The New Year in SAP-land: Selling Customer Success (Part I)

I’ve realized recently that despite everything we analysts do and say about enterprise software company strategies, new products and technologies, trends, and all the other coins of the analyst realm, what matters most is how the sales force sells. If the field sales force can’t get in front of the right influencer at the right time with the right mix of product and strategy, then every analysis, recommendation, critique and consulting gig geared towards fine tuning go-to-market strategies quickly goes to hell in a hand basket. The bottom line is no go-to-market strategy is so perfect that it can’t die an ignominious death in the field.

It’s clear that the entire enterprise software market is at an inflection point when it comes to its customers. Depending on making quota by leveraging the good will from years of customer/vendor “partnership” isn’t going to cut it. While many deals are still done based on long-established relationships, the growing number of influencers and the complexity of the interoperability of new products and business processes means that counting on the old “nobody got fired for buying (insert your company here)” strategy is a quick road to the loss column.

These thoughts are coming to mind as the new year begins, and, the ritual of field kickoff meetings follows suit. Up in a week is SAP’s Field Kick-off Meeting (FKOM), and it’s a given that SAP’s massive sales force will have one of the biggest challenges in the industry. Not just because of the innovations that SAP is bringing to the market – which are myriad and overwhelming for those us who try to follow them, much less for a sales exec trying to translate them into something a customer is willing to pay for  – but because these innovations are opening up new competitive challenges as they attempt to open up new markets for SAP and its partners.

Below is a letter to SAP’s FKOM attendees on the eve of the event, highlighting the things I think might make a difference in the coming year. It’s in two parts – I’m posting part I today, and will follow with part II in two more days. While it’s addressed to SAP, I believe the suggestions below apply to every enterprise software salesforce in the business.  Enterprise software is changing, mostly for the better, and sales execution needs to change with it, or else.

Dear SAP Field,

This is the year in which the pressure is all on you – once again. SAP is coming to market with an unprecedented collection of products, strategies, services, and technology, and all these initiatives will either live or die in your hands. You’re going to be expected to be smarter, more strategic, better able to sell solutions, more attuned to the business user, and willing to make your life – and bonuses – more complex by getting SAP customers to adopt a growing portfolio of subscription-priced cloud services. 

You’re supposed to be better at vertical selling, more attuned to bringing partner products into the mix, and ready to prove the value of massive improvements in software delivery, life-cycle management, training, and development.  And you’ll need to know when to offer HANA Enterprise Cloud, HANA Cloud Platform, ARIBA’s business networks, Jam’s social collaboration, new user experiences like Fiori, specialized applications like Commodity Management as well as new initiatives like Smart Business.

You’re also going to have to know when to bring in SAP Services, when to suggest a Design Thinking workshop, when to cede the high ground to your big SI partners, when to send a deal downstream to a mid-market partner. You’ll need to know what the opportunities are in mobile, how to differentiate between a Sybase ASE, IQ, and SAP HANA sale. And while you do so you’ll need to be fending off the strategic incursions of Oracle, Workday, Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, Infor, IBM, and a never-ending armada of erstwhile competitors looking to invade your shores and take away your hard-earned market share.

If you think this is hard – then you’re halfway there. And if you think this is impossible, then you’re actually showing signs of sanity: Rest assured, selling enterprise software was never a sane, rational process even in the best of times. But more importantly, with SAP’s senior management exhorting you to glory – and an ever-higher sales quota –  you’re probably wondering how you’ll ever pull any of this off.

So, with FKOM looming and a new race to Q4 starting up, permit me to offer some suggestions gleaned from my own attempts at rationalizing what SAP is doing and aligning it with what customers are looking for. You may not like what I have to offer, and it’s possible that your bosses might not like it either: I’m a believer that targeting your quota first and your customers’ long term interests second may be good for the quarter but bad for everything else. Regardless, I think we can agree that selling this vast array of products and services as checklist items on a price list isn’t going to get you, or SAP, where you want to be by this time next year.

Sell Success, Not Licenses: If you do one thing to change how you interact with customers, it should be around selling success. Overselling and under-delivering are the unfortunate legacies of the enterprise software market, and all too many deals gone-bad are effectively the result of a salesperson promising whatever it took to get the deal done. It’s true that not every deal that goes bad is oversold –  there may have been some overselling in the Avon deal, but fundamentally that deal went south because the global SI on the project ran it into the ground. But if you’re only in a sale to make your quota, in my opinion you’re doing everyone a disservice.

This of course means that your bosses have to give you the air cover to walk away from a deal or from plumping it up unnecessarily. If you’re going to be a good guy or gal, and do what’s right for the customer to the possible detriment of your quota, you should be able to do so without being stigmatized for not overselling. It ain’t going to be easy – ideally this new attitude would move all the way up the food chain to the board, and would be something that the investors who demand killer quarters regardless of who dies in the attempt  would adopt as well. But regardless of who’s on board, selling success should be your job number one.

