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Opportunities Amid Uncertainty for CRM Customers: With Continuing Volatility, Where Do We Go From Here?

by Dietmar Bohn | SAPinsider

January 1, 2010

With 2009 behind them, SAP customers have questions on how to pick up the pieces of the economic recession and proceed with a solid, customer-facing strategy. Find the answers in this panel discussion from five leading CRM executives at SAP.


Dietmar Bohn ( is Vice President of CRM Product Management at SAP AG and runs SAP’s core CRM sales force automation line of business. Dietmar has more than eight years of CRM experience (from both within and outside SAP) and more than 19 years of industry experience. He has held different management roles spanning CRM strategy projects, implementation projects, development, and product management. Dietmar holds degrees in electrical engineering and telecommunications.

Q: Dietmar, what are the most common opportunities and challenges you’re seeing across the SAP install base?

A: In the midst of economic uncertainty, most sales executives are concerned that they won’t meet their sales targets. They’re worried that their sales teams aren’t focusing on the right customers, and they’re noticing a widening gap between their top performers and the rest of their reps. If the sales team focuses on customers with low credit ratings, for example, then the sales pipeline could look good today but be worth nothing tomorrow. Surprises happen every day.

To help bring some predictability to this volatility, I’d recommend that sales executives conduct regular pipeline reviews. In these reviews, line managers meet individually with every representative on his or her team and carefully look at the sales pipeline to ensure that reps are focusing on the right accounts and opportunities and are considering valuable historical information from previous deals. The pipeline performance management functionality within SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM) is a very valuable tool to support — and prepare for — these reviews. Leveraging the tool, sales executives can improve their team’s win rate and shift the sales performance curve.

Mobility is another hot topic for sales professionals, who must have the right information at the right time wherever they are located. They need quick online access to relevant customer data — including account, contact, opportunity, and order data — as well as calendaring and email functionality. While occasionally connected laptops had been the preferred solution in the past, they don’t fulfill sales executives’ needs today — no salesperson wants to boot up their laptop just to quickly check on a customer’s order. Smartphones are the preferred solution; sales reps and managers need their smartphones to quickly access basic sales force automation (SFA) data on the fly.

Q: What can SAPinsider readers do now to address these concerns?

A: They should start by telling us what they’re up against. The SAP CRM team directly engages with its customers through customer councils (including advisory and user group working councils), as well as blogs and forums in the Business Process Expert (BPX) community. Through these channels, customers can voice their challenges — and SAP product managers and fellow customers are ready to help identify the right solution and share best practices.

In fact, co-innovation with customers has driven many of SAP CRM’s new product enhancements. For instance, SAP CRM’s pipeline performance management capability was prioritized and specified together with the High Tech Advisory Council. Many of SAP’s new mobility capabilities — including SAP CRM sales force automation on smartphones, the customer fact sheet (which consolidates all customer data from a company’s CRM, ERP, and business intelligence systems), and SAP Interactive Forms software by Adobe for offline scenarios — resulted from direct engagements with customers across industries and regions.

Other hot customer topics planned for future SAP CRM releases include mashup capabilities, enabling users to leverage valuable information from the Internet — financial figures or account news, for example — with just one click. Another topic is the integration of social networks into our solutions; this helps companies identify and read up on key executives and team members at their customer sites. It’s an innovative way to get valuable background information and prepare for upcoming sales meetings.

I’d encourage readers to get involved: Start by connecting with the valuable SAP CRM sales community


Dr. Ralf E. Strauss ( is the Head of Product Management for CRM Marketing at SAP AG. From 2002 to 2007, he was the CMO of SAP in Central Europe and Germany. Ralf brings years of experience in management consulting, marketing, and sales to his role at SAP. He has authored more than 60 publications in these subject areas, most recently “Marketing Planning by Design: Systematic Planning for Successful Marketing Strategy.”

Q: Ralf, what are the most common opportunities and challenges you’re seeing across the SAP install base?

A: When I speak with heads of marketing and chief marketing officers (CMOs) around the globe, I consistently hear that they’re facing challenges from four different angles:

  1. CMOs are getting more and more concerned about managing the “total customer experience” (TCE) across products, services, and marketing communications. The primary focus of the TCE is to manage a consistent customer experience across all interaction channels, with close collaboration between brand owners and partners (including manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and third-party customer service organizations).
  2. Due to heightened competition, companies are up against an increasing speed of innovation and condensed go-to-market windows, not to mention the impact this frenzied pace is having on product and marketing development processes.
  3. Increasing market fragmentation is causing marketers to put greater focus than ever before on identifying target groups for campaigns, content, and loyalty management.
  4. The mass adoption of social media and Web 2.0 technologies is both a challenge and an opportunity for marketers. Consumers are leveraging these newer channels to share their experiences with other consumers. In essence, consumers are taking on marketing roles. Marketers need to learn how they can be even more effective in this new world.

