We will gather to this blog things that are current and hopefully of interest to people, who want to know about Fennobiz and business in Switzerland, Germany and Austria or in the Nordics – not forgetting funny little things, learnings and observations from the day-to-day life.
Welcome to the new year! While you are sipping your coffee or tea, here some updates for you on what is going on in the Swiss ICT business. We are now already at the beginning of the 3rd week in the new year… how did that happen?
As Covid-19 is a key topic everywhere, let’s start with that: the infection numbers in Switzerland have been very high for several months and the good news is that slowly but surely they are improving now. At the peak level in November there were well over 10.000 new infections in a day (!) and the latest day figure announced by the health authorities on Friday, January 15th was 2.396, the seven-day average having come down by 21% from the previous week.
The impact of the pandemic on the Swiss ICT business has not really differed much from that elsewhere. A recent study from August to October 2020 by the market and social research institute gfs-zürich showed that in two thirds of the surveyed 503 companies with 4 to 49 employees work could be moved to home offices without major issues.
The Swiss federal government has just announced significant new measures to protect the people against the upcoming third wave, which is expected to be accelerating the infection rates due to the new virus variant. From Monday the 18th of January the restaurants, museums, zoos and shops that do not sell only products for the daily use will be closed until the end of February. Sports events cannot be organised with spectators. It is now also required for people to work from home, if at all possible.
European media commented earlier that Switzerland is not closing its ski resorts, although some neighbouring countries requested that. Actually the decisions are made in the cantons, not on federal level and not all the ski resorts in Switzerland are open now. Well, skiing now seems to be possible in Austria, too.
Not that there would not be enough snow! A LOT of snow has covered the country – in canton Zurich we got some 30 – 40 cm of new snow and in the Alps the figure was closer to two metres in the last few days. This came down basically in two days of snowing and of course caused some major problems for traffic. In canton Zurich about 2.500 calls for help were made to the local authorities, often concerning fallen trees blocking roads.
e-ID vote coming up
There is going to be a very interesting national vote taking place on March the 7th: the Swiss will be deciding whether they want to accept the e-ID law proposed by the Swiss federal government or not. The idea is to make it simpler and more safe to identify oneself on the internet.
It is very common that there is resistance in Switzerland for such proposals and then a referendum is organised, often also with an alternative proposal to be voted on. This time this is not the case and if the Swiss folk vote no, it will take again several years to get a new proposal on the table without any solution to be used in the meantime.
What exactly the e-ID will look like, is not defined in the law. It will be used for identification in public and private online services. Obtaining the e-ID is voluntary for individuals and therefore online service providers will have to allow identification with other methods, too.
The creation of an e-ID has been in the works for some twenty years in Switzerland and it will be very interesting to see, what will happen in March – it is not completely sure that the law will be approved.
Swiss EPD (Elektronische Patientendossier): first implementation in canton Aargau
At least this is the way it was announced in December. We have read about other pioneering implementations of electronic patient (or “health”) records in at least Basel and in Geneva that have been in use for some time and are being developed further. Nevertheless, this is an important event and the rest of the EPD systems should be implemented during this year in Switzerland. The creation of the EPD systems is the main eHealth initiative and obviously a topic generating much discussion in the Swiss healthcare sector and among the public.
The EPD is a regional or national level database that will contain health information concerning the individuals living in Switzerland – that is, those persons that have decided to register for this system that is entirely voluntary for individual persons. For the hospitals and other healthcare providing organisations it is mandatory. The model has been under development for a long time and now the current version of the Swiss eHealth strategy is pushing the actual implementation in the field – the cantons being in the driver seats.
What does this mean for companies with eHealth-related solutions? You will have to ensure that your solution has an interface to those EPD systems.
In the starting phase the EPD will contain mostly documents – typically in PDF form and it will take some time, before structured patient data from tests will be recorded, according to some comments. How the documents are going to be recorded into the EPD remains open and particularly the private family doctors – of which there are still thousands – are not too keen to start doing that.
As a matter of fact – if you understand German and are interested in this topic, go to the Swiss national TV website www.srf.ch and search for EPD. You will get 4.036 search results, some of the newest ones on the above-mentioned EPD implementation in Aargau. It will give you an idea on how much discussion this matter is generating in Switzerland!
Since originally publishing this article in late May 2020 in Finnish we have updated it based on even more experience gathered in numerous virtual meetings.
The media is full of articles and guidance on how in the “new normal” meetings are held using one of the numerous online platforms, which have been so much the hot topics of the past half a year.
Businesses have been using these systems for a long time, mostly for internal meetings, thereby saving costs and time. But does virtual selling – international selling in particular – work as well as meeting face-to-face? More and more salespeople are now forced to try it.
