SAP looks to digital cutting edge in lower end of SME

Mark Aboud

NEW YORK CITY – The SME is a priority segment for SAP. That was a theme of this year’s SME Executive RoundTable – and the SMB Summits before it at SAP’s New York City offices over the years. What’s of more interest is the degree to which SAP is leveraging some of the more advanced digital tools at their disposal to penetrate the lowest reaches of the markets in which they play.

SAP defines the SME – General Business is their internal term – as organizations which in North America have annual revenues of a billion dollars or less. Mark Aboud, SAP’s Global Head, Commercial Sales, runs the segment of that business in the $300 million and below range.

“All of the General Business segment uses partners, but there is a different sales motion,” he said. “Above $300 million is our traditional model using field sales along with partner engagements, which has proven effective over the years. The sub-$300 million space, on the other hand, has tons of accounts. Each of my sellers might have 2000 to 3000 accounts, so we use a coverage model as opposed to an accounts model.”

Aboud said that he sat down three years ago with Global Channels head Rodolpho Cardenuto and discussed how to best handle this space.

“The issue was how to best utilize our internal sales force,” he said. “Doing small deals didn’t add a lot of value. We also know that improving phone and voice mail to create better customer engagement was dead.”

Aboud said that the first step was getting rid of the phones from the inside sales people entirely.

“We threw out the phones and took them out of the building,” he said. “We moved to social connecting, virtual connecting, and video tools, in order to connect with customers digitally. We focused on creating a compelling customer engagement.”

The changes meant that traditional field sales and inside sales people disappeared in the sub-$300 million segment.

“We don’t have inside sales,” Aboud sale. “We have digital sales professionals, whose average age is 28 and who relate well to younger digital buyers.

Aboud said that while other vendors have also gone digital, he believes SAP’s strategy here is unique.

“Every sales force has a digital strategy, but they have used digital to automate the process and make it more efficient. We chose digital not for automation, but to make customer engagement more compelling. We became a competitive weapon for SAP because we reinvented the customer experience around digital.”

A key element of this is what SAP calls Virtual Studio.

“It’s a very engaging experience,” he said. “The caller actually sees the person live like in a hologram, so the buyer sees me the seller.”

While this has been in place for several years, starting with a few studios used by mostly technical people, they now have 140 in the organization, with as many as 8 in one floor.” The SAP staff sets up specific appointments to talk to prospects and customers. It’s not to deal with random visitors to a Web site.

“This has been playing itself out successfully, and while it has been a pretty big sea change, the results have been off-the-charts good from any expectations,” Aboud said. “We are now doubling down on it.”

From Virtual Studio, SAP moved to Virtual Studio-in-a-Box, which packages the capability for use by channel partners.

“Rodolpho gave me control of the MDF funds, which were being used slowly and not for the best purposes,” Aboud stated. “We considered how we could use them in our Partner Benefit Catalog to drive business better. By putting the same digital tools and training that we use in the catalog, and letting partners buy them with their MDF funds, we can help to transform partners digitally as well. They can buy Virtual Studios in a box with their MDF funds, and make the connection with the customer even tighter.”

Aboud said that about 50 partners have taken advantage of this so far.

“It tends to be those who are the most forward-thinking in terms of marketing,” he said.

So what’s on the digital agenda looking ahead?

“I have a couple of things on my mind,” Aboud said. “One is connecting the dots with marketing better. Another is introducing our digital tools to our internal and field sales in the $300 millkion and up segment. They have digital assets now, but we can move up the digital selling motion. They don’t use video or Virtual Studio that much. We can take our digital tools more broadly within SAP, and speed up the sales process, making it more frictionless.”