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JonERP notes: I share all kinds of private briefings and custom research with the third party SAP solutions and services firms I work with. Now I'm sharing adjusted versions of some of this work with JonERP readers. I'll be adding to these resources over time, if there's anything you'd like me to add here, please contact me.
How Are SAP Decision Makers Impacted by Social Media? A JonERP Briefing Print E-mail
Over the last few years, the most common question I get from my clients is some variation on this: Is social media effective in terms of reaching SAP decision makers? Or is it just an overblown, over-hyped waste of time? And what do SAP decision makers find relevant when they are online? I have conducted quite a bit of research on this topic, which I share with my regular clients. However, I'd like to share a few of the highlights of this research with JonERP readers. If you want to discuss this in more detail or look into how it might apply to your firm specifically, get in touch.

Is there any definitive information available on SAP decision makers and their behavior online?

No, but we're getting closer. Some of the most recent research is getting us closer to real insights rather than hypotheticals. One example of ongoing research comes from SAP's Don Bulmer, who shares updates on SAP social media behavior and formal research studies in his "Everyday Influence" blog. Richard Duffy, SAP Business One Evangelist, is another example of someone who has solidified social media strategy into a much more coherent approach than we've seen in the past.

So get to the point: does social media impact SAP buying decisions?

Yes, but only to a point. Social media and online influence have a secondary role in decision making to two main factors:

1. Peer group recommendations
2. References on tech vendors from other SAP customers

These remain the dominant factors that influence enterprise buying decisions. However, we do know that some of this peer group interaction is now happening online, and even SAP's own community network now influences these first two factors and provides a resource for decision criteria to be researched. So online channels haven't displaced these first two means of influence, but online communities have provided a new channel for interacting and for assessing this information.

So why don't SAP CIOs spend more time with social media? Is the resistance cultural? Or is it a lack of perceived business value?

There is some cultural resistance, but for the most part SAP CIOs are aware of the impact of social media on their businesses (particularly in sales and customer service). Their resistance has do to with:

a. They don't have the time to invest in the learning curve for these tools (they have what they perceive as bigger fish to fry).

b. There are privacy and discretionary concerns in many cases.

c. They prefer to track these trends in secondhand, curated and filtered ways.

d. They don't like public forums where they will be solicited by many vendors and sales agents.

With the proliferation of iPads/tablets, social participation by SAP managers should continue to increase. We see some prominent examples these days (Oliver Bussmann, @sapcio on Twitter, is one influential "SAP CIO" social media advocate).

However, most decision makers are too time-strapped and too "pressed for relevance" to spend a lot of time reading raw Twitter feeds and doing informal networking online through bursts of conversation. In some cases, compliance or external communication policies hold them back from the kind of loose, "transparent" participation we see from the typical Twitter or Facebook buff.

So where do decision makers find the most value online?

The most value to date is in:

1. carefully filtered information that can help them do their jobs better (sometimes in the form of custom news briefings of impactful stories forwarded to them by colleagues); and 

2. private or facilitated peer-group forums where their privacy is protected and they cannot be sold to by purchasing agents or marketed to by salespeople.

So if it's not easy to connect to decision makers online, what about building relationships with influential hands-on practitioners (like SAP Mentors)?

This tactic can be thought of as a "bottom up" approach to influencing decisions online. Clearly the objective here is easier, as hands-on practitioners are more accessible and easier to form relationships with (though it should be noted, many of them are extremely wary of - and even hostile to - conventional marketing approaches, for example offering them a percentage of deals referred). The only way to effectively connect with such individuals is by sharing meaningful information from an authentic community mindset. It's not something that can be faked, or for that matter, purchased. That's one thing that baffles today's enterprise marketers: influence cannot be purchased.

Many firms are skeptical about connecting with such influencers because the impact is perceived as subtle and indirect and can't be immediately measured in terms of increased lead generation or sales volume. However, there is evidence emerging that a "bottom up" approach to influence is not as indirect as once thought.

So how can hands-on SAP influencers impact purchasing decisions?

When these decision makers are organizing projects, whether it is around CRM or Financials or systems upgrades or whatever the case may be, they are going to pull in the relevant information and best practices around that particular project. This means getting insights directly from the hands-on subject matter experts in these different areas. CIOs/decision makers cannot aggregate all this information themselves, so they are highly reliant on these subject matter experts/topic leaders to brief them and their teams on trends they are seeing. This is where the blogging and wikis and many other forums come into play, as the hands-on CRM expert is tracking these areas to stay on top of their field. In turn, that information is filtering directly into SAP Director-level conversations. Many of these projects are business-driven, so there is also a connection between experts the business leaders are talking to and how these projects progress. Information/opinions of hands-on influencers feeds into the decision-making loop on a daily and weekly basis.

