Over the past year, many companies had to find new ways of staying in contact with their customers and keeping up their services. In an exclusive interview, Alfred Wurmbrand, CEO of Würth Austria, talks to Gerd Pirsterer and Wolfgang Pichler from KNAPP about how key account management is possible in times of social distancing and how important established customer relationships are. Mr. Wurmbrand also provides insight into how logistics concepts can be optimized with the right partner and how Würth and KNAPP are continuously developing and implementing future-oriented solutions together.
Alfred Wurmbrand has been working at Würth for around 31 years. Since 2000, he has been the CEO of the Würth Handelsges.m.b.H in Austria and a member of the Würth management.
Gerd Pirsterer is responsible for the Würth group’s key account management and the expert for Würth within the KNAPP group.
Wolfgang Pichler is part of the key account management team for the Würth group and is the head of Customer Care Management for Würth at KNAPP in Leoben, Austria.
Gerd Pirsterer: Today, we have the pleasure to talk to Alfred Wurmbrand. He is the CEO of Würth Austria and a member of the Würth management. Thank you for joining us today!
Alfred Wurmbrand: Hello! Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure.
Gerd Pirsterer: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Alfred Wurmbrand: You know, saying something about yourself isn’t that easy. I’ve been working at Würth for 31 years now. As you’ve mentioned, I’m responsible for Würth Austria and I’m active in other committees of the group too. In the past, I used to be responsible for many other countries as well. So I’ve been around for quite some time. My career started in IT and logistics. Even as CEO, I can still say that logistics is my hobby.
Wolfgang Pichler: Mr. Wurmbrand, could you tell us who your customers are and what motivates them?
Alfred Wurmbrand: We work very closely with our customers. Typically, we work with businesses and sectors that deal with crafts, the automotive industry and so on. Anyone who works with their hands will find something in our item range. We are also active in the industrial sector itself. We supply about three million customers around the world in 80 countries from around 400 companies. We achieve this with our 79,000 employees, half of which work as sales representatives. This shows you what sales means to us.
Wolfgang Pichler: I imagine the pandemic was a stressful and challenging time. Has the past year changed your customer relationships? How have you kept in touch with your customers?
Alfred Wurmbrand: In my view, the pandemic not only changed the life of every person on this planet, but also the way we do business. During the first lockdown, we learned to quickly switch to digital channels. Even outdated devices, such as landline telephones, became more important. We were able to move everything onto a digital level, because we already had the infrastructure. This was very important for us and with the additional technology, we stayed in close contact with our customers the entire time. We moved the things we did in person before the crisis online. These efforts have helped us and many other sectors, we now also benefit from a hopefully full “bank account”. When I say “bank account”, I mean an account of relationships so to speak. We can use this “account” as a source of partnership and live off the strong relationships we’ve always had with our customers. We keep in touch with video conferences, phone calls and the like. What’s interesting is that contact with our customers is more frequent now.
In my opinion, it’s extremely important that businesses have sound and extensive account management. Good account management means working with different levels in the hierarchy as well as keeping customers up-to-date regarding developments, technologies and so on.
Wolfgang Pichler: Speaking of relationships: We know, of course, that you manage your key accounts well, but could you tell us more about key account management?
Alfred Wurmbrand: Yes, it’s very interesting that KNAPP is dealing with the topic as well. In my opinion, it’s extremely important that businesses have sound and extensive account management. Good account management means working with different levels in the hierarchy as well as keeping customers up-to-date regarding developments, technologies and so on. However, the most important aspect is ensuring that the different levels have a close relationship with the customers. This also provides a basis for discussion and exchange. Investing in these relationships, or accounts, is not only necessary during projects, but also when there is no upcoming project.
Gerd Pirsterer: So, good contacts and relationships are the basis for success?
Alfred Wurmbrand: Exactly. At KNAPP, technology is much more important than in our business. That’s something potential customers consider in their decision. But if you offer the same products or the same level of products or solutions as the competition, it’s the relationship that counts in the end.
Gerd Pirsterer: How does Würth help their customers achieve success, and what is your competitive advantage? What distinguishes Würth from the competition?
Alfred Wurmbrand: From a business point of view, it’s quite interesting. When you talk to researchers in economics especially, they ask: What is the asset of a business? Usually, logistics and sales wouldn’t be considered intangible assets, but they are, in our view, our company’s assets. It’s the simple things that give you the competitive edge. We have to be ahead in logistics, we have to deliver. Not only just-in-time for the automotive industry, for instance, but also on demand. In our sector, on demand from the customer’s perspective means: I have an idea now and want to work with the product tomorrow morning. These are our biggest challenges. If you’re good at that, strong relationships with your customers help a lot. This makes us useful, and that’s exactly what we want to be for our customers.
