Impressions on SAP CX Live, SAP during a walk on Calle de Vendedor

SAP CX Live 2018 in Barcelona showed me that SAP was still committed to its customer-facing corporate pivot and willing to go to the wall for it. But is it enough? Here are my first impressions.

It's so hard to be customer first, but it shouldn't be

My tastes in painting and artists are eclectic. They range from some of the obvious classical artists like Rembrandt to Dutch masters of various periods, including Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Johannes Vermeer, and Hieronymus Bosch, to impressionists like Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, to surrealists who include one of my all-time favorites, Rene Magritte. (There is something of a pattern in who I just named. I wonder if you can figure it out. Hint: The pattern rests within several of the painters but not all the painters).

I'll be talking about these things much more directly within the next couple of months when I launch my second blog called, The Science of Business, the Art of Life and Live from NY, which will be about everything not covered on ZDNet (and I do mean, everything). But, for now, just know that the impressions I'm going to give you are something about things that I am thinking about, feeling about, multiple subjects in the industry including some preliminary stuff on the vendors out there, and few other things, too. It will come in three parts. So, pardon the imprecision on some of this. They are impressions -- and this is the first set of them -- and it is on one subject: SAP.

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I'm writing this right after SAP's CX Live in Barcelona, where I had the distinct pleasure of speaking three times in one day on customer service, customer experience, and how sales is changing. Genuine fun all the way around. And seeing lots of old friends. Because that's fresh, I'm going to start with short observations on SAP.

A morning walk along the Calle de Vendedor


SAP CX Live 2018 was the first major conference since SAP made its biggest pivot as a company in May at SAPPHIRE 2018. At SAPPHIRE, they announced they are now a CRM company (in effect) -- customer-facing, focused on customer experience, going after the CRM market. This led to a very different global message (a brilliant one for them): "Intelligent Enterprise." Through the pivot, and due to the strengthening of their customer facing portfolio by the superb acquisitions of Gigya and Callidus Cloud, they -- via CEO Bill McDermott, -- said:

"We've moved from a world where nothing happens when you add a record to CRM, to a world where everything happens. When the entire supply chain is connected to the customer experience, we've moved from the first-generation consumer-grade experience to the best consumer-grade experience in the CRM industry. When it comes to CRM, SAP was the last to accept the status quo, and SAP will be the first to change it."

Now, as I pointed out in a much larger post on this pivot, SAP wasn't the last to accept the status quo; they were the last to have a decent traditional CRM suite, and they aren't the first to try to change it. In fact, they are somewhat late to the game, though there really isn't a "late" in this particular game. Regardless, all in all, at the time they announced, I was cautiously optimistic about their changes to make a real impact in the market with this pivot, and I was excited for their future. Following what I heard at SAP CX Live, I have zero reason to change my optimism, but it remains cautious.

I'm not changing my optimism because for the first time in a long time they are diving into the market that they want to participate in with the right pieces in place:

A solid array of customer-facing products in their portfolio with five core pieces: Sales Cloud( with a great GM in Giles House), Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, and Customer Data Cloud, Commerce Cloud. The only one that arguably isn't just a cloud is the Customer Data Cloud, because it actually is as much a platform layer that runs cross-cloud as it is a series of products. That said, it is also a suite of Gigya-driven products, so SAP can get away with calling it a solution or a cloud -- probably unlike any other of the vendors. However, their name for the overarching solution, C/4HANA Suite, still needs to be changed. It is way too limiting. It makes it seem that you need HANA to be able to run the products -- and you don't. It is also both colorless and not aligned with anything but SAP internal conversations. To the rest of the world, C/4 is a plastic explosive. But that doesn't, by any means, undercut the intelligent suite they are building and the smart change in the naming of the core products to align with the market names. While not terribly creative, it doesn't need to be. It needs to, in effect, come up as an option when some potential buyer Google-searches "sales cloud" or "marketing cloud," rather than having to learn about it via some circuitous route.