Of all the social communities online (Twitter, SAP SCN, Facebook, SAP Toolbox, LinkedIn), we see the most decision maker level participation on LinkedIn. But even there, it seems more like a static business card. Are these folks organizing elsewhere?

Yes. You don't tend to see too much activity from these folks in open forums, including LinkedIn, which has some login protection and some private groups but is essentially open to sales agents, etc. But you do see it in more private "clouds" where agents/recruiters are prohibited and conversations are private. For example, SAP itself is part of such a group, where companies privately share their experiences managing online communities and in their social media undertakings. Susan Scrupski of ITS Insider has formed an Enterprise 2.0 Council, another private network which has had significant enrollment. If you have the ability to facilitate private high-level discussions amongst peers online, it can serve to your advantage.

We don't see much participation from CIO-level execs on Twitter, why is that? Is Twitter just an "echo chamber" of analysts and marketers or is there more going on there?

This returns us to the issue of exposure and scrutiny. Twitter is too open and too visible for most CIOs to get involved with. They also prefer filtered information rather than the raw streams of conversation you see on Twitter. Having said that, Twitter can be enormously important around certain kinds of SAP conversations, and many influencers/mentors/analysts are on Twitter. So, a lot happens on this platform, not just in terms of breaking news and analysis, but measuring customer sentiment. These are important voices for CIOs to follow, but they are often getting briefed on these conversations in other ways rather than direct involvement. This is starting to change, however, and one place to track that change is with CIO Dashboard, which studies and shares CIO involvement on Twitter and social media.

We don't see much participation at the CIO level on SAP's own community network. Every now and then, a blog appears, but not much active participation in blog comments or forums or wikis. Does the same principle apply?

Yes. Similar reasons apply to SCN also. SAP decision makers are tracking SCN, but through influencers, subscriptions, and compiled reports that pertain to their projects and concerns.

So what about RSS readers? Are SAP decision makers tracking influential blogs and analysts via RSS or via email subscription, where they can consume information at their leisure?

Yes, particularly in the case of analysts who the CIO knows personally and who blogs on topics that speak to their issues. But in many cases, especially as you get higher up the executive ranks, these folks want filtered information. This is where the nature of the filter being used becomes very important. For example, are the executives in question only interested in "happy news" or have they asked for everything, the good and the critical? Increasingly, they seem to be asking for both.

What about conferences? Do we see decision makers at trade shows?

There is some attendance at trade shows, most likely at Sapphire Now. They might also be a factor at higher-level industry shows that pertain to the executive level (non-SAP shows). For the most part, these folks send team members to relevant shows and get briefings upon return.

So what do you advise to a third-party SAP services or software firm?

Third-party vendors need to have a media relations department that focuses on developing relationships with key analysts, bloggers, and hands-on influencers like Mentors who have a public face and inside track knowledge. One thing that is very important is understanding which role each influencer and analyst plays. You need to know the strengths, market reach, and subject matter expertise of the different analysts and opinion makers in the SAP community and reach out to them accordingly. For example, some might have more sway in the SME space, some in the partner space, some in the customer base. You should understand that intimately and forge relationships based on that. If you don't understand their priorities and share information that resonates with their concerns, they won't have much time for you. Note: establishing a full-fledged SAP influencer program is beyond the scope of this briefing. Contact me directly if you are interested in how to go about this.

How is "Influence" changing?

Adding to the complexity, the definition of "Influencer" is changing significantly. Brand name firms like Gartner are still having impact, but smaller boutique firms like Altimeter Group and Constellation Research are impacting the analyst world with new models. Independent bloggers and analysts, arguably freer to share their opinions, share research openly and zero in on industry niches, are also making their presence felt. Even end customer employees can develop strong blog followings and become influential beyond their enterprise. It's important to understand how "influence" is changing and plan your engagement model accordingly. 

So what's the bottom line?
Bottom line: JonERP recommends an authentic, information/content sharing "community-based marketing strategy" that combines influencer engagement with more targeted approaches to higher level decision makers. "Bottom up" and "top town" messaging needs to be combined into an overall approach that looks at potential customers not as "marks" to target but as industry partners and potential content and project collaborators.

If you have further comments or questions about this briefing, please contact me. I spoke to more than 20 people about this content before publishing it publicly, but special thanks goes out to Mike Prosceno of SAP Blogger Relations who helped me to frame my initial thinking on this topic.


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