Challenge: Eastern Europe
Mark Kan didn't take the conventional academic route into sales: Instead, the manager, who has Korean and Romanian roots, followed a path that took him all over the world, from Kazakhstan to Leverkusen.
Along the way, he acquired two degrees, an MBA and a commercial qualification. Now working in international sales at DENSO, this multi-talented manager is the Area Sales Manager for Central and Eastern Europe, as well as parts of Asia. In this interview, he discusses some of the challenges of his role.
Why did you choose to build your career in sales?
Kan: I was excited by the challenge: I'm responsible for more than 30 countries in Eastern Europe and Asia, and get the chance to apply my experiences of interacting with people from other cultures. As an Area Sales Manager at DENSO, I can work independently and stand on my own two feet to develop new markets.
You worked in other industries before joining DENSO. Was your transition to this company a smooth one?
Kan: No. At the very beginning, I knew little about the pipeline and sealing technology industry. As someone with no technical experience, the first thing I had to do was familiarise myself with the huge range of products that we offer. But this wasn't a task I had to tackle alone – my technical colleagues explained everything to me, helping me to become an expert myself quickly. This level of understanding is incredibly important for my role because at some large companies, in Russia for example, many of the employees have a scientific background. Meetings there can be a lot more detailed in terms of technical content.
You've been instrumental in making DENSO products significantly more successful in Eastern Europe. How did you do it?
Kan: This achievement was no mean feat. On top of devising a clear sales strategy, you have to take the mentality of each country you're doing business with into account. For example, I published a number of specialist articles in Russian, which was an important step in raising DENSO's profile in the old Soviet countries. I prepare for each meeting separately: Product demonstrations during visits to construction sites require a completely different approach to consultations with customers or interactions at trade fairs.
People in Eastern Europe and Asia are very different, just like everywhere else in the world: For example, in Korea I pass people my business card with two hands, with the details facing my contact person so it is immediately legible without having to be turned over. This is a sign of respect for the other person. Touching on a taboo subject immediately comes across as negative and can even bring a conversation to an end. My international background is very useful in this regard.
What motivates you in your day-to-day work?
Kan: My working environment and positive feedback from my customers. Independence and freedom to do things your way are encouraged at our company, and I have the freedom to work like an entrepreneur running my own company. So I'm really pleased about our growth in Eastern Europe: This means that I can start to break into new markets with new products.
What do you mean by that exactly?
Kan: Everything we do is based on DENSO's strength in innovation. We never stand still and instead, we are constantly researching and developing new products. This means that there's always something new for me to latch on to in sales – for example, the summer residence of the president of Turkmenistan in the Caspian Sea is now standing on pillars protected by MarineProtect® from DENSO. Five years ago, that wouldn't have been achievable.
What do you envisage for your role over the coming years?
Kan: I hope that I can continue to make progress and build on the positive developments we've achieved in Eastern Europe. This is an area that still presents plenty of challenges: the main issue at the moment being the volatile exchange rate between the Russian Ruble and the Euro. But I'm very optimistic about the future – our products are strong and speak for themselves.