Not long ago, Alison Biggan saw a post on Twitter marking the tenth anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis and the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The tweet pointed out how, as digital as the world already was at that time, Snapchat, the iPad, and Instagram still hadn’t emerged. Instead of marveling at all the innovation that’s come out since then, however, the chief product marketing officer at SAP had a different takeaway.
“As cool as all those things are, they all create data,” she told B2B News Network during SAP’s recent TechEd event in Las Vegas. “If you think about your applications today, the key to having these technologies predict outcomes is about whether you have access to the data. If you can turn around and look at SAP, we’re giving access to application data, which is doing to help determine how you’re going to want to manage your workforce.”
Biggan says making such connections between market trends and the needs of customers is a big part of her role. While TechEd and much of SAP’s other messaging is focused on the concept of creating an “intelligent enterprise,” she acknowledges that there are nuances to the way it happens in practice.
“A year and a half ago we were all talking about digital transformation. I think that was starting with two things: the huge market trends going on and then some nascent technologies,” she said. “Now the technologies are much more accepted and considered. Machine learning, predictive intelligence — everyone understands that these technologies can help them do their job, but they’re not necessarily sure where to apply them.”
Biggan and her team try to offer answers by pointing to the departmental use cases powered by its more recent technology investments, such as SuccessFactors for human resources teams and Concur, which handles everything from expense management to booking travel and invoicing. An HR exec looking at SuccessFactors may not simply be interested in tools to assist with managing employees and a contingent workforce, for example, but the expense management for those employees and ways to streamline procurement processes so they can get onboarded more quickly.
“Suddenly you might be looking at three or four or five different applications to deliver,” she pointed out. “If I’m a customer, I need to understand how to make sure those applications are taking advantage of intelligent technologies like machine learning, AI and analytics so that I can do things that predict churn or predict when expenses are going to be an issue.”
The art of successful product marketing in such scenarios means thinking differently than someone like Biggan might have done in the past, especially when the message is coming from a large vendor like SAP.
“We need to talk less about the features and functions of the technology to those audiences,” she said. If you are a chief marketing officer or chief revenue officer, of course you want predictability in your forecast. The tech is core to that, but you do not want people to come and say ‘My predictive tool is better than their predictive tool.’”
On the other hand, Biggan said she and her team have a better chance to connect with line of business professionals within the enterprise in addition to the traditional CIO who might have come to the firm for an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system years ago.
“The reality is, even then we absolutely had finance, HR and other tools, but they were IT centric and centrally managed by the organization in the way that it was pushed out,” said Biggan, who joined SAP following its acquisition of Business Objects. “I think that now we have an opportunity to say, ‘This might not be what you are used to from SAP.’ I think that that we’re pretty far down the path of that. The majority of our customers expect to hear more from SAP than an IT solution.”