“Trading is always governed by the same set of rules where trust is everything”, says veteran salesman Erkki Karppinen, who had a long career at Ponsse.
Erkki Karppinen’s contented smile is known to many buyers of forest machines. Having a relaxed way of speaking, the top salesman broke many records in making the impossible possible–selling large machines for an even larger amount of money, even though the first steps were cumbersome at times.
“When we started, we did not have our current brand. There were plenty of doubters. However, this only gave us an extra boost”, says Karppinen, who learned his trade travelling with Einari Vidgrén.
When they got off to a good pace, they were selling several machine chains a day, while keeping a cool head and the telephone lines open. The odometer gathered up kilometres at the same pace as they collected millions from sales.
Erkki Karppinen did not have years of education, he was rather schooled in the trade. After completing the Salahmi primary school, the young man first came to Ponsse in 1970 to work as a forest machine operator, later took off to Sweden to work at the Volvo factory for a couple of years and then returned to Vieremä to transport machines to customers.
“As a lorry driver, I travelled around Finland, from Ivalo to Helsinki and the Åland Islands, for ten years. I definitely got to know every contractor.”
Karppinen clearly remembers the time when Einari Vidgrén realised that this is the right man for sales. The apprentice had started to get the hang of it during their joint sales trips, and even got to close some deals.
“One morning, I got a call from Einari. I was hesitant–after all, I had a wife and two children to feed. Einari promised me that I would do better if I accepted, and so I said yes.”
There was no brand during the early years but it was actively being built–or it rather came by itself out of nowhere, as is the custom in the region of Savonia. It was not about fancy and shining buttons and watches, it was about people having the courage to come and speak.
“We wore sweaters to forest machine fairs and people started to talk about the ‘sweater-clad army from Vieremä’. Then again, we became more popular than many others. We were like our customers, and easy to approach.
We closed a deal by driving a machine to the village centre for everyone to look at.”
“People started to gather up, both acquaintances and strangers. Slowly, farmers started to invite us to their homes to negotiate deals.
That could take days at best. After all, behind a reasonable man, there is always an even more reasonable woman.”
“Once, the man of the house was truly upset and we were getting nowhere during the day. I asked his wife how she handles her husband. She told me to let him be, he will calm down by the evening–and so he did, and we closed the deal. It had been obvious from the start that the machine was much needed.”
Karppinen can well remember a time when he was negotiating with a major entrepreneur. He stepped in through the door and took a look around. The entrepreneur had machines from a competing brand outside. The salesman thought that it was time for another gimmick.
“I carried fancy women’s scarves and other gifts with me. It was some time before Christmas. As I said hello, I thought that I would hand over some scarves and other bits and pieces to the lady of the house. She was truly pleased. After a while, we also closed a deal with her husband. Next time, the lady started to wonder why our larger competitors never gave her anything. They had rather looked like they were wondering what she was doing there.
You needed to have an eye for things like that.”
During Erkki Karppinen’s highest selling years, the forest machine deals amounted to millions. In the late 1990s, after ten years of hard work, sales results were at a record high at nearly a hundred million Finnish marks out of consolidated turnover of more than 370 million. The local branch of the central association of salespeople recognised Karppinen as the best salesperson in Finland of his time.
“It was all based on trust”, Karppinen says in response, after careful thinking. That is all there is to it.
However, trust is not built by snapping one’s fingers. Of course, this has required the world’s leading forest machines and, according to Karppinen, they have practically sold themselves. However, that is not all there is to it. Maybe one is simply born to be a good salesman.
When Karppinen is asked to give tips to his younger successors, his answer is a cautious one. Everyone needs to earn people’s trust.
“Everybody needs to go through the same steps.”