The Face of Johannus, ep. 4: Martin is not keen on sales pitches; instead, he speaks the universal language of music with clients

Man met bril die lachend bij zwart orgel staat

Martin van Heerde is International Sales Manager at the Global Organ Group, under which Johannus comes. He is a graduate of the Zwolle Conservatory, and his musical background may well be the secret of his sales success. “As soon as I bring my hands up to the manuals and start playing, something happens to people. No matter where in the world we are.”

When Martin van Heerde graduated from the Conservatory in the 1980s (majoring in organ, with minors in singing and piano), the musical market was not exactly promising. In economic terms, the supply was greater than the demand. For that reason, Martin chose a completely different direction and went to work for a large insurance company, working his way up from mailroom clerk to database marketeer. Meanwhile, he devoted his leisure time to music. He conducted choirs (Capella Musica Campen and Anthem), taught organ lessons and accompanied the congregational singing in various churches, including the Plantagekerk and the Opstandingskerk in Zwolle.

His love of music – especially organ music – and his experience in marketing all came together one day in 2006 when someone drew his attention to a position as International Sales Manager at Johannus Orgelbouw in Ede. The rest, of course, is history.

Music as universal language

Martin’s duties include providing support to dealers in Europe, Australia and parts of Asia, for example by giving training and making presentations. He also keeps in contact with existing and potential customers around the world – mainly churches and concert halls.

Up until the coronavirus pandemic, Martin traveled around the world on behalf of the Global Organ Group. One of the greatest things he has discovered during all of his journeys, he says, is that music is a universal power that unites all people.

It’s hard to explain exactly what happens, says Martin, but that’s also the point – music is a universal language that cannot be put into words. And it’s just this language that he uses to get people around the world enthusiastic about the Global Organ Group’s instruments. “I can talk for hours about the properties of a Stopped Flute or a Principal from 1721 that ‘chiffs’ a little more, but I can also just demonstrate by playing a beautiful piece of music. And that applies to everything, really, whether it’s the difference between an equal temperament and a meantone temperament, the various listening positions an organist can choose on the Johannus LiVE, and so on.”

These are the moments at which the musical language functions primarily as a tool for communicating technical details. However, Martin knows that there is also a lot of emotional power in the musical language. “I once went to a trade fair in China, and many people there were seeing an organ for the first time in their lives. I played the Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach. In no time at all, our booth was full of people. Someone asked: hey, did you arrange that piece for the organ? They knew the Toccata, but they’d never heard it played on an organ – the piano was their reference point. A little later, when I played ‘Jasmine Flower’ with the Pan Flute as solo stop, I saw that a number of people were moved to tears.”

On another occasion, Martin was in the concert hall at the Helsingborgs Symfoniorkester & Konserthus in Sweden, voicing a Monarke organ. The plan was for the dealer to come afterwards to talk further with those involved. However, that proved to be no longer necessary. “They came to me and said: we want this organ. I’d ‘sold’ it while I was voicing it!”

Capturing the imagination

Martin captures the imagination of potential buyers in many ways. “Actually,” he says, “I don’t sell anything. I don’t want to, and deep down, I can’t – the buyer is always the one with the initiative. The only thing I can do is help people to make the best possible choice, so that they end up with something that suits them in terms of style, their expectations, and the price. One of the ways I do this is to enable people to hear what all of the options are. It really doesn’t matter to me whether someone ends up going home with a Studio or a LiVE – the main thing is, is the customer confident they have made the right choice? Are they happy with their purchase?”

Hybrid solutions

One of the things that makes Martin happy is the hybrid solutions that Johannus offers its customers. Johannus Hybrid Organ Solutions combines the qualities of a digital and a pipe organ, with the combination taking various forms. For example, a digital console can be integrated into a pipe organ and digital stops can also be added to a pipe organ. Alternatively, Johannus can collaborate with a renowned pipe organ builder to build a new hybrid organ.

Martin really enjoys the consultation process involved in coming up with hybrid solutions. “Thanks to modern technology, all at once a pipe organ can be beautiful to play again, there are suddenly many more options available, and the lifespan of the instrument is extended into the bargain. Our high-quality digital stops blend perfectly with the existing pipes and are unaffected by temperature fluctuations within the church. They automatically align with the tuning of the pipes so that the instrument always sounds like a united whole. A digital console enables churches to save on expensive maintenance and tune-ups in the long run.”  Adding a digital console and digital stops also costs less than traditional pipe organ restoration or expansion. If the latter is not possible, then the digital solution is the perfect alternative.

Holy, holy, holy

The intercultural aspect of music – and for Martin, specifically organ music – continues to fascinate him. “For some cultures, we are really introducing something new with our digital organs. As I said earlier, we noticed at the music fair in Shanghai that people in China are generally unfamiliar with the organ. I gave a four-day introductory course to about eighty people there. We rounded it off with a presentation concert in a church with five hundred Chinese people singing ‘Holy, holy, holy’, accompanied by the organ. It was fantastic!”

Martin also observes that the differences between cultures are reflected in the ways the negotiations proceed. “In more southern countries, I can sometimes sit at a table for hours and then have a lavish dinner at a local restaurant without saying a single word about business. I know now that this is simply how things are done in those countries. People just want to get to know you and find out who you are. Based on the relationship, they then decide whether or not they want to buy something from you. I enjoy both aspects of this: on the one hand, going along with other people’s cultural practices, and on the other hand, communicating our musical possibilities and culture on behalf of the Global Organ Group.”


Previously published:The Face of Johannus, ep.1: Dirk saw Johannus grow to become the global market leader The Face of Johannus, ep.2: Once Gerald has delivered the parts at the Johannus factory, Dirk-Jan is the first to start working on them 

The Face of Johannus, ep.3: Cornelis subjects the organs to a meticulous final inspection