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BI Beat: Josh Fletcher on Internal Selling of BI Initiatives

April 18, 2014


In the second installment of the BI Beat series, SAP mentor Josh Fletcher discusses the internal selling strategy for BI initiatives. Topics covered include:

  • Increasing interest in BI among large organizations and C-level executives
  • When to begin the internal selling process for BI initiatives
  • Who should drive the internal selling strategy
  • A success story about a company that experienced the benefits of embracing BI as an organization


Dave Hannon: Hello, this is Dave Hannon with SAPinsider, and welcome to another edition of BI Beat. Joining me today is Josh Fletcher, an SAP mentor and BI architect with an international resources company. Josh and I are going to be talking about the internal selling strategies for business intelligence. Welcome, Josh.

Josh Fletcher: Hi Dave.  Glad to be here.                                                                         

Dave: Great. Josh, first off, I wanted to ask you if you’ve seen signs that the interest in business intelligence as a concept or a strategy is increasing in new parts of the enterprise, or if you have any examples of that?

Josh: Yeah, sure. I’ve definitely seen an awareness in the customers that I’ve worked with, that they’re getting more savvy around business intelligence, and I guess the results it can produce. I think in the region that I’m in, I think I actually did this per region, I’m lucky enough to attend a few international conferences over the last few years, and I think in the Australia/New Zealand region, where I am, in large organizations it’s becoming more prevalent but we’re probably quite a few years behind the US and Europe. I still, when I was working as a consultant in my previous role, I still got to work with a lot of customers who weren’t familiar with data warehousing or familiar with business intelligence tools.

But where I am now, I think there’s quite a few areas of the business where they’re really engaged and they’re very hungry for business intelligence, even up to kind of senior management level, and I’m also seeing interest from,, new parts of the business, whether that be I guess, on-site information, you know, working in the resources sector, but the parts of the business that want, you know, visualization of information for their field worker, and also with—we actually have a modeling group internally who model improvements to the operations, and they actually are very interested in getting access to information and looking at visualization tools that the IT area of the business can provide, so yeah, quite some interest from different parts of the business and just kind of the regular, operational part of the businesses are very hungry I’m finding for BI as well.

Dave: Ok. How about the sort of executive level, how is the effort to sell BI initiatives to that executive level changing, are the C-level types getting the message these days, or is that still sometimes a hard sell?

Josh: Yeah, I guess from my consulting days we, and in the last couple years it’s gotten easier, I think, to sell to the executives because it’s easy to kind of pick a probably more simple data set, if the organization has that, so I mean retail is a really good example, where you can get a really good set of information and find some really useful information, in a basic data set, you don’t need to do much to it, but most organizations will have a part of the business where the information is readily easy to market to the C-level. And what I find works best is a self-service capability from SAP as well as the mobile, so you know having worked as like a pre-sales architect, it was my job to actually build demos to C-level in a previous role, so I’d always lead with a combination of Explorer on the mobile device, and that seemed to catch the C-level’s attention very easily, because it made sense to them.

I guess you have to make it relevant to them and the ability to just build reports, you know, they’re not going to be able to build reports you know, they’re not going to build reports, they’re going to get someone in IT to build those reports, and even dashboards I think, if they’re mobile-enabled, and then they’re backed up with something like the self-service capability of Explorer, then they can see how they would actually be able to use it and you’re giving them a  picture of having all the information in the organization at their fingertips in, you know, board meetings, or even you know if they’re out on the road and they’re seeing you know, a key business partner, they’ve got that information there.

Dave: Ok, ok. I wanted to ask you a little bit about timing, if there’s a company that’s going through a new BI project, maybe they’re implementing a new solution or expanding their BI solution set, when do you think is a good time to start that internal selling process? Obviously you don’t want to do it too early, or it sort of loses steam, but at the same time you want to give yourself enough time to make sure you get the word out there.

Josh: Yeah, I guess that’s an issue, if they’re looking at a project then I guess if you’re in the BI competency team or in the IT team representing BI, then I probably think you can never be sowing the seeds for selling it internally early enough, you know, if you’re on the IT side of the fence, because if you’re delivering for other parts of the business, and then you’ve got a new business area that are wanting to look at a BI initiative, then if you’re, if they’re already aware of you and if you’ve got success stories from other you know, projects that have already gone on, then it’s going to be easier to open the communications about helping them you know, go to market or helping them find, or define what the solution needs to look like.