Sell Your Own Implementation Services, Not Your Partners’: Okay, a lot of people, particularly your global SI partners, are going hate me for saying this. Deloitte won’t like it for sure, they’re still running for cover in the wake of the Avon fiasco (Ding dong, Deloitte – Josh calling. Anyone home?) But the fact remains that SAP Services may be the best choice for not only implementing the latest and greatest – all that HANA you’re supposed to sell, for example – as well as the best choice for ensuring customer success. SAP Services is getting pretty good at driving innovation based on SAP’s latest products, the RDS offerings are singularly successful at managing implementation costs and timetables, and they definitely care a lot more about preserving SAP’s brand reputation than some global SI’s we’ve already discussed.

SAP’s Global SI partners have had too many incentives over the years to oversell the services side of a deal and jack the project cost and timetable way up, to the detriment of customer success. This is part of their DNA, and while some of them, particularly the boutiques, are getting the customer success religion, it’s hard not to be a global SI and still dream the oversell dream. So cut them out as much as possible.

Sell the Value of Training and Education: Top notch training and education is probably the single best guarantee of delivering long-term value to a customer, and SAP has some impressive, and impressively under-appreciated, education assets. This is an uphill battle worth trying to win with a customer base that has traditionally seen training and education as a waste of time and money. The ability of SAP to deliver training online, in-context, and tailored to a customer’s particular implementation is more than just nice to have – it’s really the only way to ensure that a shifting, mobile workforce will be able to optimize their use of the increasingly complex set of processes and technologies that SAP has to offer.

If you let your customers sign a deal without having some training and education in the mix from the get-go, you’re creating the first and most important precondition for project failure: lack of training. Another reason why you should be selling SAP’s training is that those global SI’s I’ve been picking on also have a sorry history of either not selling training and education or offering a mediocre product to those customers that opt in. SAP has something to offer that is top notch, and as concepts like strategic workforce planning and talent management become broadly accepted best practices, training and education services will be essential for making sure the right people are on the job at the right time.

Sell Lifecycle Management: Anyone in the marketing side of Solution Manager will tell you, I’m more in the loyal opposition than fanboy camp when it comes to Sol Man. This product set has been a mess for customers to understand and implement, and the wealth of partner products that perform different parts of the Sol Man functionality attest to the need for faster and easier ways to do some of the things Sol Man does. That being said, customer success can be best guaranteed by enabling a comprehensive lifecycle management function, and Sol Man has basically no equivalent in the market today. As SAP moves everything to the cloud, Sol Man’s benefits will become even easier to access – and in fact for pure cloud customers, much of what Sol Man does will be completely transparent. But while you’ve got your customers’ attention regarding success, sell them a little insurance too. If I were the SAP Board I’ve give your customers a discount on their maintenance if they fully implement Sol Man (ditto on that offer for training and education): nothing will help ensure success more than a fully implemented ALM strategy, whether it’s based only Sol Man or some combination of Sol Man and partner products.

Sell Interaction and Process Excellence , Not Mobile and Cloud: I know you’re going to have customers who say that they need a cloud or mobile strategy, and it’s going to be tempting to try to give them one by selling them some cloud or mobile software. But my experience is that the customers that ask for products in this manner today are either way behind the market or missing the opportunity to have a more inclusive, internal dialogue with their stakeholders about what really should matter to the customer: supporting world class stakeholder interaction and process excellence.

This isn’t about more mobile and more cloud: Moving the needle on your customers’ business processes should be a technology-agnostic quest that starts at the process and interaction level. Technology platform choices like cloud and its many sub-categories should be made in support of the process improvement goals, not as a pre-condition to process improvement. And supporting mobile today is like supporting alternating current – try to re-think a core process that doesn’t have a mobile component. So don’t lead with the obvious, lead with what really changes the game for the customer.

(End Part I. Part II to follow on Thurs.)

6 thoughts on “The New Year in SAP-land: Selling Customer Success (Part I)

  1. SAP possesses a powerful tool that is very poorly deployed: Value Engineering. With that tool, SAP and a prospect can identify potential business process improvements that are measurable as a foundation for an implementation business case. While most prospects go through such an exercise, very very few of them ever follow through with the business case. As a result, an “accelerated” implementation is focused upon “going live asap” (to keep the costs down) rather than “seizing the most measurable benefit possible” (to provide a return on investment). SAP’s prominent SI partners are equally culpable in this regard.

  2. Pingback: The New Year in SAP-land: Selling Customer Success (Part II) | EAConsult

  3. Well stated, and it’s worth adding that too few customers insist on a business case and ROI analysis at the beginning of a project, and then wonder why they can’t find the value in what they’ve done after implementation.

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