Automotive Key Account Management: opportunities and challenges

As the calendar flips over to 2022 the automotive industry will contend with the same challenges it did a year ago — namely, the pandemic with all its downfalls and a shortage of microchips that has impacted the whole supply chain. While those macro conditions persist, they continue to influence auto industries. Dealing with this, at FAIST Controls & Propulsion Systems division, a new pair of Key Account Managers, Valentina Pannaioli and Riccardo Bernabei. We spoke with them about this new step in their career, and about how they intend to tackle these challenges.

First of all, please present yourself to the readers outlining what has been your path, leading to your current role, in FAIST CPS division.

VP: My name is Valentina Pannaioli, I’m an engineer and I started working at FAIST in June 2016, joining the Controls & Propulsion System division. My first role was Customer Quality Engineer; then after almost two years I became Application Engineer, and until 6 months ago I was Program Manager for the sheet metal stamping components and wastegate electric actuators. The previous positions I had the chance to cover gave me the possibility to get to know many persons, different positions and roles, both at the customer’s side and internally at FAIST. At the same time, I had the possibility to understand what is behind the quality level requested by customers and to thoroughly understand FAIST’s products and processes.

Now, in my new position, my goal is to present FAIST’s potentialities to the customers in the best way, treasuring my previous experience.

RB: I joined FAIST at the beginning of June 2016, just a few weeks after getting my Master Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Perugia’s University. I was very excited to join the company and be part of the Automotive industry. My first position was Product Engineer, and I actively participated in the development of electric actuators for turbochargers. In 2018 I became Senior Development Engineer, with the focus of my work on the development of a Variable Turbine E-Actuator, whose mass production is planned on a global gasoline platform by a major OEM for the beginning of next year.

What do you think are the most important aspects of key account management?

VP: I think there are multiple important aspects but the main one is the relationship with the customer: it is of course essential to have a good connection with the main interfaces, not only to have better chances in the award of business, but also to understand the real customer needs. It is crucial to listen the voice of the customer and transfer it internally in the company.

Then I think it’s very important to be always present and proactive especially when there are problems to be solved; in those moments the support we can provide makes all the difference and creates the confidence and trust that is very important for this role.

So, to make a summary, I think that my role is building and maintaining the customer’s trust and providing added value as a key interface between FAIST and the client. To do this, another very important aspect is a profound knowledge of FAIST products and processes in order to promote them and propose solutions.

RB: The first aspect, which I appreciate very much, is having the right relationship with customers, based on the proactive attention for their needs and expectations. Another important aspect, that I got to experience firsthand in this new role, consists in the possibility to define or be part of a commercial strategy, that is fundamental to be competitive on the attribution of new business.

Besides these, for sure an open mindset and a strong technical background helps a lot to understand the automotive market fluctuations and identify the real opportunities.

In a period such as the one we are living, with travel restrictions in place, how do you foster a good client relationship?

VP: This situation is undoubtedly a hiccup and creates some difficulties in the relation. It is always easier to be face to face to solve issues, speak about projects and so on. I’m confident that from the second quarter of 2022 it will be possible to restart travelling in Europe. In the meantime, we are using all possible instruments to keep in touch and give the best possible support to the customer. For China, we have a local team that has continued to collaborate with us during this period in order to fill the gap due to the impossibility to travel, as in fact it will be more difficult to travel from Europe to Asia probably for the whole year.

RB: Even before the pandemic, we were already used to working through conference calls, due to the need to collaborate with colleagues and customers from all over the world. For this reason, the communication technologies helped us in maintaining a strong relationship with customers.

Anyway, we believe that the human connection, favoured by empathy, still helps to establish a synergy with customers that allows both companies involved to be better positioned to confront future challenges. For this reason, our team is looking forward to the return of travelling toward customers.

What do you see in the immediate future of the auto industry from your perspective?

VP: I see an increase of hybrid powertrains solutions, where the internal combustion engine will continue to be used and turbocharges with it; in fact, this solution in the immediate future is the one that assures a reduction of emissions. I see this moment as a period of investigation for automakers: based on the guidelines of the European Union and governments, from 2030 a great part of cars will be fully electric or with hydrogen propulsion, so OEMs have to identify the right solution and strategy in order to remain competitive. At the same time, governments will need to make their part to understand the right steps to be done in terms of infrastructure for fuel distribution and, on a more general note, the type of source that they want to use to produce electricity.

RB: In the near future there are a wide range of opportunities based on the fact that internal combustion engines will continue to have a key role on the global vehicles market. In fact, for now, I see the increase of engines efficiency as the only honest answer to the emissions reduction need, to be achieved thanks to technologies such as precise, rapid and flexible turbochargers paired with actuators such as those developed by FAIST.

For the next future, I have big hopes for future technologies, i.e., Full Electric vehicles or Hydrogen fuel cells, and I am very impressed by their complexity. I believe that our approach is compatible with the growth of these technologies and we will give our contribution in order to make of this complexity something manageable for automotive mass production.

What do you think the biggest challenges that the new year will bring are and how do you intend to tackle them, in your new role?

VP: Also this year we will have to deal with the chip shortage, the raw material prices issue and the increased transportation costs, so we’ll have to work with the customer in order to understand case by case how we can keep strengthening our partnership to better endure these headwinds. This is something that we will need to deal with day by day for the next months.

The other important thing is for sure to restart travelling in order to be present also in person at the customer’s location.

RB: The biggest challenge that I can see is returning to face-to-face meetings with customers at their companies, all while following the guidelines and regulations about travelling and restrictions.

Another important challenge is to provide a solid base for FAIST’s investments and competitivity. For that I am working in close contact with my colleagues of the sales team, who are transferring to me their deep knowledge about these aspects.

What are you looking forward to the most as Key Account Manager of FAIST CPS division?

VP: My expectation is to promote FAIST among our customers and continue to win business that guarantee the future of our company. Of course, I’ll work at the same time to grow professionally in order to be adequate for the specific role.

RB: My expectations are to increase my knowledge on various aspects of account management, while also strengthening my relationship with customers. Thanks to the opportunities that FAIST is offering me, I work towards becoming a complete engineer, with competences both in the technical and commercial sphere.

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