Q: What can SAPinsider readers do now to address these concerns?

A: I’ll tackle these challenges one at a time.

  1. To manage the TCE, CMOs should take a closer look at SAP CRM marketing. It’s an enterprise marketing platform that enables end-to-end business processes. The system optimizes collaboration between internal and external stakeholders, including third-party agencies and channel partners. The solution’s marketing performance management and analytics capabilities facilitate closed-loop measurement, make marketing results and processes more visible to the rest of the organization, and enable accountability and calibration.
  2. To keep pace with the frenzied speed of business, SAP CRM marketing can also help a business connect with its target audiences more quickly and effectively. For example, by leveraging customer interactions across inbound and outbound channels, you can present tailored offers to customers at every point of contact — on customer service calls, in online shops, and through in-store interaction. We call these “real-time recommendations.”
  3. Organizations can address market fragmentation and declining customer loyalty with a robust loyalty management program, offering differentiated incentives for repeat purchases. SAP offers a market-leading loyalty management solution within SAP CRM that provides flexible rule definition for points and rewards programs, as well as multi-channel integrations to execute and access those programs. The solution gives organizations a 360-degree view of their customers; using the system’s high-performance computational engine, marketers can quickly analyze and segment large volumes of customer data to ensure accurate targeting without relying too heavily on IT. 
  4. SAP CRM marketing solutions also let marketers leverage social media channels to monitor customer behavior. SAP solutions provide direct, prebuilt integrations to Twitter and Facebook. Marketers can monitor customer sentiments and push out targeted Twitter campaigns directly from SAP CRM. They can also plan and execute viral marketing campaigns through Facebook — for example, giving users loyalty points when they recommend a specific product to another Facebook member. 

Web Channel

Dominik Feiden ( leads the product management teams for SAP Web channel and partner channel management. He joined SAP CRM Product Management in 2001 with responsibility for CRM’s Internet solutions after working as a senior consultant for SAP CRM Consulting. Before Dominik joined SAP, he was a project manager with sales force automation specialist Kiefer & Veittinger. Dominik holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Kiel in Germany.

Q: Dominik, what are the most common opportunities and challenges you’re seeing across the SAP install base?

A: Customers are aiming to reduce costs but simultaneously grow their business to exploit their competitors’ weaknesses. The Web channel — which includes e-commerce, e-marketing, and e-service — plays a key role in this strategy, since it allows companies to reach new customers and markets at a very low cost of sales.

However, many organizations can’t fully leverage the Web because they are saddled with homegrown or siloed systems that aren’t scalable or can’t support an end-to-end business process. The result is a suboptimal customer experience and inconsistent information across a customer’s various interaction channels.

Also, current Web channel platforms often distinguish between B2B and B2C interactions, leaving B2B customers with mediocre usability. But today’s B2B customers are accustomed to Facebook and Amazon for personal use, and they won’t accept a clunky B2B application that focuses on pure order capture, for example. Today’s customers expect a fully functional Web self-service capability that gives them control over their interactions with a company. The separation between B2B and B2C becomes more and more blurred. Realizing this, successful companies empower their customers, letting them choose the best ways to interact with them over the Internet.

Q: What can SAPinsider readers do now to address these concerns?

A: Companies need to assess whether their current infrastructure and capabilities match their strategy going forward. Most companies will find that only a fully integrated solution can meet the requirements of all their business departments, not only allowing for real-time information served to customers, but also analyzing online interactions in order to optimize their Web site appearance, offers, and customer communication.

SAP’s Web channel offering is a fully integrated, end-to-end solution that takes advantage of customers’ existing investments in SAP; it connects to SAP ERP, SAP CRM, or both. The solution’s interactive, out-of-the-box user interface is optimized for usability, requiring minimal clicks to proceed through the solution’s guided process flows and incorporating the latest Web 2.0 trends. This enhanced usability lowers the total cost of ownership drastically. Business users can influence the processes, content, and design of the Web channel using intuitive tools; they don’t have to first wait for their IT department to process all their queued change requests before they can make changes.

By directly connecting to the respective back-end system, SAP’s Web channel solution always presents a consistent picture to customers, whether they want to learn about the latest product offering or check up on the status of their service request. 


Param Kahlon ( is Vice President of the Customer Service product line at SAP Labs, LLC. He is responsible for launching new products that address emerging market trends and customer requirements. Prior to joining SAP, Param led product management for Siebel CRM product lines. Param has an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.

Q: Param, what are the most common opportunities and challenges you’re seeing across the SAP install base?

A: Companies want to provide a superior experience for their customers. They want to support a seamless and consistent customer experience across all communication channels — phone, Web, chat, email, mobile, social media, you name it.

Accordingly, I’m seeing a shift from relationship management to experience management. Companies are communication-enabling their business processes so that they can tap into the knowledge of their entire workforce during the context of a customer call to increase first-call resolution rates.