No question about it, technology does offer quite a good environment for this and when specific, remotely located expertise has been required for meetings, for instance software demos have been organised over an online connection with good results for quite some time. The main challenge has been that some customers have not been able to use those online platforms that require the installation of software on their computers. Or this has been hindered by the internal policy of their IT department.
Much fewer articles have been written about how the considerably more challenging matter of holding the sales discussion in a successful way is done: bringing results that at the end of the day benefit everyone involved.
It is clear that everything that we have learned about interaction between people and how sales discussions are held is still totally valid. However, something is missing from these virtual meetings or is very limited: the ability to get that important, non-verbal feedback from the customers. This is also called body language. Matters are not made any easier by the fact that often the salesperson has to speak a foreign language and often so has the customer, too!
A good negotiator and salesperson has one key skill on top of all others: situational awareness. In some professions this ability to know what exactly is going on in the surroundings is crucial for survival. Fighter pilots have their cockpits full of technology serving this very requirement. Where does the salesperson have it? It has to be between his or her ears!
How can one then develop this skill? Only by practicing and concentrating on what one is doing. Preparing the meetings with foreign customers very carefully. Studying the LinkedIn or Xing profiles of your customers very closely and picking up some points for use in the discussion – careful reading will often give a good view on what they find important and what is of value to them. And taking into account cultural differences: how people and organisations in the target country are making business and particularly investment decisions.
Listening is essential. One has to not only hear what is being said, but also get an understanding of what is not being said. A Finn often says out loud what he or she thinks (for the good or bad!), but this is not the case in all other cultures. This is something you will not learn by reading books, only through experience and by spending time in the target country.
It is also important to check in regular intervals with questions that one has understood the customer’s comments correctly and that you and the customer are “on the same page”. And this works both ways, too! Present questions that will show you any parts of your key messages that were not understood or fully grasped by your counterparts.
The Finnish academic and specialist in human communications, Osmo A. Wiio famously presented the Wiio’s law as “human communications usually fail, except by accident”. There is actually quite a lot more detail to this law that you can find on Wikipedia. Check it out – it will give you a smile, although the topic itself is of course serious!
Often you can get professional, expert level support to better prepare yourself for such meetings from the country in question. Technology helps you to get online with your customer, but your skills make the difference.
In this way export sales performed virtually works really well. In our experience, careful preparation and persistence pays off!
Media on täynnä artikkeleita ja ohjeistusta siihen, miten “uudessa normaalissa” palavereita pidetään käyttäen jotain niistä lukuisista nettipalaverisysteemeistä, jotka nyt ovat kovasti pinnalla.
Yrityksissä näitä järjestelmiä on käytetty jo pitkän aikaa etupäässä sisäiseen palaverointiin ja siten on säästetty aikaa ja matkakuluja. Mutta onnistuuko myyntityö – ja varsinkin kansainvälinen myynti yhtä hyvin kuin tapaamalla ihmisiä paikan päällä? Nyt sitä on yhä useamman pakko yrittää.
Tekniikka tarjoaa tähän kyllä kohtuullisen hyvät mahdollisuudet ja silloin, kun on tarvittu erityisosaamista jostain kauempaa mukaan palaveriin, ohjelmistodemoja on ihan hyvällä menestyksellä järjestetty jo kauan aikaa netin yli. Haasteena on lähinnä ollut se, että kaikki asiakkaat eivät voi käyttää sellaisia työkaluja, jotka edellyttävät ohjelmiston asentamista heidän tietokoneilleen. Tai sitten yhtiön IT-osaston politiikka on ollut esteenä.
Paljon vähemmän on näkynyt kirjoituksia siitä, miten se huomattavasti haasteellisempi asia – netin yli käytävä myyntikeskustelu saadaan toimimaan halutulla tavalla ja tuottamaan tuloksia.
Kaikki tähän asti ihmisten välisestä kanssakäymisestä ja myyntikeskustelujen läpiviemisestä opittu on edelleen tietysti täysin relevanttia. Jotain kuitenkin näistä palavereista puuttuu tai se on vähintäänkin rajallista: kyky saada sitä olennaista, sanatonta palautetta asiakkailta, josta myös elekielenä puhutaan. Asiaa ei tee helpommaksi se, että myyjä joutuu usein puhumaan itselleen vierasta kieltä ja usein niin tekee asiakaskin.
Hyvällä neuvottelijalla ja myyjällä on yksi keskeinen taito kaiken muun osaamisen lisäksi: tilanneherkkyys. Joissakin ammateissa ympäristön ja vallitsevan tilanteen tajuaminen – “situational awareness” – on elintärkeää. Hävittäjälentäjillä on ohjaamo täynnä tekniikkaa, joka palvelee tätä tarkoitusta. Missä se on myyntihenkilöllä? Sen on pakko olla korvien välissä!
