SAP Canada channel chief Rob Stevens lays out Canadian channel plans

Stevens talked with ChannelBuzz about how both SAP and its partners can work smarter, emphasized the importance of the cloud to SAP going forward, and indicated that they will wait to see if partners are on the same page with SAP before they start recruiting new ones.

Rob Stevens SAP 300

Rob Stevens, vice president general business and channels, SAP Canada

Rob Stevens, who was channel chief at Microsoft Canada before coming over to SAP Canada in the same role there this April, is bullish on SAP’s position in the market today. He said, however that both the company and its channel need to improve their execution by working smarter, and indicated how he thinks that can be done.

Stevens’ title is vice president general business and channels, which gives him responsibility both for the customer segment SAP defines as general business – essentially companies with under a billion dollars in revenue – and for the channel partners who sell into it. He now has sole responsibility for the entire area. When he initially came to SAP Canada, the terrain was divided between himself and Mary Peterson, who had been channel chief before him. Peterson, however, left SAP about six weeks ago.

“The opportunities here are really amazing,” Stevens said. “SAP has always been line-of-business focused, not just a product company. Today, everyone tries to make the case this is what they do, but SAP has solutions, and a track record, and reference customers who want to talk actively about how SAP has helped their business. With all this, we can take SAP’s business in Canada to the next level.”

Stevens acknowledged, however, that to do this, execution in the general business segment really needs to improve.

“I don’t know that we have executed in the customer segment we represent as well as we can,” he said.

Working smarter here means better positioning SAP, because while the company has made significant strides in the last decades in developing solutions and strategies for smaller businesses, Stevens indicated they still encounter customers who immediately tune out when they hear ‘SAP’ because they associate it with large enterprise solutions.

“There is a segment of customers that have that perception, and that’s one of those things we need to overcome, because the breadth of that addressable market is absolutely huge,” he said. “It’s about how we deliver the message of SAP today versus the past. Some people think SAP is big and for enterprise, but with our cloud solutions, we have value for many smaller companies. We need to have our partners have a conversation on overcoming those objections, and we need to do a better job educating them how to do that, how to work smarter.”

Stevens said that requires partners to be leading with the cloud.

“Let’s start with what everyone is talking about today,” he said. “Partners need to lead the conversation with the cloud, but they don’t necessarily have to close with the cloud. If the cloud doesn’t fit, we have on-prem solutions for that. It’s all about the customer’s requirements. This isn’t about fundamental changes. It’s about listening to what’s going on in the market and responding to that.”

Stevens indicated that while he is pleased overall with the SAP partner community in Canada, some aren’t fully aware of the changes that are taking place in the market, or aren’t comfortable with SAP’s commitment to cloud.

“We need to be clear on where we see the market opportunity, and articulate that in a way that’s consumable for them,” he said. “Some partners have questioned cloud profitability because they have not understood it. We are at this point going to be working with partners with the same strategic direction.”

That may well mean a significant shakeup in SAP’s Canadian channel.

“The landscape of partners will look different in 12 months,” Stevens said. “Some present partners will decide they don’t want to do cloud, and the industry is moving at such a pace that we need partners who can demonstrate agility.”

SAP presently has 38 channel partners doing transactional and service delivery roles, and five alliance partners, the large system integrators. While they have inherited some companies with cloud practices though the acquisitions of cloud-based products like SuccessFactors, they are still extremely light on born-in-the-cloud partners, but that’s something Stevens said will change.

“We are still discovering those kinds of partners, but it’s something we absolutely will expand,” he said. “The issue is whether we aggressively recruit there, or wait for them to seek us out, especially since our partner of tomorrow is probably a customer of today. The skills needed to manage a cloud solution are different, so a different breed of born-in-the-cloud partners are coming.”

The companies SAP has acquired also has created new synergies and new channel dynamics.

“Those businesses were very successful in their own right before we acquired them, and they built up their own level of market awareness,” Stevens said. “Bringing them in has given us a much more well-rounded line of business. SuccessFactors human capital management handles something many organizations could do a lot better on. Tying that back to an ecommerce platform with Hybris is a very interesting conversation, as is bringing in Business ByDesign. Even though there have been some issues about ByDesign’s future, just being able to have an ERP solution in the cloud gives us flexibility in tying everything together. And what an incredible acquisition Concur [which makes cloud-based travel and expense management solutions] has been.”

So will SAP be reshuffling its partner deck in Canada soon?

“It will boil down to this — if our incumbent partners today share where we think the potential for growth is, and how many want to come with us on the journey,” Stevens said. “If we find we have a competency gap in any of these areas, we will recruit. I think partners are also seeing what we are seeing in the market. They just need to see how that fits into the SAP strategy. So do I need to build a campaign to recruit partners? Not at this point.”