Companies are also trying to understand new ways to grow service revenues. They are leveraging sales and marketing best practices to grow the service business. They are trying to create more compelling solutions by packaging products, services, and even financing arrangements.

Also, many companies are working to improve performance by focusing on their core business and then outsourcing non-core parts to business partner companies, such as third-party logistics providers. The challenge for these companies is to continually provide a consistent customer experience, even when they outsource the last mile of customer interaction to another party.

Finally, customers are attempting to build predictive service models so that issues can be resolved even before customers report them.

Q: What can SAPinsider readers do now to address these concerns?

A: At SAP, we’ve recognized that companies must raise their level of customer orientation — so we’ve invested in building products that meet the rising demands of the service business:

  • SAP has leveraged the cutting-edge technology trends of softphones, mobility, and real-time computing to build context-aware customer applications that optimize every interaction with the customer. The goal is to use every opportunity to impress the customer with clear and precise solutions.
  • SAP has embedded real-time insight and communication channels into every business process. Employees in every role are empowered to make intelligent decisions by reflecting on not only aggregated content, but also the most recent interactions. A customer’s lifetime value is always kept in perspective.
  • SAP has made it possible to bundle tangible and intangible offerings to build compelling solutions for the customer. SAP is harmonizing the process between the front office and the back office to provide customers with seamless information access.
  • Lastly, SAP has invested heavily in service-oriented architecture (SOA) to make it possible for service organizations to collaborate with value chain partners and build remote diagnostics solutions for preemptive service.

 To learn more about these leading-edge investments, readers can visit

Interaction Center

Dr. Tim Bolte ( has worked in the Interaction Center area at SAP since 1999 and is now Vice President, Product Management, CRM Interaction Center. Tim is also responsible for several other topics at SAP, including communication-enabled business processes (CEBP), CRM Analytics, and customer-facing, end-to-end processes. Prior to joining SAP, Tim worked as a consultant, advising companies in establishing and reorganizing their call centers, with a focus on business processes and workforce management. Tim received his doctorate from the University of Mannheim, Germany, for his thesis on CRM and call centers.

Q: Tim, what are the most common opportunities and challenges you’re seeing across the SAP install base?

A: When I speak with customers, three issues are in the forefront of their minds: Optimizing contact center performance is always an important consideration for customers. Performance is especially challenging for remote locations outside of the company’s network, such as satellite and branch offices, retail locations, or home offices. Performance can depend on many factors, including hardware, software, bandwidth, quality of service, and database optimization.

SAP recently published a blog on the BPX community that helps customers get started with performance analysis and optimization.

Another important topic for customers is enabling end-to-end sales and service processes that span the SAP Business Suite, beginning with order capture in CRM (from either the Web or contact center) and ending with fulfillment in the back-end ERP system. SAP continues to invest in this area, developing native CRM screens that provide built-in integration to ERP business processes.

Lastly, many organizations have invested heavily in computer-telephony integration (CTI) solutions for the contact center and want to leverage this technology across the rest of the enterprise, increasing collaboration and reducing latency in business processes that require frequent handoffs or manual approval processes. SAP has built communication-enabled business processes (CEBP) into its products, allowing companies to leverage IP-based business communication products, like SAP Business Communications Management, to enable one-click communication and information sharing among colleagues.

Q: What can SAPinsider readers do now to address these concerns?

A: One of the best ways customers can take advantage of their relationship with SAP is to help influence the future direction of SAP’s products. The Interaction Center (IC) product management team works very closely with customers.

For example, many IC product management team members — like John Burton, who leads the IC team — are a constant fixture at customer events, including the annual SAPinsider CRM conference, the SAPPHIRE/ASUG Annual Conference, and the SAP Customer Value Network for CRM.

The IC team has also recently rolled out a unique by-invitation group of SAP’s most active and vocal IC customers, called the IC Elite Council. This council provides a direct line for customers to share best practices with one another and to hold open discussions with SAP about upcoming product enhancements and future roadmap topics.

Several recent IC product enhancements are the direct result of collaboration between SAP and customers at the events and councils mentioned above. For example, the new IT Service Management capabilities of SAP CRM 7.0 were introduced in response to strong customer interest in adopting IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standards and best practices in their internal and customer-facing contact centers.

Similarly, customer requests for greater integration between the Interaction Center and other CRM business roles led to the standardization and harmonization of business transactions within the application. In SAP CRM 7.0, it is now possible to use the same business transactions and screens across all CRM business roles, such as the CRM Service Professional, Sales Professional, and IC Agent roles. This helps reduce TCO while driving greater consistency — resulting in increased agent and customer satisfaction.

Readers should really get involved. A simple first step is to check out the latest IC-related blogs, white papers, and Webinars available through the BPX community.

Readers that really want to dig into the details of IC should check out two books available from SAP PRESS: mySAP CRM Interaction Center by Tim Bolte and Thorston Wewers and Maximizing Your SAP CRM Interaction Center by John Burton. 



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