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

Where we last left off, I was admonishing the SAP field to greater glory around the theme of customer success. Here’s the rest of my letter to the SAP field:

Sell Value, Not Platforms: Now I’m going probably get yelled again by some of your execs, but trust me, there are going to be very few customers who see you walking in the door trying to sell a massive platform reboot and sob with relief at the prospect. First of all, you and every other sales exec in the waiting room are trying to sell a “platform:” a development platform, commerce platform, mobile platform, decision-support platform, human-machine interaction platform, content management platform, or a platform of platforms. It’s getting hard to walk out the office of the CIO without a platform pitch smacking someone in the head. Okay, HANA would make a HEC of a platform, but you’ve got to do more than just sell a platform strategy in order to rise above the noise. And, as you can’t sell your company’s platforms (and yes, there is, to the great confusion of the market, more than one platform in SAP-land) as platforms for their own sake, then you’d better sell them in terms of their value.

Of course, what defines the value of a new platform is different for every company, and that means you’d better know how to sell the difference between a platform that can rationalize a massive, heterogeneous technology infrastructure, a platform that can support a new, hybrid cloud/on prem deployment scenario, a platform that can support new strategic business initiatives, and a platform that can better align a company with its partners and customers. Even if in all cases it’s the same platform. In fact, it turns out SAP has platforms for all those use cases – but selling the use case first is what will help differentiate your platform pitch from everyone else’s.

Sell SAP’s Ecosystem: SAP has one of the best networks of ISV partners in the industry, and those partnerships do a lot to extend the value – and success – of SAP in the market. But unless there is a hard and fast reseller agreement in place, and a direct monetary incentive to sell a partner product, field sales traditionally hasn’t been too eager to pull out the stops and get a partner product into the deal. The partners are an amazing asset that need to be better utilized, especially the ones that aren’t sold on SAP paper. These are often companies that are either innovating on your technology way ahead of the curve or offering ways to implement faster and get better results, all of which translates to greater customer success. Either way, you need to broaden your horizons and get more of these partner products involved in the deal, or risk losing to the vendor that does.

Cross-Sell or Die: Was that strong enough? Want stronger? Do you want to become like HP, or Microsoft (until recently, anyway)? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people across your company who don’t know about key strategic products from other divisions and business units, and can only sell what they’re used to selling. Companies that grow by the combination of acquisition and organic innovation can’t succeed if selling is hampered by silos. I’ve seen the death by silo movie a hundred times, and it’s always an unhappy ending. Get your heads out of the sand and sell your company’s products, and not just the ones you can sell in your sleep.

Sell How the Customer Consumes Software, Not How SAP Builds It: Very few customers today buy ERP, whatever that is. Few are buying ultra-fast databases for the sake of having a fast database, no one wants a purely horizontal product when there’s one that is tailor-made for a specific industry or geography. In other words, resist the temptation to pitch to the customer the usual three letter acronyms and cooler than cool technology. Customers want industry best practices, process excellence, great interactions and user experiences. They are buying verb phrases – sell more, service better, innovate faster, get closer, be more, spend less – and not noun phrases like big data, real-time interaction, hybrid cloud, and mobile analytics. They want their processes to be best in class for their industry, geography, customer and user base. They want you to talk their language, not talk at them in tech jargon and TLAs (three-letter acronyms, for those of you who are TLA-challenged). You don’t need to dumb it down to have this conversation – in fact you might just find yourself having a much more strategic discussion if you leave the TLAs at the door.

Sell to the Present, Not Just the Future: It’s easy to be tempted by the allure of the new, but most of your customers won’t go fully cloud, fully HANA, and fully mobile any time soon. What they will do is implement some of the new alongside the old, and they are expecting you to sell them a large degree of comfort around the fact that the old won’t become the neglected along the road to the new. It’s important to emphasize this – otherwise you’re selling revolution, and that’s not going to get you or your customers where you want to be in either the short or long term. There’s a lot to be said for offering hybrid strategies to your customers that support the old and the new, cloud and on-prem, mobile workers and desktop workers. It will make you a lot of friends in an installed base that has been watching the innovations with a combination of excitement and trepidation.

Let me close this overly long missive with the following: This may be the most competitive year you’ve ever had to sell in. Your competitors are getting smarter (okay, most of them anyway), and have been stepping up the innovation side of their businesses as well (again, most, but not all.) And the SAP customer base has a peculiarity that is, I think, unique to SAP: they’re decidedly more independent, and more prone to looking outside SAP, than their counterparts in the Oracle market. They’re under constant sales assault by companies like IBM and Microsoft, which both partner closely and compete aggressively with SAP. And the customers have armies of global SIs camped at their doors, all of which command a seat at the table for any major technology change, and few of which seem adverse to throwing SAP under the bus when things don’t go as planned.

In short, it’s going to be an impossibly complicated and difficult year in which to sell some of the most innovative and comprehensive software and services in the industry against some of the ablest and most aggressive competitors in the business. And, of course, just remember that if you at first you don’t succeed…. You’re toast.

So, Happy FKOM, and a very Happy New Year.

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

  1. Great two-part series, Josh. While you directly address SAP sales reps, I see corollaries in other technology companies, even beyond software, and to the related functions like Marketing (replace ‘sales/sell/selling’ with ‘marketing/market’ and we have a match…

    One of your points that really resonates with me is “Sell Value, Not Platforms.” In other words: I want to plant a tree, so I’d like to buy a hole in the ground, and you’re telling me about all of the great features of your shovel. I just want the hole, please, and could care less about your super-grip handle and carbon-fiber shovel that I then need to store, maintain, upgrade… Sell the hole-in-the-ground.

    M.

  2. Mark — thanks for noticing that this isn’t just about SAP, it’s really about how software companies sell, or try to sell, in this market. Sales and marketing live and die together, so you’re right about that too.

    Josh

  3. Pingback: A short personal response to Josh Greenbaum’s SAP FKOM blog | Vijay's thoughts on all things big and small

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