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Story | 05/24/2022 11:00:57 | 5 min Read time

Timber career story: Finding the secrets to meaningful customer relationships

UPM Timber’s Sales Manager Cici Li shares her thoughts on her new role, takeaways from the timber industry – and the three things that inspire her the most in sales.

Photo: UPM Timber’s China sales team, from left to right: Area Director Hisense Sun, Sales Manager Ray Fu, Sales Manager Cici Li and Sales Coordinator Sylvia Tang. Photo: UPM.

The year 2022 brought a new step forward for Cici Li, as she recently jumped into a new role as UPM Timber’s Sales Manager in the China market. Earlier she worked as Sales Coordinator for 8 years.

Cici originally became interested in working at UPM 8 years ago due to her interest in working at an international company. She had majored in English at university, so it was a natural path to find a role where she could use her advanced English and communication skills. The career development prospects at UPM Timber convinced her as well, and the office in Shanghai was close to her home.

Now she is excited about developing in sales and being able to challenge herself in a more hands-on approach to customer relationships. To Cici, it feels like the right direction in her career.

“In my previous role as Sales Coordinator I was more involved with paperwork, for example confirming orders and updating shipping schedules. Now as Sales Manager, I communicate directly with the customers, and my job is to really find the best product and best value for them.”

I get to see the customer empowered by our product, create profit for my company with my work, and I can also improve my own sales abilities at the same time!

Trust and openness at the heart of customer relationships

Creating and maintaining long-term partnerships with customers is one of UPM Timber’s core values. But what is the secret to these lasting and mutually meaningful relationships with customers?

Cici thinks trust, openness and engagement go a long way. To her, it is important to commit to understanding the customers’ needs thoroughly, and this is done by consistent meetings and communication. The sales team constantly gets questions from the customers in multiple channels, and it is important to answer them quickly.

“I apply the UPM value ‘trust and be trusted’ and maintain open communication with the customers at all times – even when faced with for example delivery time challenges. Through this openness we can always seek for solutions together with the customer when that is needed.”

The job can be hectic and challenging, but Cici finds it very inspirational.

“The best thing about sales is of course making a deal! That’s when I get to see the customer empowered by our product, create profit for my company with my work, and I can also improve my own sales abilities at the same time! These are the things that really keep me going.”

A continuous learning journey

When asked about her insights into meaningful customer relationships, Cici humbly rushes to remark that she is not yet an expert in the field and still has a lot to learn. For instance, she wants to learn more about timber products to gain confidence in giving this information further to customers.

When she first started at UPM Timber she was given a thorough product training. Practical learning has also been valuable to her: two years ago she visited UPM Timber’s Seikku sawmill in Pori. Seeing the production process in real life prompted many questions which were then answered by the sawmill personnel.

“I also really enjoy visiting our customers and their factories. When seeing for example a furniture factory, I learn about the production process in practice and it makes me very proud to see the ready products made from UPM’s sawn timber!”

Gaining more experience in sales and working together with her team members also push Cici to learn more about the industry.

“Our team is very warm and welcoming, and my colleagues always give me a lot of help and support when I need it. I really enjoy the harmonious working environment in my team.”

Responsibility as a rising theme

Cici started in her new job at the beginning of April 2022. During the same month, a strict lockdown begun in Shanghai due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a truly challenging time for us working from Shanghai, but UPM has taken care of its employees here and provided support to us. This is a concrete example of the responsibility which I really appreciate about the company.”

Cici emphasises that responsibility is a rising theme in business in China as well. She thinks it will become more and more of a defining factor to companies and customers alike in the future.

“Especially environmental issues, and the PEFC and FSC certificates, have become more and more important in China lately, and many of our customers have already asked us about these certificates. The sustainability story of UPM Timber is a great one to tell the customers: we take concrete action, by for example using zero fossil sources of energy at our sawmills. I believe customers will become more driven by these things in the future”, Cici says.

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