KNAPP has more than a typical business relation with Würth, we see you as partners.
Wolfgang Pichler: That’s very interesting. Could you explain to our listeners and readers who are less familiar with Würth which KNAPP technologies you use in your logistics centre in Böheimkirchen?
Alfred Wurmbrand: Since I don’t work with the systems directly anymore, although my employees say that I still know enough about them, I asked my logistics manager for some up-front information. In preparation for this interview, he wrote that most of our systems come from KNAPP. I know that you have more technology than we use here, but we do have the new OSR Shuttle™ Evo. It does its job perfectly, it truly is the most important technology for us right now. It was a big investment, but it was worth it. It really pays off now especially, since demand is very high. It’s an excellent system, it allows us to meet the needs of our customers. We started working with KNAPP in 2005. Since then, we’ve gradually replaced all other systems with KNAPP technology.
Wolfgang Pichler: Do you feel understood and supported by KNAPP? With all our channels and contacts and our common history?
Alfred Wurmbrand: Yes. I would like to point out that it’s always important to have the right contact in a specific phase of a project. I highly value that I can get in touch with your Managing Board and your Managing Directors if necessary. Sometimes, you need to talk about a rough framework or basic conditions for collaboration. KNAPP and Würth also communicate across all hierarchical levels. Our companies therefore don’t have to communicate with each other through the same company levels. Communication is also possible between different levels, which is important for the relationship. So, it helps to have fewer hierarchical levels and more direct communication. This is key in account management and I have the feeling KNAPP fosters this kind of communication. I don’t the exact figures, but KNAPP and Würth have many points of contact all over the world.
Gerd Pirsterer: Do you think the pandemic has changed the way we keep in touch now compared to 2019?
Alfred Wurmbrand: Interestingly, I think we talk to each other more frequently. For example right now, I’m at our headquarters in Böheimkirchen in Austria, and you are at your headquarters. Today, it’s quite easy to get in touch without having to travel. This means, we have more ways to communicate with our suppliers and with you. Decisions can be made much faster, if necessary. However, digital environments make it more difficult to go for a beer together after a successful day or at the end of a project. That’s the main downside to it all.
Both Würth and KNAPP have the same passion to move forward and to find the right path, a path we all can benefit from.
Wolfgang Pichler: You talked about suppliers. KNAPP has more than a typical business relation with Würth, we see you as partners. Do you see KNAPP as a partner too or as a “preferred supplier”?
Alfred Wurmbrand: Considering that we’ve worked together for 15 to 16 years , KNAPP can’t just be a supplier. KNAPP is our partner, not only in the development of current projects such as the last one, which we completed a year ago, but also with regard to the support and the development of technologies. We talk about what’s new, what’s being done, what new things are being tried out or discussed. I really appreciate that we have the opportunity to see new technologies in action in your Showroom at the headquarters, even if a system is not entirely suitable for us. This helps us to decide what we want in the future and what we want to develop and so forth. In this respect, you are absolutely a partner. We don’t invest as much time in other potential suppliers. You are our number one.
Wolfgang Pichler: Thank you, this is great feedback for us! Do you have any final remarks or would like to add anything?
Alfred Wurmbrand: The only thing I’d like to add is that it’s extremely important to maintain relationships with customers and more so with partners. Even with just a short online call. It’s crucial to keep everybody up-to-date and to stay in touch on all levels. In terms of technology, you are doing the right thing. It’s always interesting for us to see the latest innovations and what is going on at KNAPP.
Wolfgang Pichler: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure talking to you.
Gerd Pirsterer: Thank you for your time, it really was a pleasure. I think, we gained insight into who Würth is and what Würth does. Both Würth and KNAPP have the same passion to move forward and to find the right path, a path we all can benefit from.
Alfred Wurmbrand: Thank you for having me, it was a pleasure for me as well.
Watch the recorded interview with Alfred Wurmbrand from Würth:
Find out more about Würth, what drives them and what sets them apart from the competition:
Together with Würth, we have recently extended and modernized the logistics centre in Böheimkirchen, Austria:
Further reading recommendations
KNAPP and Würth have developed an innovative and sustainable solution that optimizes processes and offers the customer the highest quality and the best service. Additionally, the intelligent automation of the solution provides the support that employees need in their daily work.
A solid partnership is essential to overcoming the challenges of the future and ultimately be successful. But what characterizes a solid partnership in the B2B sector? And how can both partners benefit from it? Read on to find out.
For more information on key account management at KNAPP, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.