Expansion and development of Solema in France: we talked with Thierry Barbet, working with us since 1995


Expansion and development of Solema in France: we talked with Thierry

During the celebrations of our 40th anniversary, we got the chance to speak with Solema Sales Representative of France, who told us about how he encountered Solema and his contribution to the development of our business in his country.

The development of business in France has aways played an important role for Solema, considering the strategic importance of this nation. Thierry Barbet knows something about it! In fact, he manages the Sales in France. We met him for Solema's 40th anniversary and we asked him some questions about his professional background and his experience with us.

Ciao Thierry, tell us something about you: your studies, the approach with the world of work and how you knew Solema.

I had a technical education: first based on mechanical studies, then on electronical studies. My first experience was at a French retailer of Italian machinery in the Graphic Art industry. It was the 1987, when it happened to meet Ennio Mazzola, founder of Solema, who was in France to supply technical assistance on some of his machines.

Consequently, how did you become Solema Sales Representative in France? How did it happen?

In 1993, after some other experiences in the industry, I decided to open my own company specialized in Sales and Technical Assistance for printing and binding machines. Two years later I was lucky to meet again Ennio Mazzola who proposed me to start collaborating with Solema to promote their machines in France.

At that time Solema was selling just conveyors and a few other machines, but it was already one of the most known and affirmed company in the field, a European point for who was looking for automation in the Graphic Art industry.

Why did you choose the Sales Representative career?

I made this choice when I decided to hire a person who would have managed exclusively the sales department, but the results didn’t match the expectations. Therefore, I started, as a self-taught, to sell the machines trying to split myself between the technical tasks – that I had to limit – and the commercial ones.

I discovered a world that was unknown to me but that turned out to be extremely exciting and engaging, where customers, if you can give them the right answers and solutions, totally respect you and trust your advice. Over time, while remaining updated on upcoming news, I abandoned my technical activities to deal exclusively with sales.

In the relationship with customers, how much does the technical aspect affect and how much is the result of emotion and the ability to relate to them?

In our industry, having technical basis is fundamental. Over the years I have understood that knowing machines technically is an advantage, because it allows you to fully understand the mechanism and characteristics of individual components, enabling you to transmit them to those who will use those machines. In this way, the customer feels that you know deeply the product, and this is reassuring them and what you are selling.

Of course, then you also need to be capable of nourishing relationship with customers, show them that you put passion and enthusiasm in your work. In my case, I balanced the technical aspect, which I already had, with the commercial aspect learnt during the years with experience.

And what about Italian technology? How was it seen in those years by the French market?

When I started to work with Solema, the perception of Italian machines in France was not good. Everything produced in Italy was considered of lower range than the German or Swiss products, instead more reliable. Ennio asked me to find a solution to this problem.

So, I started to work to change this negative idea about Italian machines, focusing on the fact that no French company was aware that Solema, even then, used German and French components to manufacture their machines. My mission was to inform customers in a timely manner. Within a couple of years, French companies began to trust Solema’s machines giving even their contribute with word of mouth. The result is that nowadays Solema reputation in France has changed for the better.

Which advice would you give to a young person who wants one day to pursue a career in the commercial area?

Let’s start from a premise: to be a salesman it is essential to have the right motivations, without those you do not go anywhere. This means trusting the machines you are selling, always being attentive to new technologies and, as I said before, having a good technical knowledge base.

This profession leads you to meet people who operate in different sectors and from whom there is always something to learn. And, at the end of the negotiation, to see that the customer is happy with what you are offering their, is a satisfaction that is priceless. If, over the years, the customer still trusts you and continues to use your solutions for their problems, it is even a greater satisfaction. This is what it means to sell with passion.

Finally, I think that having some knowledge of 2D drawing is an advantage: knowing how to read and interpret what is hidden behind an orthogonal view is a fundamental ingredient for the success of a sale.

Remaining on the same theme, in your opinion it is important to know many languages? You are from Paris and with Italian you are good... Did you speak Italian before you met Solema?

In an increasingly globalized world that brings you to get in touch with many countries, it’s good to know the main spoken languages, but it is mandatory to speak fluently English that, as we know, is the international language, at least in our industry; even if at the time I started working, English was not a top priority like now.
In addition, I think that learn a second language other than English is a further advantage, especially if you work in the commercial department.

Regarding my knowledge of Italian, I think that my collaboration with Solema has paved the way for me to learn it well and in a short time, without which I would never have achieved the level of partnership and collaboration achieved today with you.

In your opinion, what are the strengths with which Solema can make a difference to the customers?

Solema has many strengths, but I think that the main is to always find a solution to every problem; the ability to understand immediately what the customer wants giving them the perfect recipe from every point of view: technical, commercial and of production.

This is a strategy that has always been part of Solema attitude, since the times when I met Ennio Mazzola, and for me it has always proved to be the real difference between Solema and the other Italian companies I have known over time.

Another thing is the choice to be dedicated to the customer’s project since the first meeting, during which the salesmen measure the exact spaces of where the machines will be placed, producing in real time customized layouts with which the customer can preview how their project will be. This is an added value that has allowed Solema to always be a little ahead than competitors proposing timely and innovative solutions.

Finally, the ability to keep up with times by choosing the most up-to-date software. I am thinking, for example, of the Packaging Line project, an innovative concept that has transformed the processing flow from Binding to Finishing, and that represents the perfect synthesis of the strategic path that has led Solema to be a solid international reality.

How did you experience the advent of the Paper Board division within Solema?

Very well, I would say. Even in France, in the early 2000s, the book and publishing industry experienced a period of severe crisis caused by the arrival of the Internet and the consequent digital tools, leading readers to a digital use of books and other publishing products. To this must be added the ecological and environmental issue that has imposed a drastic reduction in printed media.
Solema’s intuition to look for an additional business to the Graphic Art is yet another demonstration of a forward-looking company ready to open to alternative markets.

The decision to invest in the Paper Board and Packaging industry was brilliant in my opinion. Therefore, I enthusiastically accepted Ennio Mazzola’s offer to promote this sector in France. I already had small experiences in this field with French customers and this had encouraged the development of this parallel business.

Here in Italy, in recent years, there has been a return of reading on paper compared to that on digital. Did it happen in France?

Yes, it happened here, too, and I believe in most of the world. The relaunch of the paper has been helped by the recent pandemic that has allowed people to have much more time to spend reading traditional books.

But the data tells us that people also got a little tired of reading on tablets and went back to reading on paper. This is good news for Solema’s bookbinding customers. Just think that a customer of mine who has been working in publishing for years, in 2021-2022 has increased its turnover by 20%.

Thanks to Thierry. And good work.

For more information please contact info@solema.it or call +39 035 654111.

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