Jonathan Becher, Chief Marketing Officer of SAP, says that while they have not integrated the popular social networks directly into their software, they did try to integrate the fundamentals of Twitter — ideal for broadcasting information — and Facebook — for organising groups — into their offerings. Image Credit: Courtesy: SAP

Dubai Jonathan Becher wants to humanise his company. It's easy to understand why. Just consider Becher's position.

He's Chief Marketing Officer of SAP, a company that is traditionally known for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, none of which sounds very human. But while Becher is quick to talk about the importance of ERP to the company, it's easy to see that he'd be happier without the acronyms.

But to be fair, SAP, Europe's largest software-maker, has a long history of catering to IT professionals, a sector where acronyms run rampant.

"I'm a marketing guy. I'm about branding. It's about emotion," he said. "ERP is big and confusing and doesn't mean anything to you.

"The average person doesn't even know what that stands for."

The shift away from the jargon of the past four decades — SAP celebrates its 40th anniversary this year — is another example of how the industry has been changed by social media. It has shifted gears from being a company known primarily for ERP software, which is short for enterprise resource planning, to a company that offers analytics — which is some countries now makes up almost half of SAP's revenues — mobile phone applications and cloud computing.

While ERP still accounts for about a third of SAP's revenues globally, the company's catalogue of software now even includes 40 apps on Apple's iTunes store. Its products include social network platforms similar to Facebook and Twitter. In short, it's had to learn how to socialise enterprise software.

Real thing

"The real thing about social media is it's the core of how we do thing in the products as well," he says.

While Becher says that SAP hasn't integrated the popular social networks directly into their software, they did try to integrate the fundamentals of Twitter — ideal for broadcasting information — and Facebook — for organising groups — into their offerings.

"But it [is] in an enterprise environment, so you can make sure that you're not putting something like payroll data out to the public."

The company has also learnt to use what it's selling, Becher says. The company launched the SAP community network, or SAPCN, which has attracted over two million users.

Becher says the network has reduced the cost of supporting SAP products and gives them the "ultimate listening tools to find out what should be in future versions of products."

About 80 per cent of new features come directly from customers and the vast majority come through SAPCN, he says.

The forum, while it is part of Becher's marketing division, is not governed by SAP in any way, either. The content is not censored. Becher says there is sometimes stuff he doesn't like, but the site has proved valuable in providing relatively real time so that "SAP builds thing that will, a), make our customer's happy and, b), frankly sell better."

Just how well social networking will work with enterprise software in the Middle East is very much on Becher's mind, especially following the company's announcement earlier this month that they are investing Dh1.65 billion over the next three years to train and develop local talent in the Middle East.

One persona

"In the US and in some of the mature markets, it's pretty much a given there is no work and life separation anymore. You have one persona. And when you're online you can't say that was my personal persona or that was my work persona. There is no real difference. Here is this market, that distinction still exists."

But Becher also thinks it's only a matter of time before that divide breaks down. Companies could have a harder time trying to have an "official message," because social media is about people to people communication, not B2B communication.

Giving up that control has been difficult for many companies around the world, he said. Marketing teams in general need to have a much more diversified and culturally-sensitive approach.

"Over the last 10 years marketers grew up thinking their job was to control the message and to control the brand. It was all about control," he says.

"You can't control it. You might be able to orchestrate it, but you can't do that if you all come from the same background."

Key concepts: Selling social media

What do companies need to know about offering social media software? Becher points to four concepts:

  • Focus on the individual.
  • It needs to be highly collaborative.
  • Users should be able to get information in real time.
  • Data should be able to be restructured in any way a user wants it.

— S.S.