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Interview with Wim Vervaeke: Make the Best Use of the Resources Available Drives A Cohesive FAS Team

Release date:2023-12-11Writer:MGIViews:539Share

Within a biotech company, the position of a Field Application Specialist (FAS) carries significant weight and is accompanied by various challenges. Recently, we had a talk with Wim Vervaeke, who is the Field Application Manager at the EU&AF Commercial Center. With his extensive background in sales and product management, Wim shared his invaluable experience in fostering a high-performing FAS team, driving customer satisfaction, and achieving exceptional results. 

Can you introduce yourself and your work at MGI?

I am Wim Vervaeke. I am 45 years old, married and have 2 great girls 11 and 8. I started my professional career on the bench. For almost 10 years I had the chance of further enhancing my Molecular Biology knowledge and skills before I jumped to a sales role for the next 12 years of my work life. During that time I moved from a regional sales specialist to an NGS sales specialist and NGS product manager. As I was working for a distributor, my role as a product manager also contained application support and training. That is how my interest in the FAS position was triggered. I joined MGI as the FAS covering Benelux, but quite fast I moved to managing the FAS team in most of Europe. With the sales experience I have, I believe that in my current role, I can help to better connect the FAS team to Sales and in this way help to create a synergy between both teams to continue growing and building our success.

Can you describe what a typical day or daily routine would be like when you are at work? Or can you help us to understand a bit more about what's the major responsibility of FAS Leader and why you think it's important?

My major responsibility is to ensure that our business gets full application support where it is required. Almost equally important as a manager, I have to make sure that the team can do their jobs in the best possible way, so I believe it is my responsibility to make sure everything that is needed for the FAS to support sales and customers is available and they are not distracted by looking for the tools and info.

And this actually takes a lot of my time, since some of our workflows or procedures are not fully aligned with the specific requirements of our region.

So a typical day contains a lot of meetings (on- and/or offline) and E-mails to align with other teams/departments and to solve issues the field team is facing.

Another important aspect of my role as FAS manager is to meet our distributors and discuss with them the support we can and should provide to them. Specifically for distributors it is important to have a clear understanding and agreement on what they can expect and what not.

You are leading a group of FAS, how do you create a work environment that feels like a big, collaborative family gathering? Any secret recipes you'd like to share?

When evolving from a generalistic sales specialist through an NGS specialist towards a product management role, I was getting more and more fascinated by the technical aspects. This fascination has always been there, but I could not really fulfill this in a sales role. That is why I decided that I wanted to further build my career in an FAS-type role.

Before I was approached for the FAS Benelux position at MGI, I had already been approached for similar roles at other NGS companies, but I really got triggered when I was approached for MGI. They were already on my radar as the new kid on the block, having this absolutely amazing sequencing technology. So, the decision to join MGI was quickly made at my side…

You are leading a group of FAS, how do you create a work environment that feels like a big, collaborative family gathering? Any secret recipes you'd like to share?

This is a huge challenge as the team is spread out over a big area and we are all very busy. This makes it very hard to create a real 'FAS-family' environment. What we try to do is to have regular team meetings and a vivid WeChat group, not only to discuss technical issues we are facing or questions we are stumbling into, but also to share experiences, funny things we encounter, and disappointing things crossing our paths. Next to that I also try to have regular 1v1 calls with all the team members. Again, not only to discuss work and schedules, but also to check in if everything is still OK and if there is something happening that is worrying. This year, due to time conflicts, I had to pause these 1v1's, but now these are happening again, allowing me to (re-)connect with the entire team. Next to that the team helps and supports each other in the field, by teaming up for specific cases and more challenging trainings. When internal training is happening, we also try to bring together as many team members as possible as these are the rare occasions the team can meet in person. We are also aiming to organize a team gathering next year, as this is the best way to become and stay a close 'family'. Unfortunately, I don't have a secret recipe. We're just trying to make the best of what we have available…

Playing FAS roles is sometimes under challenge, how do you keep your FAS team motivated and inspired to accomplish tasks and achieve their goals? Any fun tricks up your sleeve?

As you state, we are facing many challenges. Working in a company with such a big R&D department is both exciting and challenging. Exciting because of the high pace of releasing new products/applications/instruments, which definitely keeps the FAS team motivated.

After all, we are all scientists kicking on new, innovative 'toys' to play with. At the same time this is our biggest challenge and threat for losing motivation as some of our products are launched prematurely, causing sometimes challenging situations in the field, during training, or afterward. Also, we have been facing a lot of strategy changes in our region, mostly enforced by external factors, causing us to restart things over and over again. That does put a lot of stress on all teams in the field (Sales, FAS and FSE). Luckily, no matter how big the challenge or issue is, we are always able to find solutions and we can rightfully have a big faith in the quality we are delivering to our customers, and this keeps everybody going the extra mile.

Another aspect is to make sure that the job does not slide into a routine, so we try to offer a balance of different tasks. Sales and customer support, including training are a priority, but we also support marketing events and conferences and support sometimes specific, scientifically challenging projects, which do bring a nice variety to the task package.

You have been engaged in providing services to customers, what do you think are the most important elements to nurture a strong relationship with customers?

For myself, I have 1 crucial philosophy when being in contact with a customer and that is that I always want to be able to look them in the eyes when coming back. This means that at all times you are honest and only agree to what you can actually bring/offer. Sometimes this means that you can't agree or that you have to discuss it with a customer, but as long as you can do this in a respectful, open, and honest atmosphere, customers will appreciate and respect you for it and it will be the basis for a long-lasting relationship, based on mutual trust. Once this is established, they will come back to you without questioning your motives.

In addition, if a customer is raising a complaint, it is absolutely key that you immediately respond and make them feel they are being heard and understood, regardless if the complaint is legitimate or not. There is always a genuine reason for raising a complaint and it is our duty to solve that. I would put it even stronger: a customer who is complaining is a customer who wants to keep working with us, so it is important to help them. Customers who never complain are the ones who potentially don't care…

Finally, I don't believe in 'pleasing' customers as, in my experience, this will only lead to disappointment at the customer's end at some point in time. Sometimes, saying 'we can't do this' is much more helpful/supportive to a customer and you will have gained a lot of trust…

What motivates you to excel in your role as a Field Application Manager? 

Our FAS team is made of high- level scientists who don't always have the experience of working in a commercial environment or having to deal with customers and sales people. I believe, and that is the main reason for accepting this role, that I can help bring both worlds together and eventually create a mutual understanding. This is not an easy task and we are still building the bridges, but I am confident we will get there.

Secondly, I believe my role is to make sure, in the back, that the team has all the tools they need to shine at their job. A manager should give the team a framework to work in safely but also the freedom, responsibility, and trust to let them organize and execute their tasks in this framework, give support when being asked for it, and back them up in case something is not going right. At the same time, I think it is important to stay critical and challenge people to let them grow.

For me, this is also a learning journey, with lots of stumbling and having to try different approaches from time to time.

But seeing people having success is what keeps me going…

How do you feel about the NGS market in Europe?

I had the privilegeto be there right onthe front line, when the NGS era started. I still remember where I was when theannouncement was made that the human genome project was finished. I was in the lab and remembered the excitement between colleagues… We can see the NGS market is continuously growing as more and more new applications are being developed. NGS technology and the current platforms have enabled a more cost-effective discovery and screening power. I can see that research and therapy development have become much more achievable and progress is happening faster, because of NGS. So I can only see a continued bright future for NGS.


What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?

I like cooking, hiking, photography, and Lego, also I will make time to accompany my two girls.

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