Italian company to succeed in the United States?
The Italians’ approach to business and the Italian way of selling is really appreciated.
“Commercial negotiation is an art that mirrors the spirit of a population. We Italians have a certain style, a polite and friendly way of making requests, which to some extent is more calculated. The Americans, on the other hand, appreciate clarity; the less strategy a customer perceives, the more they feel they understand you and the sooner the project is completed. This doesn’t mean they are naive counterparts, though. They know very well how to defend their requirements, maybe by playing on misunderstandings. There is no right or wrong way, however ignoring these differences would make everything difficult. It’s part of the game, and honesty I have never in my life seen a negotiation without any pitfalls.”
Another example of the differences between Italy and North America is the request to join the various trade associations. For example, in the bakery sector, there is the American Society of Baking: “Working for one of their members is the most secure accreditation and a passport to any future negotiation. If we think about it carefully, in any market, companies have greater confidence in those who have already proven themselves and earned the respect of authoritative parties in their category.”
These cultural dynamics simply confirm the importance of the human aspect, while the personal relationship element remains essential.
“In the end, the real negotiation begins when mutual understanding is established, therefore, to sell in a market you have to go there,” Scudella underlines. “I spend on average six months a year in America, because there is no substitute for local presence and direct contact.”
That’s why this year has been a further test due to the COVID-19 situation.
“When I think that during lockdown we closed a contract with a large leading company like Artisan Chef for three bakery lines, I am obviously satisfied with how we rethought our communication processes to navigate the crisis,” acknowledges Scudella, “but if we look at the origin, this result confirms that our work is still based on the direct relationship. The outcome of the project was possible thanks to the trust built up in the contacts and negotiations with the customer before the forced closure, and then perfected with daily remote meetings.”
Clearly, trust must not only be won, but earned in the field.
“One thing I have always pushed hard when talking about presence in the field is the importance of an extensive sales network with motivated agents, as well as an extensive customer service network. In the USA local service is very important, which is why we have studied various service solutions to reach every customer. Where it is not possible to intervene directly, we are able to provide maintenance and customer care with a spare parts office and support to local assemblers. The overall aim is that the customer feels their needs are always taken care of by a highly specialized partner.”
Another key factor for a company that supplies comprehensive total food processing systems is the high level of technical expertise.
Companies like Tecnopool, with exclusively custom-made system solutions, acquire credibility with a commercial team that is well trained in technical aspects. Not only in terms of mere reputation, but for the advantages that this know-how brings to the customer.
“As an example, Kraft followed our advice to implement intelligent cooling solutions, saving significant sums at their Minneapolis plant.
“Another typical case is when companies with large orders find themselves having to guarantee higher than normal production rates in a short time and without adequate advice, they risk of building oversized systems that, once the emergency is over, do not repay the construction costs. Also, in this case, engaging with an expert partner helps choosing the right size, both in terms of system and investment”.
Another reason why technical expertise is essential when selecting food technologies is that fact that the quality of the final product is the result of a correctly defined production process that was supported by a good system design practice.