The Blue Monster et al in Walldorf on a Friday afternoon.

On a lovely, sunny Friday afternoon, Mike Tschudy (from the Design Services Team)  and I had the pleasure of addressing a group of developers and solutions managers about Web 2.0 and community building. As part of the top talent employee development at SAP, the HR business partner (thanks Marlin for the opportunity)  invites speakers to talk to the dev teams about trends and future stuff. The series is called shaping our tomorrow – sometimes the talks are deeply technical, other times less so (this was a less so talk). The sessions are supposed to drive discussion, and beer and bretzels are provided afterwards….well over 100 attended and nearly all of them stayed!  I’m not sure how many joined the webex from abroad.

We decided rather than doing the typical SAP death by powerpoint, to experiment and run the session from the wiki on SDN. (We had some slides, we couldn’t kick the habit totally)  Part of our evil plan was to get more internal dev and sol man types contributing to SDN, so we figured this was a good way to drive the session.  We had originally planned to have Craig Cmehil, SDN evangelist, present too, but he was very ill.  We missed his zealous presence both in real-life and second life.  Good to hear he is nearly back to fine form.

It also meant that Mike and I had to maintain the wiki ourselves. As someone who metawikis (ie talks about them) it was a sobering experience to actually build stuff in one. Once I got the hang of it, it was easier than I thought it would be.  I’d like more drag and drop and templates, but we managed. We’d planned to add some interview clips we recorded at Sapphire from Cote, Dan and Ed into the show, but we will add them to the wiki later.  We will also post the video of the session there. (we will stick a “highlights” package on SDN once we are through all the Sapphire footage)

 

 Being a Friday afternoon used youTube a lot:  showcasing VW adverts, Channel 9IBM mainframe adverts, and we decided that Hasso ought to be in youTube too, seeing as he mentioned it in his keynote…

 

 

We also touched on IBM in Secondlife, Gapingvoid and couple of the IBM bloggers (Ed and Alan), Salesforce.com’s idea exchange, and  Dell’s ideastorm  Mike demoed himself in Harmony. Cool tool. Lets get selling it!  He also presented some research that his team and the strategy team had done recently on web 2.0 for Henning.

Hasso’s message at Sapphire was music to the social media types, but how to drive that sort of thinking throughout the organisation?   It is easy for executives to talk about communities, but it is the folks on the ground that need to live it and make it happen; many are, but we need more.   Encouraging solution managers and developers who are used to working in “secret” to open up will take time – Channel 9 and Steve Clayton at Microsoft are great examples of employee led conversation.  This beats press releases and  brochures anyday.

Mike talked about how eBay’s success was built on the community, and that there is a new wave of software users and buyers that expect “2.0” features and behaviours from software companies they do business with.

The session wasn’t all plain sailing. Several folks felt it wasn’t for them, others reckoned that their managers wouldn’t support it, and that a lot of our processes make this difficult. I guess that is the reality of this sort of thing in a large company. .   Andrew McAfee spoke of the empty quarter a few months ago. Euan has a point when he says lay back and think of England, but I’m not sure that saying travels well. 

I’m convinced that the best salespeople for enterprise software are almost aways the people who build it (well, next to those using it!). I told the story of a deal I was helping with about 8 years ago. It was for a HR-payroll system for 75,000 employees. The prospect had flown 3 senior folks over to meet SAP here in the asparagus fields. We rolled out a founder and board members to show commitment etc and I showed the latest powerpoints and demos, but just before lunch one of the prospects said to me, “I can meet suits back at your subsidiary, I’d like to look the people who write the code in the eye.”  We asked the maitre’ d to set up an extra half a dozen seats in the executive dining room, and  went and fetched the payroll developers from a couple of floors below. They joined us for lunch in T-shirts, shorts,socks, and birkenstocks. One of the developers discussed in frightful detail how he was dealing with the challenges of a particularly awkward tax rule. I believe it was this conversation that won the deal.  This isn’t an isolated case: If I look back to last  December, it was SAP’s internal HR manager talking about our performance management challenges that convinced one of the world’s largest automakers to go with us, not the sales demo or the executive love.

We then showcased some of the successes for the wiki and internal blogging. I’m probably guilty of banging the blogging drum too loudly, but I’m impressed by the growth and the quality of the internal wiki.  There is more to SAP and community than SDN.

Relying for a moment on the traditional media, and quoting  PR stalwart from SAP, Bill Wohl

“If you look across SAP on an industry-by-industry basis, you’ll find that where the innovation, good ideas and drive for us to improve SAP’s ability, tools, techniques and solutions is coming from is directly from our customers,” he says. “We’re not experts in global bottling — our ability to deliver beverage solutions relies on our customers to tell us what the business requirements are to be successful. We do that in more than 26 industries.”

So the message is hopefully clear. Much of our innovation comes directly from our customers. The stronger and the deeper the conversation with our customers becomes, the better our products will be.  Tools like SDN, BPX, blogging and so on, will make our products better, but only if we listen to and act on the messages. There is alot of this going on already, but we now need to scale.

