Epicor reworking sales culture, channel strategy, in strategic reorientation

A key part of this is a major strengthening of the Epicor channel, including in the United States, where it has always been a small proportion of sales. Significant programmatic initiatives will be coming this fall.

Craig McCollum Epicor

Craig McCollum, Executive Vice President, Americas at Epicor

LAS VEGAS — ERP vendor Epicor Software has embarked on a pair of significant strategic priorities. On one hand, they have decided that the cloud is the future, even in ERP, and want to encourage customers to move there. On the other, they want to drive beyond their traditional sweet spot in SMB and midmarket into parts of the enterprise. A key part of achieving those goals is rethinking how Epicor goes to market, both on the channel side and in its own sales culture.

Several recent studies have illustrated that corporate customers today buy more like consumers, and less like they have in the past, where salespeople held a lot of initiative in the process. Epicor is well aware of them.

“Customers today want to engage more remotely and not face to face,” said Craig McCollum, Executive Vice President, Americas at Epicor. “They now often get 60-70 per cent down the sales cycle before they talk to us. They may have even made a decision on their own, and now are trying to validate it. We have to be ready and willing to engage with them in a more remote environment than in the past. These trends developed separate of the cloud, but the cloud has accelerated them.”

Epicor believes a part of this trend is generational.

“We sell to SMBs and much of this has traditionally been done by a handshake,” said Janie West, Epicor’s Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer. “It has changed because millennials like to do business differently. To impact them, you have to be found on the web, not just be someone you have known for the last 20 years.”

“17 per cent of millennials identify themselves by technology,” McCollum said. “That might not sound like a lot, but it’s 0 per cent for baby boomers. These things apply to other groups as well, but are more relevant to millennials.”

McCollum indicated that Epicor is responding to changes in how customers buy by making changes to how they sell, changes which also have the benefit of lowering their selling costs.

“We are revamping the culture of our company,” he said. “We are moving from ‘tell us what you want to do and we will do it,’ to providing best-in-class to run the new processes. For example, on the retail side, we reduced cost to implement by over 40 per cent with templates that preconfigured 80-90 per cent, rather than doing everything on the fly, as we did before. We have been working on that for three years. Retail has had the best cost savings, and almost every transaction we have now goes out preconfigured like that, except for a small number at the high end. Distribution is closely behind that with Prophet 21 and Eclipse. Manufacturing is further behind. We just started working on that eight months ago and still have a lot of room to go in manufacturing.”

McCollum said that changes have been made to their sales philosophy as well.

“We have made it clear to the sales organization that while we offer choice on the cloud, it’s important to dig into the account early and deep enough that they don’t flip back and forth. Sales in the past had emphasized we will do whatever you want us to do. Now, it should come back to fact we can deliver fit- for-purpose solutions in their vertical and we can deliver that better than anyone else. It’s important to do that to get time to value down.”

McCollum said the same philosophy has been implemented in their professional services and business consulting teams, which have tripled in size,

“We now focus on preconfiguring systems to fit their specific vertical, and using business consulting to help them adjust their processes within the pre-configured vertical,” he said.

McCollum also stated that Epicor’s sales are operating along the basis of their new tagline – Grow Business, not Software.

“That starts at the beginning of the sales process, where we emphasize we are in the business of helping the customer grow their business – not just selling them software. We have changed the way that we engage from the very beginning. We now do a risk assessment and a business assessment on the front end. We don’t even do a demo until we are confident we can meet their business needs. That brings credibility for us on the front end.”

McCollum indicated that Epicor had been guilty of overtalking technology with manufacturing prospects.

“We weren’t doing this in retail and distribution, but we were in manufacturing,” he said. “We would say that ‘we are more Microsoft than Microsoft, look at our stack,’ and we focused on discounting to buy deals. We have been changing that culture.”

Leveraging their channel better going forward is also a top priority going forward. While international business, including Canada, is overwhelmingly channel, in the U.S., it’s a tiny amount, between eight and ten per cent.

McCollum said there are a number of reasons for the historically small channel. Epicor was greatly expanded in 2011 through a merger with Activant, and Activant wasn’t channel at all, although Epicor has been slowly building one out for the Prophet 21 and Eagle products.

“Epicor, on the other hand, did have a channel, but it was always somewhat schizophrenic, as the commitment to the channel varied depending on who the sales lead was,” McCollum stated. “More recently, we did not have a lot of channel background here, so we brought that in, infusing a channel background into our leadership team, people who understand what partners can bring to the business.” He noted Sabby Gill, Executive Vice President, International, who was brought in last fall, as a key example.

McCollum said that feedback from a channel training workshop the day before the Insights Customer Conference formally began was positive.

“There was a feeling that we now have the right people in place,” he said. “There is a big channel push for us coming on in fiscal 2017 [which they are in now]. “We will adjust our programs in the second half of that fiscal year. What we have now is nowhere close to what it will be once we get those going.”

“We have done typical MDF in the past, and we are looking at handling that far more strategically,” said John Matterson, Epicor’s Senior Director, Channel, responsible for channel sales in the Americas as well as all sales in Canada and Latin America. “We don’t want to have partner MDF where you spend it because it expires this month, and changing the way we do this has become part of our planning process. We are making changes to the program starting October 1, and MDF changes are part of those.”

McCollum said that Epicor’s cloud push will involve a stronger channel role.

“We have been talking with and preparing the partners for their role there,” he said. “As we speed our cadence up, it also offers them more opportunities for services. They see a significant role there, and know they aren’t being cut out of the loop.”