If it’s a company that’s never done BI before, and you know, they still exist as well, then I guess that’s a little bit of a different story, but you need to, I guess the need has to be there, you know if you’re trying to force BI onto an organization and they’re not ready for it and the maturity levels aren’t there then I guess you’re going to struggle to find traction, but if they’re already aware of pitfalls of their, you know, the way they’re integrating information and all their, you know, they’ve got data quality issues, and you can expose them with the BI solution, or if you can help them, you know, even like standardizing reporting if you know, there are still small to medium enterprises out there that have one person who does all the Excel financial reporting for the organization every month, and that person spends two weeks doing it, and you know, that’s a really easy ROI sell, right, because it’s just like, well, we can automate those reports and so that person now frees up two weeks and maybe they’re supposed to be an analyst and they can actually start analyzing rather than actually just building Excel reports for you every month. So it depends on the maturity of the organization I guess, and the size as well, as to when you would start to engage in that selling process.

Dave: Ok, ok, good. We’ve covered when to start that process, I wanted to cover the who, as well. Who do you think’s the best person to sort of do some of this internal selling, is there, you mentioned if you’re in the IT organization, obviously there are functionality benefits to explain but at the same time you don’t want to get too technical with the user population and go over their heads so, so what’re your thoughts on that, is more of a tech person the best person to sort of explain the benefits, a business person, or somewhere in between?  

Josh: I guess it depends on the tech person, I guess my, I’ve always tried to I guess straddle technical and business and if you are too focused on the technical solution then it’s always going to be a really, an uphill battle to sell it because you know, you’re selling widgets and saying, oh, you know this is fast, or this looks good, and so on, but you’re actually failing to help them understand how the business process will change and what business value to them is, you know, you’re talking technical value.  Whereas if you’re I guess only focused on the business side, then maybe you’re not linking that to how that works, technically, and maybe lacking in showing them enough of the detail around it, the technical solution, and sometimes they might not buy you know, I guess, if you’re just talking to PowerPoint slides, and you’re not actually giving them a hands-on interaction with what the solution will look like, then they might fail to grasp that and not buy in enough as well.

So yes, whether you—the internal selling is done by, and sometimes, maybe it’s better to be done by multiple people, you know, you have the kind of the business person with their hat on who’s a bit tech savvy, and you have the technical person who understands the business process and together that would be a formidable selling team because they’d be able to go out there and spread both sides of the story and when the questions got technical, which I think those come up from time to time—you will normally find that within a business area or when you’re selling to a BI organization, sorry, selling BI to an organization, there’s always a really technical person that exists somewhere in the business and they’ll start asking the really tough techie questions, and you need to be able to just bat them away very quickly and answer them to give them that surety that you’re actually going to be able to deliver this technically. I guess you know a business person or a business sponsor is always looking to have confidence that they can trust you to deliver that solution technically and that you’re going to help them through the process because they’re relying on you to do that, so, I think that’s also really critical.

Dave: Ok. How about when you actually do make contact with folks and you want to show them benefits, what’s a good way to actually show them the functionality and how it can be used, without sort of losing people’s attention? Do you have any sort of examples, or does it typically start with the PowerPoint, and then move into a demo, or vice versa?

Josh: Yeah, I guess there’s a couple of examples I can talk to here, I mean I definitely try to show them the whole solution, especially if we’re talking SAP BusinessObjects, and SAP Business Warehouse, it’s going to really overwhelm people, so I think you do want to be short and sharp in your demos and especially the initial demo we’ll do, I would normally introduce with a slide or two just to set the scene around what you’re talking about and maybe hitting some of the kind of trust words around you know, like, kind of assured or single source of the truth, that’s kind of a messaging strategy in the BI industry now but you know actually a standard way of accessing information and defined business rules already captured for you and a business interface to your information.

I think those kind of things help set the scene of what the solution does, and then typically I jump straight into a hands-on demo now, and depending on the stage of the sales cycle, if it’s an external organization selling you know, to a customer, or if it’s internal, how much time you’ve had to prepare you maybe have a sample dataset that doesn’t apply to the business and I guess that’s the worst-case scenario, when you’re something like, in BusinessObjects we always use e-fashion, which is a kind of retail, sales example of fashion stores and you know, you show that to a financial organization or a government organization it doesn’t really make any sense at all but that’s I guess the worst-case scenario. You can still demo and kind of get them to focus on the functionality but it loses some of the meaning.

If you’re an internal person trying to sell to a business area, then you might have a standard reference data set, set of universes and maybe some reports or dashboards for another part of the business, so at least I’ll actually be able to connect with that, because you know, they’ll be familiar with that part of the business and what they do and so you can walk them through how that other part of the business is doing, whether it’s a demo, whether it’s actually a live you know, set of BI content. Or I think the best approach would be if you can actually get a sample of their data set and prepare a customized demo and I find that’s really effective, especially when it comes to showcasing, you know, all the different parts of the BI solution or, sorry not all the parts but showcasing different parts of the solution.

