SAP and today’s business to business transaction
When companies begin to think about how they can reach their prospects, they often turn to tools such as websites, portals or much more sophisticated methodologies. Vast amounts of research have been done on what consumers respond to and don't, what consumers will do and won't, and what consumers accept and reject. Smart companies study this information, or avail themselves of experts in the field, and this tends to produce uniformly excellent results across almost the entire residential or consumer population. As much as we would all like to believe that we are startlingly unique, we tend all behave in the same way.
A much more challenging situation is when businesses try to reach and influence other businesses. Part of the problem of this is the fact that a business of almost any size has many individuals who are responsible for or are interested in the products and services that the selling company would like to provide. And in even a medium company, for example, it would be good to positively influence the executive leadership, the departmental leadership, the technical leadership, the financial leadership, and of course the champion or champions who are going to take this offering forward or leave it behind. The biggest problem has been how to provide a uniform and cost-effective interface, brand, or offering that would appeal uniquely to each of these individuals and entities. Today we can do just that.
SAP has a robust set of tools and programs to facilitate this kind of targeted yet generic marketing that is needed for the business to business cell. At the core is the availability of lots of data and SAP's big data solutions, including HANA, MCF, Fieri and Business Warehouse, allowing companies to accumulate data, federate it, format it, transform it and make it available in real-time to support almost any sort of application or analysis. However, data is not enough. At the heart of any data program is a data warehouse, such as SAP's business warehouse, or a data lake, such as one managed by HANA applications. These enormous databases carry with them all the markers, pegs and other identifying and transforming characteristics so that they can be found, used, analyzed, and stored or used in real time.
For example, if a sales, orders, customer service, finance, or analyst wants to know the status of an order, they can access it regardless of what system, device, operating system, or analytical tools they might be using because of the extensive interface and integration capabilities of SAP data components.
Another new capability which has enriched the relationships between business users and their customers is the SAP Multi Channel Foundation (MCF). MCF allows the interaction of any user with the elements of the SAP data via telephony. Because MCF is fully integrated to the database functionality in SAP, limited customization is required to add new features, functions or capabilities. This is critical for business-to-business marketers today. In these environments, as described in the book “Leading Digital" by Didier Bonet and MIT, companies can see a trend, opportunity or issue in their environment and turn around a way to deal with it immediately, often in less than a day.
What characterizes a good interface for business-to-business applications? There are six key factors: 1) Multi-functional capabilities; 2) Full access to all relevant data on a near real time basis; 3) Readily transformed into any other form of data or reporting required; 4) Is accurate and relevant to that particular transaction for that particular user; 5) Accurately interoperates with and updates every other relevant database component and system based on that transaction; and 6) Can be rapidly updated, modified, or corrected by a large number of non-programmer individuals, as opposed to being a major IT event.
Who uses systems like this today? The SAP program was originally intended to provide companies the ability to work from a common database, shared company-wide. It was initially marketed to small business owners to offer a single user a method of accounting. Any business that needs a platform in the form of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to manage their individual business unit database can take aid of SAP services. It has since evolved to replace all company spreadsheets with a single user accounting package within the business management system of the firm.
Applications are generally hosted on the SAP ERP platform. ERP is characterized as "the configurable information systems package that integrate information and information-based processes within and across functional areas in an organization". It is an integrative mechanism, associating various offices/business processes through a mutual database and compatible software modules.
SAP has been developing several versions of ERP software with various modules since the 1970’s. Today, the company has grown to become the world’s third largest independent software company, with 80% of Fortune 500 companies using SAP. SAP has gone beyond the basic deliverable of simple ERP to a more service-oriented architecture so that to provide adaptive business solutions to the enterprises. SAP has extended its portfolio with the new cloud-oriented applications, to guarantee that its customers can appreciate the virtues of SAP on cloud platforms.
What are some of the challenges in using SAP for business to business interactions?
One of the issues that business to business users face is the apparent lack of scale. When a company is trying to reach a million individual consumers, the use case seems to be more compelling than trying to reach a few thousand businesses, or maybe even a few hundred, who represent the core market of a business-to-business company. However, what needs to be taken in context is the average value of the transaction. While a consumer may buy a product as a result of interactive marketing that costs a few dollars, or even a few thousand dollars, business to business sales are often in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars per transaction, and when this is taken into account, the difference in scale is easily justified.
Another issue is the lack of homogeneity in the target audience. Thanks to advanced marketing techniques and analytics, consumer groups can be divided using demographic and other tools into large groups which are homogeneous in terms of age, spending resources, areas of interest, allowing user interfaces and applications to be designed specifically for those areas. However, a business-to-business company may in fact have a few dozen companies who use their product for one kind of application, a few dozen companies who use it for a totally different application, and yet another group of companies who use it for a third application. This can limit the reusability of certain key components of designs and tools, but again, the modern interactive capabilities for the SAP platform significantly reduce the amount of work, the cost, and the inconvenience of such levels of customization.
One of the best elements of marketing directly to businesses is the fact that with small sample sizes, programs can be done to follow up on the efficacy of the outreach and the interactive applications and transactions being done. For large consumer applications, at best a small sample size can be justified in terms of cost and time. It's important, however, in crafting these analytic tools to ensure that the questions are answered there really drive the buying behavior of the client.
Where do business users go for next steps in this business to business interaction process?
SAP and the various companies who work with them are eager to share this information with you, and there are or a host of training programs, websites, videos, and other materials which can bring you up to speed quickly on what SAP can do, and what it can't quite do yet but is likely to be doing soon. Capgemini is a global partner of SAP, and provides a wide array of services and solutions for companies that are interested in SAP for business to business applications.
Here are some of the SAP capabilities relevant for these types of applications: https://www.sap.com/product/technology-platform/hana/customer-reviews/finder.html#.