Ove Ronny Haraldsen
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It is late April and the marshland on Andøya island is still patched with snow. The trees stand naked in the cold ocean air, waiting for spring while the Royal Norwegian Air Force is busy carrying out its annual live missile firings with the NASAMS air defence system.
KONGSBERG, by courtesy of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, regularly invites future and current customers and partners to Andøya to observe the missile launches.
This year, the event is attended by customers from eight nations who will be taking part in discussions, social events and customer meetings.
The gathering on Andøya is one of the most important happenings for Dag Løvås and his colleagues, who all share the same title of Manager Business Development/Capture Team Lead. They are all responsible for their own small teams. Dag’s team is working with customers from two different nations.
It is still several hours before the actual launch takes place. KONGSBERG benefits greatly from such events, when the Royal Norwegian Air Force assists them in carrying out a system demo and welcomes KONGSBERG and potential customers as VIP guests.
Reliability and trust are built on facts which document NASAMS as a world-leading air defence system within its category.
“I believe that honesty and sincerity are key. You only really get one chance. The minute you start to stretch facts or start to oversell, you’ve lost it. It’s all a question of trust, in the sense that the customer has to trust you to tell the truth. And when a customer asks for something, you have to be there. You don’t ever say, ‘Oh just wait a bit’. The customer comes first, even if you don’t actually have the time.”
On Andøya, Dag Løvås guides his group across the launch site, from launch ramp to control centre and radar system. It doesn’t take long to notice the informal atmosphere between Dag and his customers.
It is apparent that they know each other well. This should not be that surprising, given that sales in this industry can take up to several years.
“With time, you build trust and strong foundations and the customer grows to have confidence in you. It’s important to remember that the customer also has to sell his decision within his own arena. The final decision is ultimately made by a larger political domain at a much higher level. So you have to provide the customer with internal sales arguments to help him or her succeed”, explains Dag, adding:
“They have to feel confident that they can approach their boss and say: ‘that’s how it is because I know it’. Because, you never know, they may end up in a situation where they have to say: ‘sorry, it wasn’t quite as I thought’. And that would break any amount of trust you have managed to build.”
It is soon time for the first launch of the day. Dag Løvås has found an elevated position from where he can see far out to sea, where the waters are calm this afternoon. He was at the reception for the guests the evening before at the hotel, which went on into the early hours.
For Dag and his colleagues, short nights, irregular meals and long discussions are par for the course. Despite this, Dag is impressively energetic and manages to keep a smile on his face despite the long days at work.
His overriding optimistic outlook helps him remain motivated during long, demanding sales projects.
“I’ve experienced both success and failure. After one, two or several years working towards a sale, it’s not a particularly good day when it all falls apart. It’s not that easy to straighten yourself out and start all over again. But in essence, that is what it’s all about. A contract can be postponed or in worst case lost purely because of budgets. You have to keep in touch with your contacts, because you never know when a new opportunity will arise, perhaps after a few years, and you have to be there when it happens. If you aren’t, then you’ll be left standing, watching the opportunity pass you by.”
A sharp sound cuts through the silence as the AMRAAM missile draws a white line of smoke over the low cloud cover. Then silence falls again. Somewhere above the clouds, the target drone is in flight and the Air Force is not making it easy on themselves. The drone flies evasively to lead the missile off its path.
Despite these manoeuvers, a black dot appears just over the horizon indicating that the missile has hit its target. Seconds later, we hear the boom of the explosion which has shattered the drone into pieces.
Once again, a new launch can be entered in the impressive log of successful hits for the air defence system. This is how to win contracts. The motto for this industry is “seeing is believing”.
The day after the launch, KONGSBERG has hired an auditorium and meeting rooms in the hotel for a debrief. KONGSBERG and Raytheon, KONGSBERG’s partner with regard to NASAMS, are there to answer questions on the trial the day before.
After the debrief, a number of customer meetings are held to discuss possible cooperation and present any offers. Dag Løvås is seated in one of these rooms with the customer and representatives from Raytheon.
“How do you start this kind of sales process with a new customer?”
“Both Kongsberg and Raytheon have representatives in different countries. We seldom meet a customer who is new to us and who we don’t know. In general, we put out our feelers and use our wide network of contacts. And if we identify an opportunity, we tend to use our support system for the initial point of contact. I haven’t worked that much with the preliminary period, but we are often notified when something is about to happen. And then we invite ourselves or make sure we meet somebody who will invite us,” explains Dag, then adds:
“Quite often the customer will approach us directly and ask for a briefing. KONGSBERG has a long-standing reputation on the market and I expect most people involved in air defence know about NASAMS. There is so much information out there on the Internet and we attend all the different trade fairs and exhibitions, where we show hardware components and have direct demonstrations of the system.”
While the customers spend the night in the hotel, Dag and his colleagues have hired a couple of fisherman’s cabins where they can catch up on a few hours’ sleep whenever the opportunity arises.
Dag Løvås travels for around 60 to 70 days a year and, as with his colleagues, is a busy man trying to keep a lot of balls up in the air at the same time. Life is made much easier when you work in a department where your colleagues help each other and give support when needed.
“We’re more than colleagues, we’re friends. Most of us know each other well from before. We help and support each other and we all work well together. If one person is having difficulties, the others help out. A lot of us have previously worked in the Armed Forces and are used to work in teams to achieve our goals.”
“And I’ve heard that you some times go hillwalking together in your spare time?”
“Yes that’s right. We’ve had a few trips to the high mountains in Norway . YYou can really get away from it all up there and spend some time together in more or less total isolation. There’s no signal for our mobile phones, which is a bonus. Several of us started hiking the mountains back when we worked in the Armed Forces. We fish trout, go for long hikes and sleep in tents. The only things that’s changed now is that we’re a little older and prefer to have separate tents. We all used to sleep in the same tent, but that doesn’t work any more,” Dag says with a laugh.
“And your great passion or hobby is fishing?”
“Fishing is my number one, yes. I go fly fishing, use lures, earth worms or other bait, depending on conditions. I’ve caught a lot of Atlantic salmon when fly fishing, but normally use worms for trout and preferably in running water.”
In conclusion, we ask Dag Løvås to explain to us why he enjoys his job and how he stays motivated when his working day is so hectic, the outlook varying and there is so much meticulous paper work involved.
“I could never get bored at work. That’s not possible because it is so varied. You are always meeting new people from different parts of the world. You meet people from all levels, from defence ministers all the way down to the person who pushes the button and actually operates NASAMS,” explains Dag, then goes on to add:
“Teamwork when preparing and submitting tenders is also very rewarding. You set out as a team, sit down with the customer and give presentations as part of a team. And on other days, you can be on your own. The diversity is what makes it interesting and you learn so much. We keep hearing that we are ‘doing something we don’t know how to do’, but that allows us to build up experience and ultimately succeed,” concludes Dag Løvås.