I’d normally try and grab that, it’s typically an Excel spreadsheet loaded up into a database somewhere and stick a very simple universe on top for BusinessObjects and then actually do it, a couple of demos, dashboard, you know a demo ad hoc report in Explorer information space and then I’d actually do it in the order that I want to have the most impact so I’d actually probably start with Explorer and show how that works and sell that as kind of applying to any—the everyman in the business, you know any part of the business area would be able to use this tool, then step to maybe dashboards and showcase them, definitely with a mobile focus, that’s always much more, I guess that kind of captures the kind of, trend of the day but also shows them that it doesn’t matter where they are, they’ll be able to access this information and then maybe finish up with the kind of building an ad hoc report and just how that can feed into standardized management reporting and you know, that kind of reporting and probably leave it there, even though there’s a lot of other tools in the toolset that you can show, I find that those are kind of the most ones that have the most impact. These days you know we have Lumira as well, and so I’d probably almost be looking at kind of touching on Lumira along with the Explorer part of the presentation.

Dave: Ok, ok good. I wanted to ask you if you have any personal success stories or anecdotes about an organization that’s bought into BI as a whole and just sort of seen a complete turnaround, a company that’s maybe you know, wasn’t really using it much but completely swung around and has not only gotten into it but thrived and seen a lot of benefits as a result of their enthusiasm for BI?

Josh: Yeah, sure, I’ve—one comes to mind in particular, it’s always a bit of a negative of being a consultant and I’m not doing that at the moment, but I you know, was a consultant for, say, seven years and you always kind of do the initial sell and do the initial implementation, you might do a project or two, but you know, you’re often having to transfer a lot of that knowledge and let the customer you know survive on their own and so you don’t get to kind of follow through and see that in a lot of cases, which is unfortunate, you know, it’s one of the negatives of being a consultant. But this customer in particular I actually got to work with over a long period of time from the consulting side and you know had regular touchpoints with them and smaller engagements and really got to see them mature along the way.

I actually did an interview with them, they’re a company called Sealanes, who are a wholesale food retailer in western Australia, where I live, and they’re a smaller organization, and before they bought BusinessObjects, they actually weren’t doing any kind of substantial BI only just operational reporting, really. But they had a new CFO join who had experience in BI from a previous organization and he was very focused on helping them you know, improve their capability around analyzing; you know they had a whole heap of information they were capturing and they weren’t using it and he wanted to use it and to drive opportunities to increase revenue or decrease costs and so on like that, and so they’re still in a state of evolution.

But I remember having a coffee with him maybe six months ago and asking about doing this series of interviews with him and he said, you know, when we first met he had a vision of where he wanted to be, and I think it was probably about three or four years that we worked together, and he had a vision of where he wanted to be and he said you know, I’ve accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish in that time period, you know, we’ve been successful in adopting it at the rate that I wanted to and having the successes that they’ve wanted to and that was really great to hear you know, as I said in consulting, you don’t always get to see the follow-through and these were a really good example. They, what they did, as a, just to cover what they implemented, they basically had a sales system which did all their sales order and to their customers and had a bit of financials and so they actually stuck a kind of data map on top of that and going back to my previous point, this was a company that didn’t have any data warehouse, didn’t have any BI solution, and they went and acquired one off the shelf from us and it was BusinessObjects Edge, even, so it was only then he had like five concurrent users, so in terms of licensing, so it was a very small I guess license sale, but they took that and then they started, and they’ve put in a whole heap of capability around reporting on their sales information, and also their financial information.

And then from there they actually, they built more and more reports, and I think in the early days they had a really great success in that they had a whole of wholesale customers they would sell to, and then they also had a shop front that they would sell through directly to the public as well, and they actually did some analysis on it I think, cause they sell fresh fish as well, and fresh seafood, as well as canned goods and so on. And actually they did an analysis and they looked at—I think they had salmon, fresh salmon, and they had put a promotion on it and they actually monitored their promotion using the new BI tool, and actually looked at the fact that sales went up when the promotion went and actually increased and actually increased their actual revenue on salmon during that period by doing the promotion and that was a kind of proof point for them because before they wouldn’t have actually done that analysis, it would have actually been an anecdote or got fueled from one the sales managers to say let’s run this promotion cause I think that it will work, and actually weren’t tracking the actual profit that the business was making on the promotion. And that was a really interesting I guess first win for them.

