Recently, Don Bulmer, Vice President of Global Communications at SAP walked a packed room at the NewComm Forum through a study on how his company redefined the traditional role of marketing communications to compete in a highly dynamic social media landscape.
As part of the global communications management team at SAP, Bulmer is responsible for leading the Industry and Influencer Relations organization. In 2007, the SAP communications organization was challenged by their executive board to rethink all their programs and processes. They were asked to identify changes that were required to meet company goal and to double market opportunity over 5years.
SAP started the journey with discovery, research, and benchmarking for 6months. The communications team talked to experts at P&G, IBM, HP to understand communication best practices. As a result of this discovery phase, the team came up with several critical realizations:
- SAP was a transactional communication organization (tactical) and it had to change in order to sit at the table as a credible partner with its customers.
- There was an inherent flaw with its traditional model of CIO at the center as the decision maker. The new media landscape had become a complex and highly connected network.
- It had to create competitive advantage and also, become much more strategic in its approach to marketing.
- Many of the company communication programs were not adequate to deal with this new social media space.
- Everybody had a voice, employees became an important constituency in driving change.
- There was an urgent need to align the company goals to a central vision and to create sustainable competitive advantage.
As a result, the SAP team went through a comprehensive re-framing exercise. They started by redefining functional roles as processes and connecting each role to overall company objectives.
SAP needed an organization in place designed to identify the customers/prospects and influence the world around it. So their next step was to define what constitutes influence and influencer, and how it affects the brand and the company.
Who are the influencers? These are good corporate citizen within customers sphere of influence that support sales by accelerating the adoption of SAP tools. Influencers helped SAP create competitive advantage. Bulmer’s team also recruited researchers from Columbia and Emory to measure the value of this influencer community and track its influence.
SAP took a methodical and pragmatic approach to create their influencer marketing model, where customers are at center of the equation. These were the people who made the technology decision at both IT level, like CIO, and at business level. SAP team worked hard to understand the process of decision-making at these customers and what sources that the decision makers turned to, ie, the influencers.
Bulmer’s team identified the following categories of influencers:
- Analysts/IT influencers
- Business thought leaders
- Partners (ISV, Channel)
- Customer communities (User Groups and Peer Networks)
Each of these influencers had varying degree of sales impact for SAP. Universities had the highest impact. Bulmer said that, when you get into fast growth areas, research and academics are the ones who have the most influence. Customer Communities had the next largest impact, followed by the Analysts/IT influencers and Business thought leaders. Partners have the least impact of all influencers.
So SAP created a Business influencer relations group that was tasked with working with the influencers. They first used social media in SMB segment and designed the strategy to penetrate this segment. SAP built relationship-building social networking site in collaboration with Social Media Today called “My Venture Pad” which is geared at the owners, employees of startups. They made it a content-rich technology site that provides content from experts, monetized it via sponsorship. Here are some best practices that SAP adopted to make their new media influencer model successful:
- Create a symbiotic relationship with the influencer network by connecting the user groups through collaborative workspaces such as discussion groups, wikis, and web 2.0 platforms.
- Bring voice of customer directly into the product and collaborate with users to provide value at every step of the relationship.
- Provide thought leadership through webinars and event sponsorships.
- Build strategic relations with universities to build the curriculum around supply chain. This helps build the experience of SAP into the pre-professional experience and the early exposure helps cultivate future relationships.
- Last but not the least, connect all these groups – Universities, analysts/it influencers, business thought leaders, partners channel , customer communities (user group).
Bulmer stressed the importance of getting management buy in upfront, demonstrating value to the customer, and showing direct link to the bottomline.
He ended this highly informative session by saying, “We empowered our stakeholders to tell the story and strengthen our strategic communication goals. We learned how to use communications as a strategic tool for furthering our business goals. “