Willem Winkels and Klaas Hoekstra give an insight into the fascinating world of the commercial department where they both work. What drives them to achieve good results? ‘Always ensure your accounts are in good order and have fun.’
Willem and Klaas, together with another 20 colleagues within the department, are responsible for the purchase and sale of 60 billion m3 of gas, a huge job! This includes concluding, maintaining and renegotiating existing contracts, sometimes short-term and sometimes long-term. Willem focuses more on the long-term contracts, where Klaas mainly works on the short-term contracts.
What is the purpose of your department?
Willem: ‘We are a commercial department, so ultimately we try to make money on the gas we buy and sell. We do this by adding value to the gas we buy and then selling it on to our customers.’
Klaas: ‘Many of the purchases and sales have already been laid down in long-term contracts.
We also try to serve our customers as well as we can with short-term contracts for the coming years.’
What does that require?
Klaas: ‘We have so-called framework contracts with energy companies. Under these framework contracts, they contract volumes of gas. For industrial customers, things are slightly different. To get a new contract, we often have to submit tenders. Many companies use a consultant for such tenders. For us, it means a lot of calculation work to be able to offer competitive services and still achieve a good margin.’
Willem: ‘Where long-term contracts are concerned, the volumes and duration are often fixed, but it is of course necessary for both parties to maintain the other delivery and, above all, pricing conditions. Finding the balance of those two requires that you keep a close eye on both your own interests and those of your business partner. Of course we also operate in an international, changing gas market. These changes need to be reflected in the contracts. Sometimes this has negative consequences for one of the two parties, and it does not make it any easier to find a solution. Those are the most challenging but also the most rewarding negotiations.’
Personally, I attach great importance to investing in good personal contact.
What are the characteristics of a good account manager?
Willem: ‘That’s a good question, and also a question of taste. Personally, I attach great importance to investing in good personal contact. You have to get to know each other and be genuinely interested. This makes it easier and faster to strike a deal and gives you something else to talk about other than work. You also have to accept that often you don’t have much, if anything, in common with the other party. If you have a good relationship with them, you can try and find a compromise, a win-win situation, and you often find a solution together. Or not, it’s all in the game.’
Klaas: ‘You represent GasTerra to the outside world. You’re the person the customer can contact if they have any questions or problems. So yes, that relationship is very important indeed. After all, you’re the intermediary between the customer and your company. Being able to listen is important; including what’s said between the lines. The end result of the negotiations should be that both sides are satisfied.’
What does your job entail?
Willem: ‘As I said, I mainly work on the long-term contracts. Depending on the phase of the contracts that can require a lot of travelling. For example, if we are involved in tough negotiations about the price. In between negotiations, there is time to work on maintaining market expertise, product development and last, but not least, administration - that's done at the office. After all, drawing up these contracts is quite a lot of work as well.’
Klaas: ‘Regular contact remains important. But more and more, I’m speaking to my customers remotely. The image that we are constantly on the road is no longer true. In many cases, I also negotiate indirectly, through consultants. We often have to submit tenders. This requires teamwork, involving various departments.’
What's the difference between your positions?
Willem: ‘Basically, our work doesn’t differ much. The emphasis is slightly different for the long-term contracts compared to the shorter-term contracts, but in both cases you hope to get a good deal for both parties, and it's about mastering that art of finding a balance. For the long-term contracts, you have a bit more time, because you already have a contract. That’s the advantage of long-term contracts.’
Finally, how is the unrest in Groningen affecting your work?
Willem: ‘First of all, I’d like to say that I hope acceptable solutions will be offered to the victims in Groningen as soon as possible. It’s an open door, but they cannot and must not suffer as a result of gas extraction in Groningen. Looking at my work, I have noticed that natural gas now has a bad reputation. You see it everywhere. At the same time, the trade in natural gas will continue, because as long as there is demand for gas, which there will be for some time to come, it’s important to buy and market this gas in the best economically viable way possible.’
Klaas: ‘I totally agree.’