But when I last spoke to them they’d actually—they’d actually decided to implement a brand new warehouse system that they built in-house, with a developer, they built a warehouse system that kind of helped them automate their warehouse and then what they were doing was actually combining their warehouse information with their sales information and looking at starting to kind of understand their, they had shift workers working all the time putting, you know taking stock off shelves, packing boxes, raise a load onto trucks and they looked at actually starting to do some regression analysis of that information to understand when their people were not productive. And they identified some really interesting gaps in kind of productivity, due to people running out of work because the work wasn’t scheduled appropriately and so in some cases they actually had too many staff on a night shift and they didn’t actually have enough work to keep them busy through the whole period. So they actually found you know, in terms of productivity, they found that they could optimize that by analyzing the information. They, the actual link to the case study, I’ll provide that to you and we can put it in the show notes maybe, so people can go and watch, there’s a series of videos with both the CFO as well as the business analyst who was driving and together they were driving a lot of this change. And yeah, that was for me, that’s probably the one standout you know, in my career that I’ve actually been able to see it end-to-end and actually from a starting point where they actually had none, no BI capability at all.

Dave: Yeah, yeah, yeah that’s great to hear, not necessarily a huge company, a small company that’s seeing the benefits across its organization, not just in one area but they’re starting to expand it and see it in different areas, that’s a great example.

Josh: Yeah, I did get to work with quite a few small organizations, and that always appealed to me because I found that they were actually, in the most part, they were the most agile ones, because you know they were starting from zero, so you’d implement very quickly and you’d focus on you know a quick win typically, so I just found them to be a lot more agile and when you start to work with these you know, larger organizations just the internal processes that they have and you know, the amount or the size of the organization meant that things moved more slowly, and so I did enjoy working with smaller companies.

Dave: Sure, ok, ok, good. Lastly I just wanted to ask you if you see anything on the horizon that will sort of help the internal selling process for BI, whether it’s a new solution, or a new business case that you think is going to help sort of sell this internally to some of the organizations that still haven’t bought into it yet?

Josh: Yeah, it’s an interesting one. I don’t, from a technical perspective, I’m still not sure about the kind of self-service on the desktop, I’m not sure that appeals to a wide enough audience for internal selling, it definitely complements the BusinessObjects solution, but I’m not sure like, kind of targeting that in particular I don’t think would help sell, it kind of you know drives people away from kind of the standard data warehouse and so on.

But one thing that does actually, I think, does change the process, probably not for BI specifically, but for organizations that are looking at you know, larger changes, is the HANA platform, and that’s probably a bit—to me, I see so much value in the opportunity to just improve the whole total cost of ownership of the solution, you know, when you see customers who you know, like the one I just talked about, they were going and acquiring an ETL tool and they’ll acquire a BI tool and then they’ll move all their data into the data warehouse and they have to spend a reasonable amount of money building this data warehouse and then they’re dependent on all the ETL loads, and if that falls over they can’t do their reporting, and so on.

And so for me the actual, bringing BI and analytic capability back onto the source system without impacting the source system performance is where I see that—I don’t think we’re at the tipping point yet, it’s not there yet, but you know, if I, cause I used to work for a consulting company that used to sell ERP as well, so SAP ERP. You know, it’s a pretty big expense, to sell an ERP solution and then to sell a BI solution and then to sell a data warehousing solution, if they wanted, you know, all of that you know in one purchase it’s actually quite a substantial licensing cost as well as the implementation cost. And I think we’re going to start to see, and I’ve heard of a couple of them already but, you’re starting to see customers who’ll just go and buy their ERP solution and buy the BI solution, you don’t need to buy a separate data warehouse solution, you don’t need to buy an ETL solution, and they also, you know ERP now comes with—ERP on HANA comes with a complete set of semantic layers, you know that’s going to cover the whole ERP solution that you can just start to build BI on top of straightaway, you don’t need to do all that investment in defining the data warehouse and the semantic layer.

So I think that’s, probably a bit broader than just BI, but I guess you know, customers are used to having to go through this expense, and go through the process of standing up all these disparate you know components to get what they need out of the end which is the analytic capability on top of their systems. And now you can, you know, we’re seeing a change in the whole platform, you know the ERP platforms around actually being able to consolidate analytics and operations into the one database. So to me that’s actually really exciting, but I don’t think the industry has caught on to that yet, you know, until we see other vendors starting to go down the same path, I think it’s going to be a slow you know, slow move.

Dave: Sure, ok, ok, good. Well, Josh Fletcher, SAP mentor and BI architect, thank you very much for joining me today, it’s been a really interesting conversation.

Josh: Yeah you’re welcome Dave, thanks for having me.                  

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