The messaging works: Their messaging during the keynote was built around customer experience, but more of the consumable experiences kind. It was also strongly customer facing, and while it had a few problems that are easily correctable (I'm saving that discussion for the larger post), it was the right message for the audience. It was a generally warm customer-focused message that emphasized not just customer experience and personalized actions and response, but social responsibility done the right way. In the past, even though sustainability was not only a message but posited as a mission by SAP, it was focused around business profitability. The good they actually were doing became cold and relatively heartless. This time, the good they were doing was in the context of the good -- you do it because it benefits humanity, not just business. Nailed it. This is perhaps more important for SAP than even the product portfolio's improvement, because their historic failure, since the departure of Jonathan Becher, who was one of the best CMOs in the industry, has been their marketing. To be blunt, until SAPPHIRE, and thankfully continuing, it had been just plain terrible, unintelligible unimaginative, and wrong. Now, it's done a 130 -- well on the way to a 180. But it still needs something (see below about that).

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Alex Atzberger is the right guy to both lead Customer Experience practice and to be a public face of the company. The supporting leadership people -- like Giles House, Volker Hildebrand, and Thomas Hertz, among others -- are the right people with the right experience to make the leap. They have a lot of work to do yet, and they need to be even more "present" in the public marketplace, where they can position themselves as not just goodwill ambassadors, but as thought leaders. I've seen some of this from most of them but it, like all things related to their pivot has to be scaled and amped.

What I mean by the last statement: The energy generated by the SAPPHIRE announcement has not been followed up with a sufficient expansion of its scope in both breadth of content or the literal energy level.

Before I briefly delve into what I mean, let me be clear about something: SAP is a company that is made up of a lot of very nice people in my experience. They are a diverse (at least when it comes to the range of ages that are employed there and their joie de vivre -- I'm not getting into the politics here, so don't bait me) group of global citizens who live their lives the same way that everyone else in the world does: Their own particular ways. Those I know have been friends in many cases 10 to 12 or more years. Their public image is very little like the actual nature of the company. It is arguably the most innovative company in the industry, though I'm sure that all of us can point to other companies that are equally as innovative. Including me. But that doesn't undercut the creativity of some of things that are coming out of their co-creation projects with their customers.

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Over the years, the company, while Jim Goldfinger was still there, had what was by far and remains by far the best organized customer network I have ever seen. SAP JAM is the best collaboration solution in the business that, at the enterprise level, eats Slack for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which may be an unfair comparison, but at least makes the metaphorical point. I can keep going, but I won't. Plus, to their credit, as painful as it was -- and it was agonizing for them -- they made the transition to the cloud and have done a good job of it. Is it perfect? No. But I'm not nitpicking here. That's for other more cynical analysts to do. Plus, this is an impression, remember?

That said, quickly, given what I saw and watched online from SAP CX Live this year, there are several things they still have to do:

  1. Increase the breadth of their content pertaining to the pivot to customer-facing.
  2. Be more theatrical, which will also generate more energy. That doesn't mean change the essence of the company -- but what I said about the way they "pivoted" their view of social good from "profitability" to "doing good." It's both a welcome change and reflects the company's culture. So, more theatrical in that vein (though not around social good -- that was just an example). Take it on the road. More on this when it comes to the larger post.
  3. Do something about C/4HANA. Change the name. I know they won't, but I figured I'd be on the record.
  4. Do not under any circumstances focus on Salesforce as an adversary. It's a losing battle and a stupid battle. Stand on the merits of what SAP offers. It can compete. Also, I was told that they (Salesforce) would be invited into the Open Data Initiative. Please do. That is a more judicious way to do things.

Again, as I said, more is coming in a larger piece (if I can find the time between white papers to do it). Just know that I am excited for SAP and want them to succeed here but still remain a bit concerned about the need to broaden and amp up. That has to happen for their success.

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Enough of that for now. Hat tip to Monet.

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