Lessons from SAP: Reinventing Marketing to Compete in a New Media Age


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:

 – Universities

– 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. “

SAP and Intel Discuss Enterprise Social Media


Recently, I joined fellow marketers and PR professionals for a panel discussion on “Social Media Adoption in Large Enterprises” hosted by Third Thursday Meetup, at the SAP campus in Palo Alto. After an hour of quality  networking over generous portions of appetizers and crisp white wines from local vineyards, we settled down  for an evening of insightful panel discussion with Ken Kaplan, New Media Manager at Intel and Donald Bulmer, VP of Industry and Influencer Relations at SAP.

The moderator Jen McClure did a good job of moderating the two-person panel with many thought-provoking questions. Overall, it was a solid discussion and both panelists provided a fascinating perspective on how social media is being deployed by two of Silicon Valley’s largest enterprises.

Here are some interesting insights from the discussion:

Innovation and thought leadership: Dan Bulmer credited the current economy as ideal for fostering creativity and innovation. According to him, tight budgets and current economic climate have made it easier and paved the way for social media  adoption in large enterprises. Kaplan offered a great insight from the PR perspective as to how social media has revolutionized the communications space. In the past, press releases used to be an one-time event, but now thanks to blogs and social tools, a press release event can go on for weeks. To promote innovation, Intel works closely with industry thought leaders and many prominent bloggers are on Intel’s internal blog council. They consistently leverage thought leaders from the social media space to create and foster social media best practices.

Efficiency: The budget cuts have impacted three primary areas – events, ads, and travel. The budget cuts have ranged between 30-50percent, however, the goals for the organization have stayed the same or have grown. For SAP and across the industry, while advertising spend has been cut, additional resources are being diverted to social media, because it’s perceived as a more efficient way to generate results. Bulmer mentioned how virtual tradeshows are fast becoming more prevalent as an efficient channel for driving results at lower costs.

Customer Engagement: SAP’s approach is very community-focused, they use web 2.0 collaboration platform to bring their customers together based on common products they use. They expose customers to SAP products as well as connect their customers to others who also use the same products. They leverage social media technologies to foster a strong user community and also, enhance SAP’s relation with their customer base. Kaplan was pleasantly surprised to discover their customer’s passion for Intel’s processors when he came across on tweets like “Loving Intel Processor” on the popular micro-blogging site, Twitter.

Collaboration: Bulmer’s approach was extremely pragmatic and he said, that he wants the  business units to have “skin in the game” to make them more accountable for the deployment as well as results. His group doesn’t take more than 5-10percent stake in any social media project, which forces the businesses to take responsibility for their activities and consequently, the results. McClure had a great question about how the two professionals dealt with the challenges of deploying social media across large enterprises with highly multi-cultural and multi-national presence. Fulmer had a great point and which was to drive social media adoption, you  have to associate social media with success  because success  tends to be culture-agnostic and that in turn has helped adoption. Kaplan’s approach was to decentralize the deployment because he believes (and rightly so) that social media is not scalable and it has to be driven from individual regions and centers. Kaplan referred to the key role that Centers of Excellence (COE) play in deploying best practices and knowledge across a global organization.

Monetization: What particularly resonated with the audience was Bulmer’s approach and philosophy to social media, which he called “purpose-driven” engagement. He encourages folks at SAP to engage in social media with a specific intent and purpose, which forces them to stay productive and efficient. He seemed to be very cognizant of how social media is often dismissed as “fluff” and this awareness was reflected in his highly monetization-oriented social media strategy. According to Bulmer, SAP is already generating thousands of leads from their social media efforts and many of those are about ready to close.

Corporate culture enhancement: Kaplan had an interesting observation that although silos are breaking down they haven’t completely disappeared. However, social media has certainly forced people from across the organization and different functional groups to work together.  He urged folks to find the communicators and the experts  in the organization who can then engage with the customers. .  Both SAP and Intel offer a variety of information resources to their employees on social media. At Intel, these are structured like college courses ranging from #100 to #500 level courses depending on the employee’s level of engagement. Both panelists agreed that getting the right people within the company involved and engaged is the key to social media success.

All in all, it was a very relevant discussion, especially as more companies are getting serious about social media adoption. It was great to get meaningful  insights from these two seasoned professionals on the real challenges and opportunities in deploying social media in the enterprise space.