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mySAP Career Interview Classics

Starting in 2000, Jon created the online content for This was a time of great transition in the SAP market - the beginnings of the applications that are now called the SAP Business Suite, the emergence of the EAI market that is now heading in the web services/eSOA direction.

For, Jon conducted a series of in-depth, landmark interviews with senior-level consultants across the SAP product line. Now, on, we're pleased to present the best of this content, which is available only on Jon will be adding updated introductions to all the articles in this section to frame them further in today's market. Enjoy!
Jon Reed Interviews Chris Benson, SAP Internet Sales CRM Consultant Print E-mail
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An Historical View of the SAP-CRM Consultant:
Jon Reed Looks Back on His Interview with SAP-CRM Consultant Chris Benson

An In-Depth Interview with Chris Benson, SAP Internet Sales CRM Consultant
Part One

September 9, 2001

Ask any SAP hiring manager who's been around for a while, and they'll tell you a story about a naive young college graduate who was placed on their SAP project by a large consulting firm and presented (and billed) as an "SAP expert." As the story goes, these cocky young college grads were supposed to be the first ones on the chopping block when the SAP market tightened up.

Chris Benson, SAP Internet Sales/CRM consultant, seems to fit the stereotype of the young college grad who lucked into SAP and got in over his head, and yet he is nothing like that. Chris's story is really about a consultant who has taken an active role in his own career path and has worked hard to put together the "total package" of skills that the best consultants have. True, he did have the good fortune of hooking up with Price Waterhouse when the SAP market was hot, but he also has the good sense to acknowledge his good fortune.

Chris' eventual move into SAP-CRM also involves some lucky circumstances, but he would not have broken in without his commitment to continued training and skills development. And there are many consultants who started in SAP much sooner than Chris who have yet to venture out on their own as an independent. Chris is also the first person I've ever interviewed about their SAP career who went out of his way to thank the team leads that played a role in his own technical education. Clearly, success in SAP consulting is a combination of ingredients that you don't just pick up by working for a Big Five firm, and Chris Benson's career is proof of that.

When we caught up with Chris, he had just rolled off his third SAP-CRM project. Chris' expertise is in configuring the Internet Sales module - a niche that suits him given his SD-Pricing background. We took the opportunity to ask Chris everything we thought readers would want to know about SAP-CRM. During the interview, Chris tells us about how he broke into CRM for the first time, and about the roles he has had on CRM projects. We ask him a number of questions about the SAP-CRM consulting market, and Chris shares his advice for SAP professionals who are trying to transition into SAP-CRM consulting. Chris also tells us about his experience as an independent consultant, and how his current experiences fit into his long term career plans.

SAP-CRM is still in its infancy, and Chris' perspective is just one look at a product that is going to impact many SAP careers. But his comments are a great starting point in our effort to get a better understanding of what SAP-CRM is all about and to learn how consultants are finding these kinds of opportunities.

In part one of the interview, Chris tells us about how he found out about SAP-CRM and how he was able to capitalize on his R/3 skills and break into SAP-CRM.

Jon Reed: Chris, tell us how you got onto your first SAP-CRM project.

Chris Benson: My first SAP-CRM project was at Osram Sylvania. The project itself was initiated back in February of 2000. Essentially, after having a powwow with some of the higher-ups over at SAP, Osram Sylvania decided they wanted to be on the leading edge of SAP technology and go with the SAP-CRM system. I think there have been some interviews with Osram's CIO, Mehrdad Laghaeian. about the project - he's been in some publications here and there to elaborate on what Osram decided to do. But essentially they decided to put in the SAP-CRM system and focus on the Internet Sales component.

Internet Sales is one of the four components out there. There's also Mobile Sales and Service, Marketing Planning and Campaign Management, and the CRM Contact Center. That's the latest information I could get out of SAP anyway. There's a lot of marketing hoopla to sort through when it comes to SAP-CRM, so by the time your readers see this interview the product information might have changed a little. :)

At any rate, Osram decided to do the Internet Sales portion and try to jump into the B2B marketplace arena - that was their main focus. They talked with some of their main B2B customers who expressed some interest in the project, so Osram said, "Let's go with this." Then SAP came in to form the project team, so in addition to the Osram employees on the project, there was a team of SAP folks, a team folks from TSC, and also some independent consultants.

I happened to be contracting on the Osram SAP project at the time. I was doing some enhancement and support work from their last go-live. So I lucked into getting involved with SAP-CRM, since I had done some relevant work on the Internet side of things at Compaq here in Houston. I was on the Compaq team that enabled online ordering. So as soon as Osram ran into manpower issues, I just told them, "You know, I've done some of this in the past, so if I can help out let me know," and they said "sure."

Reed: Let's just make sure we get the details right, since our readers will be very interested to see how you broke into SAP-CRM. You were already contracting on the Osram project when this whole thing happened?

Benson: Yes. Actually, unbeknownst to me, Osram had already chosen SAP-CRM. At the time, I was already on the SAP project - I had been there since April of 2000. I had been recruited to do some SD functional work along with a little bit of ABAP support. But sure enough, when I got down there, I found out that they were looking at the CRM module. Before I took the contract at Osram, I had interviewed for and turned down a full time position with a company called Intellicorp, which was doing a lot of IPC development work, so I knew that SAP-CRM would be a great area to get into. But it just so happened that the luck of the dice was there, and Osram went ahead and started doing CRM.

Reed: When Osram pulled the trigger on the CRM project, did they approach you and say, "Get involved in this," or did you really have to get in their faces about getting involved?