The day to day pressures on many developers makes them wonder if they will find time. Our management need to help create that time, but a big part of this is a personal thing. I’m convinced that the solution managers that embrace social media and web 2.0 will be the ones in the driving seat in a couple of years time.   

We suggested some pointers for those folks wanting to dip their toes in.

1. LURK: Start by reading stuff. get an RSS reader and check out internal and external feeds. Take a look at The Cluetrain Manifesto  (our partners, customers and competitors are)

2. Start small internally and externally. Spend time on SDN. comment on posts, add to the wiki, social bookmark.  Experiment with the tools.

3. Be open to sharing with others.

4. Find your own voice, and tell your story. Ask yourself I know my products,  why shouldn’t I be talking about them?

5. If it isn’t your thing, don’t be negative about others doing it. Get out the way.

Finished by showing the now classic Jedi ABAP and Jedi Java clip. (Craig links to it here)

While I’m here, let me try a little wisdom of the crowds. (well permit me to call my readers a crowd?) Please send me the 10 external blogs you think that a) SAP Netweaver core developer should follow. and b) that an HR analytics solution manager should follow. Drop me an email, or comment here. I’ll figure some way to share them back. There will be some neat 2.0esque tool somewhere that would enable this. Feel free to suggest one.

update: I just read Dennis’ post.  I’d need to respond. He makes some good points, but I have some day job to attend to. (I’ve a meeting with a  banking executive and then a Journalist from the top Belgian HR magazine)

 

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11 thoughts on “The Blue Monster et al in Walldorf on a Friday afternoon.

  1. Sorry Thomas but I fundamentally disagree with a piece of this.

    The developer teams may be good for spreading the love post sale but pre-sale then I’d say no way.

    I really want to see SAP engage with the ‘real’ users. These are the very people that Dan, Ed, Craig are trying to help and which Harmony could really make big inroads towards.

    The biggest problem for end users is that they get presented with ‘stuff’ which costs a fortune to train upon and around which they inevitably attempt to work around.

    Where the devs have a genuine role is in bridging the ‘them and us’ IT v user divide. That may be a good seeding operation in existing accounts. Tipping up at a sale and saying: “Hey, look at our Widgets” just won’t cut it. IMO.

    It’s a significant reason why I believe Hasso is bang on right when he talks about the user experience.

  2. The piece where you say:
    “I’m convinced that the best salespeople for enterprise software are almost aways the people who build it (well, next to those using it!).”

  3. Hi Dennis,

    Speaking as a former SAP developer, I experienced a sales situation (with Thomas) where calling me in to talk to the prospects helped sealed the deal. I got mails from the customer for months afterward trying to get me to drive the implementation project, but that’s another story.

    It seems that something about meeting the person behind the code gives some prospects more trust in the product.

    I’m not saying that this is the case for *all* sales situations, but for some I believe it can be a definite positive factor. Perhaps this is mainly helpful when the sale is via the IT department, and it’s engineers meeting engineers? Perhaps in the sale to the CFO, bringing in the propeller-heads isn’t as effective…

  4. Steve actually that is real picture on the SAP Developer Network Wiki but the area is not a public one – it’s in our Internal areas as well.

    The Big Blue Monster has invaded our space as well and we welcome it!

    Craig

  5. There will always be situations where the person behind the code is needed. I just don’t give it the emphasis Thomas ascribes. Having said that, I wouldn’t go back to the days when SAP used to hide the app until the boardroom pilot looked a runner.

  6. Den,
    I’ve been selling ERP software most of my working life, and there is nothing more powerful than having the person that designed or wrote the application explain it. I’m not talking about managing the sales cycle or closing the contract, I’m talking about passion and trust. Once you strip away all layers of the onion, you are left with the folks who build the solution.
    When discussing the cluetrain on an earlier post I said the following
    It seems to me that the goal of a modern marketing function shouldn’t be to dictate, determine and control product messaging and branding, but to facilitate and encourage conversations between those that actually know stuff about the solutions and those that are looking to buy them. Those that know stuff could be the product manager or the developer, or even better, another customer using it.

  7. This raises an interesting point. I’ve been using software most of my life, I’ve sold it as well. The problem I have with the general argument is that buyers don’t buy technology or product but they do buy solutions.

    What matters *to me* is that stuff works, is fit for purpose and solves a problem. Beyond that, I could care less.

    Having someone who’s passionate about the solution is one thing but I tend to find that software folk are in love with their technology. That’s a turn off *for me* as a user and advisor.

    That’s been an issue for the industry for more years than I care to remember.

    To be continued methinks…might make a decent podcast/vidcast discussion.

  8. Personally anyone Developer, UI Person, Marketing, Solution Manager in any circumstance whether it is a sales luncheon, a Blog comment, ethnographic research or A/B testing of two approaches to a software concept is a good thing and starts the process of creating more useful, usable and desirable solution. I suggest a “rich discussion” face to face over a beer rather than via a podcast/vidcast:-)

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