Miten sitä voi sitten kehittää? Vain harjoittelemalla ja keskittymällä siihen, mitä on tekemässä. Valmistautumalla myyntipalavereihin ulkomaisten asiakkaiden kanssa erittäin huolellisesti. Tutustumalla asiakkaan edustajien profiileihin LinkedInissä tai Xingissä ja ottamalla sieltä joitain pointtereita keskusteluun. Usein sieltä saa myös hyvän kuvan siitä, mikä heille on tärkeää ja mitä he arvostavat. Ottamalla huomioon kulttuurierot – miten asiakkaat kohdemaassa tekevät päätöksiä ja ostavat.
Olennaista on kuunteleminen. On kuultava ei vain se, mitä ja miten jotain sanotaan, vaan on myös oivallettava se, mitä ei sanota. Suomalainen usein suorasukaisuudessaan sanoo ääneen, mitä ajattelee, mutta näin ei suinkaan ole kaikissa kulttuureissa. Tätä ei opi kirjoista, vaan kokemuksen kautta ja olemalla itse läsnä kohdemaassa.
Tärkeää on myös sopivin välein tarkistaa kysymyksin, että on ymmärtänyt asiakkaan antamat kommentit oikein ja varsinkin, että kaikki ovat “samalla sivulla” ja ymmärtäneet heille kerrotut asiat.
Ja yleensä myös asiantuntevaa ja kielitaitoista apua on saatavissa kohdemaasta.
Näillä eväillä vientimyynti etänä onnistuu ihan hyvin. Oman kokemuksemme mukaan sinnikkyys palkitaan!
Just a month and a half ago we wrote about the very good employment figures in 2019 in Switzerland. Like in most countries in Europe, the situation has now changed – but how much?
What is to be expected in a pandemic situation like what we have now, is that the Swiss tourism sector has suffered the most and very quickly, too. This is in line with what has happened in Austria, another country with a normally flourishing tourism sector.
Some 95% of all companies in Switzerland are SMEs (the generally used definition being companies having less than 250 employees) and the federal government has been quick to respond to their immediate cash flow needs with loans guaranteed by the Swiss government. Two-thirds of the employees work for these companies and it is crucial for the economy to maintain the buying power of these people.
In an update released on April 15th 2020 the Swiss federal SME website (www.kmu.admin.ch) referred to a study performed by PwC among the Swiss CFOs. They found that 65% of the participating CFO’s expected their companies to be able to get back to normal after one month or less from the end of the pandemic. In other European countries the majority of CFOs are expecting a time frame of around three months.
So, in general the Swiss CFOs are somewhat less worried than their counterparts in other European countries. However, the majority of the Swiss CFOs are seeing severe consequences for the companies’ activities and the pandemic will lead to reductions in revenues and/or company results. The normal result from this is of course a reduction in costs – especially employment costs. In Switzerland many companies have now made their employees to perform reduced working hours (“Kurzarbeit”). This is a mode that is being controlled by the cantons and rather than explaining here, how it works – if you are interested in the matter you will find a good explanation at the website www.ch.ch.
Another survey made by ETH Zurich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich with more than 20.000 students) during the first half of April among around 2.000 executives in commercial and service companies gave a darker picture of the situation, however it is not seen as bad as in the financial crisis of 2009, except for the services sector, which would – according to the expectations of the responders – be hit harder than back then. This would mean sectors like traffic, information, communications and personal services. You can find more details on this topic in an article published on April 17th 2020 in Handelszeitung (www.handelszeitung.ch, in German).
There are some very good news, too: while exports were declining in most other industry branches, the Swiss chemical-pharmaceutical industry grew in the first quarter of 2020 quite significantly. According to the Swiss Federal Customs Administration figures published on April the 24th 2020 the growth was 2.2% in March and 1% in the quarter. This being a major export industry in Switzerland, this led to the trade balance closing in the first three months with a surplus of 8.3 billion Swiss Francs (approx. 7.85 billion euro).
Overall, the Swiss economy is one of the strongest in the world. The different worst-case scenarios presented at the moment talk about potential future (single-digit) unemployment levels in the kind of range that many even well-off European countries have been living with for many years already. The national debt levels of such countries are already high and the European Union and other bodies will have a hard time tackling the economic situations in these countries.
In this situation we believe Switzerland will remain a very interesting market for European companies, that have something of value to offer to Swiss customers. What will not change is that the Swiss will be looking very carefully at your products and solutions before making long-term commitments.