Benson: They were running into manpower issues, and I made an offer. I think they only had a handful of Osram Sylvania full-time employees on it, maybe 2 or 3 or 4 at the most, and they ran into some turnover issues with some of the employees leaving the project. One of the guys that I was pretty good friends with was assigned to the product catalog portion of the project, on the Internet Sales side of things, and he started running into trouble. So I asked him if there was anything I could do to help out. He said yes, and told me that he would get formal approval from management to get me assigned to the project. He did that, and it worked out well.

I ended up spending 50 or 60% of my time on that side of the fence helping him out. Eventually, as a team we pulled together all of the products that they wanted to pull up online, and did the configuration within CRM. We also had another couple of ABAP developers that worked with us to build some of these interfaces. That's how I got involved.

Reed: That's pretty impressive that you were able to pull off moving into SAP-CRM while you were working as a contractor. Many times, that's what contractors have the hardest time doing. They want to get into something new, but they have a particular niche they contract in. They find that it's hard to break out of their niche when the client is paying them specifically to do that one thing. But you pulled it off.

Benson: Yes, it worked out pretty well. I was definitely happy with the way things worked out. It happened to be a "right place, right time" kind of thing.  

Reed: At the time, were you intentionally trying to break into SAP-CRM, or were you just looking for something new and exciting to do on the project.

Benson: Well, I first learned about SAP-CRM more than a year earlier. When I was at Compaq, some of the other folks on the project were talking about it. One of the guys on the project actually worked for Intellicorp. We were pretty good friends, and one day he said "You know, if you get bored -" I told him, "I don't really know what I want to do next." And he said, "You should get into CRM." My first response was: "What are you talking about? What the heck is that about?" I thought Siebel ran the show in CRM.

Essentially, this guy said, "SAP is making a CRM offering that's going to be one of the top products out there, and you should come and work with us on that endeavor and help us out on the pricing side of things." It was a tough decision for me to tell him "No" and instead take the Osram project. But later, when I heard that Osram was planning on doing an SAP-CRM project, I said to myself, "Man, I've got to get in on this thing."

Reed: So when you initially took your position at Osram, did you have any idea that they would be moving into SAP-CRM?

Benson: To tell you the truth, I hadn't even heard anything about it. I had no clue that Osram was actually going to use SAP-CRM. I was talking to Intellicorp about SAP-CRM long before I even knew anything about what Osram was doing.

Reed: So you walked away from an SAP-CRM opportunity with Intellicorp, only to later get another chance at Osram?

Benson: Yes, that's pretty much what it comes down to.

Reed: Chris, you really lucked out on that one! You must realize that the odds of getting another shot at SAP-CRM weren't very good at that point in time. Did you turn Intellicorp down because they were pitching a permanent position to you and you wanted a contract?

Benson: Yes, they wanted me to go perm, and they wanted me to relocate out to San Jose. But my wife and I just got married, and we weren't looking to relocate. Overall, Intellicorp looked like a really good company. It just happened to be perm versus contract.

Reed: And the contract dollars beckoned. It's interesting, because a lot of people get faced with exactly that choice: "I could maybe go perm and get this new exposure, or I could go contract and do something that's a little less cutting edge." Which is sort of what you did. You opted for the contract, but then you pulled an end-around by actually getting CRM exposure while on contract at Osram. So you got the best of both worlds, and went against the grain of the advice we give people so often. We tell folks to chase the skills, not the money, but your story is making us look bad. :) You took a chance but it seemed to work out for you.

Benson: Yes, it worked out pretty well. I know that Osram would have liked to house the new knowledge in-house by staffing only with perm employees, but I think they were just under deadlines and pressure. They're a great company to work with, and they weren't overly hesitant to put a contractor in that role.

Reed: So once you completed that project at Osram - and we'll talk more about what was going on at Osram later - at that point, did you think to yourself, "I'm going to go out and get another SAP-CRM gig"? Were you now thinking of yourself as an SAP-CRM contractor?

Benson: Yes, that's what I tried to do. Osram was slowing down, and although the project was in the Boston area, my wife and I are from Houston, so we wanted to see what else was out there. And after cruising around some of the job boards and talking with some headhunters, folks like you at mySAPCareers, I figured, heck, rather than just going back to the R/3 mainstream and doing standard SD or ABAP, it'd be pretty cool to be able to stay in the CRM realm. I also knew that Osram, according to SAP, was just about the first company in North America to actually go live with SAP-CRM Internet Sales. So I knew that there wasn't exactly an abundance of SAP-CRM talent out there. The next project I found happened to be ExxonMobil down here in Houston.

Reed: In your hometown? Your hot streak continues -

Benson: Yeah, that worked out pretty well. Initially it was going to be a long term project, but then some corporate politics got into play there. There were a couple of consulting companies vying for the control of the project, and the consulting company I was with pretty much got shut out. So I did some design work at ExxonMobil, and did some analysis with some of the product catalog, and was out of there pretty quickly.

But as soon as that was over, I got another SAP-CRM project through Accenture at Millennium Chemicals outside of Baltimore. They were also doing CRM Internet Sales, and they must have been the first chemical company to actually embark on the adventure of installing that component. They ran into some gaps and some issues between what the product actually did and what they were looking for, so they needed some people to come on board and fill those gaps in functionality, using their CRM knowledge and custom ABAP development experience.

Reed: And so Millennium is where you are now?

Benson: I finished up the project last week.

Reed: So now it's time to find a new CRM project?

Benson: Exactly. I know CRM version 3.0 is coming out soon, and I've been talking with Brian Trout at mySAPCareers about the upcoming functionality and the kinds of project opportunities that might be out there. So I'm in the process of trying to line something up.


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