CMO 2.0 Conversation with Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP

Written by on July 2, 2012 – 2:04 pm -

I was truly looking forward to my CMO 2.0 Conversation with Jonathan Becher, the CMO at SAP, and I was clearly not disappointed. Jonathan came to SAP through the acquisition of an analytics company, where he was the CEO/CMO. Within SAP he went up the ranks through product marketing before becoming CMO 15 months ago. He is responsible for the development, oversight, and execution of marketing strategy worldwide.

Next we discussed Jonathan’s views on the changes that marketing has undergone in recent times. For SAP one of the biggest challenges is the need to change the legacy perception that they are the big expensive German ERP vendor, when in reality they now play in five distinct product categories and have price points that are all over the map. Another big shift in marketing is that we have to move away from the notion that we can control the message to a mindset where we orchestrate the conversations. Jonathan also feels that being in B2B or B2C is an arbitrary distinction. Buildings don’t buy from buildings, people buy products from people, and so marketers need to focus on people, not B’s or C’s.

In order to change positioning in a world where you cannot control the message anymore, you need to take on an outside-in view more so than an inside-out view of the marketplace. That means developing an understanding of what people already believe and what they are already saying, and developing stories that describe impact that will be able to fit within the existing narrative and travel among networks of people who do not work for you. At SAP, they are trying to turn every single employee into a brand ambassador who can tell such stories, not just the marketing people.

People have always been social and making a buying decision has always been a social process. What changed is that the technology and media have become social, allowing the social for which human beings have been hardwired for eons to scale. People can now make social buying decisions about anything without having to rely on the vendors that sell the products. Jonathan quoted research that says that 80% of customers do not visit corporate web sites prior to making buying decisions – leaving marketers to wonder whether to put a lot of energy in their own web site or engage where people are. At SAP they do both, but they have a goal of having 50% of their own website content authored by third parties in the future.

Jonathan believes that in the future Marketing will be responsible for 5 things: represent the voice of the market, be the champion of the overall experience, the steward of the brand, the evangelist of the future, and the integrator/force multiplier. Representing the voice of market is bigger than representing the voice of the customer: It encompasses what your competitors are talking about as well as people who never bought from you.

Next we switched the conversation to a favorite topic of Jonathan, which we actually share – that of culture. Internal employee cultures can stand in the way of strategic initiatives and external customer cultures can stand in the way of successful product launches. Jonathan gave several internal examples of cultures that stood in the way of collaboration, and at the end he says, many teams achieve a local maximum without ever achieving a global maximum. We talked about the importance of shared beliefs and shared objectives in creating cultures that are more conducive for collaboration, and more acceptant of change, and which are requirements to make new strategies work. One of the strong shared beliefs they have at SAP is “All Brains on Deck” – meaning that when you see a problem, even if it is not within your area of responsibility, you own it.

Passion in the workplace is important, but if it is not connected to productivity it can be useless. Passion needs to be organized, it needs to be channeled, and otherwise it can become misdirected compared to where the company wants to go. Another reason why passion needs to be channeled and connected to productivity is because traditional hierarchical management structures are set up to measure KPI’s, not passion.

On the consumer culture side of things, SAP has started taking consumer cultures into consideration for their product positioning as well. Right now they do it primarily around regional cultures. For example, Americans like analytics for the exception management capabilities that it brings, while Germans use it to bring order to chaos. We also discussed the challenges with finding transnational tribes that might have a shared passion, shared interest, or shared pain – such as people who share a passion for sustainability worldwide. One of the issues is that if you do not get deep enough into the essence of the passion, you may be focusing on tribes that are too nomadic. So, you might have focused on the Star Trek tribe only to realize that when the show stopped, most people left the tribe. If you had focused on the Sci-Fi Tribe instead, then people, who were Star Trek fans and left, are most likely still part of the Sci-Fi tribe.

We finished the conversation by talking about the changing nature of measurements in marketing. While people at SAP are huge believers in analytics, Jonathan cautioned that not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted. Measuring the wrong thing can be as detrimental as not measuring it.

Other things that we talked about are:
• How to retrain internal people to tell compelling stories that can easily be retold.
• How to measure the success of social media exchanges.
• Why social should not be used as a shouting platform, but rather as a listening platform.
• The three rings of social.
• The changing roles of sales and marketing.
• The new methods for market segmentation.

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Posted in CMO 2.0 Conversation | 2 Comments »

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