CMO Q&A: Jonathan Becher, SAP

SAP's Jonathan Becher speaks to Lindsay Stein about plans to simplify comms strategies and leveraging social media to listen to consumers.

SAP's Jonathan Becher speaks to Lindsay Stein about plans to simplify comms strategies and leveraging social media to listen to consumers.

How do marketing and communications work together at SAP?
When I joined the company six years ago, there wasn't a single marketing department.

Marketing was embedded in the business units and regional functions, and there was a small corporate marketing unit that primarily looked after the brand.

Depending on how you interacted with the company, you got a slightly different story, so we felt more like a federation of loosely connected organizations.

In phase one, SAP created a single-brand entity for itself. Phase two was the story of what the brand is, and the third part was about bringing those disconnected components - primarily for marketing - together.

Part of what I worked on in the first 18 months was making the unit feel like one, because there are synergies when you work together. These efforts will continue in 2014, where we will continue to create more synergies between the two units.

They are not the same discipline, but we call them two sides of the same coin. We have started doing a better job. It's a journey we are on. I won't claim we have it all figured out, but it feels more holistic.

What about social media?
I don't like the phrase social media. It causes people to focus on the media part, and the average person thinks that what you are trying to do is amplify a story and treat it as a shouting platform.

Social is as much a listening platform as it is a shouting platform. It's about using social technologies and platforms to improve your business objectives, build better products, support your customers more quickly, generate more revenue, and improve the bottom line.

I sometimes say I don't have a social strategy. I say that slightly to be provocative because that is my style, but also because I don't have a standalone social strategy. It's an obvious place where communications and marketing have collaborated in the past and can continue to do so.

We built a site called Idea Place, which is a crowdsourced platform where people can give us ideas about products and features we should develop, and the community can vote on which ones they like or don't like and people can improve it. The ones with the most votes go into the next phase.

Is that social media? Not in the way we think of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It's using social technology and crowdsourcing to solve a business problem. Engineers and developers are not close to their customers, so marketing and communications has helped bring them together.

Does SAP have a head of social?
We have what I call a federated model. We do have a central group that reports to our head of integrated digital, Maggie Fox. She helps groups that are only at the beginning of their social journey to leverage best practices.

For example, social isn't as prevalent in some Middle Eastern countries yet, so rather than force our colleagues to figure it out for themselves, our centralized group can say, 'This worked in the US, but it didn't trans- late to Brazil, so let me give you some recommendations and advice.'

How about a communications leader?
There are heads of communications for different disciplines. We have a head of product and solution communications, which is about how we tell stories of the offerings we have in the market. There's also a head of employee communications and of corporate communications. They all report to me.

What are your goals this year?

We are a big company. There are more than 3,000 different products on the price list. We operate in more than 120 countries. SAP is growing rapidly, so one of our biggest challenges and primary goals in marketing communications this year is about making it much simpler. I have declared 2014 as the year of simplicity.

We need to simplify our internal processes and structures. Since we are a tech company, we can leverage big data and analytics. If you watch SAP this year, you will see a lot SAP Runs SAP. That's an example of how we are making the company more streamlined using our own tech.

The second is to simplify how we plan and execute. With so many countries and products, you could end up with a complicated Excel spreadsheet with rows of how it is going to work in India versus Pakistan versus the US. It becomes an almost impossible and unsolvable planning problem. We've simplified it to the 10 most important things we care about and the 14 countries that we have to get right first. That should consume about 70% of our attention and everything else can be done locally.

The third one, which is most important, is simplifying things from our customers' and prospects' point of view.

We want to be a company that helps prospects and customers move through their journey. Most of that is education and using their language to make it simpler to understand and consume.

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