SAP marketing: Confuse and conquer

SearchSAP.com survey respondents say the company still needs to improve its reputation for leaving a wake of confusion after making splashy announcements.

SAP's reputation for splashy but unspecific announcements that leave a trail of user confusion in their wake has

persisted into the launch of xApps, according to a recent SearchSAP.com survey. A survey of 287 SearchSAP.com members found that 84% answered "no" when asked whether SAP has effectively communicated the xApps strategy.

That number represents a tiny sampling of the SAP customer base, which is more than 19,000 strong, and is not a number that can be viewed as statistically relevant. The readers were not selected for participation; they volunteered to respond to an online survey that covered a wide range of SAP topics. The survey participants identified themselves as senior project planners, developers, chief technology officers and consultants. Many agreed to be contacted and interviewed.

Their responses to the question regarding SAP's xApp announcement offers a glimpse into the difficulty SAP has had getting its message across.

For example, last year when SAP dropped the dot-com from mySAP.com, which was named during the height of the dot-com craze, the company was criticized for conjuring up images of an online SAP store -- maybe selling company hats and T-shirts?

And it was this year that Gartner Inc. research director Yvonne Genovese joked that xApps might be great, but no one could know for sure, since no one knew what they were. Genovese, who believes the new mySAP ERP is a smart option for many SAP clients faced with upgrade decisions this year, and who continually gives SAP high marks in many areas, also repeatedly states how disappointed she is with what she calls SAP's ongoing failure to communicate. Company announcements, she said, seem to be made before the sales staff is up to speed.

"SAP has always been a great product and customer service company, and has become a very good brand marketing company," said Jim Shepherd, senior vice president of the strategic research group at AMR Research. "But in the area of product marketing, they still have more work to do."

SAP customer and SearchSAP.com survey respondent Pedro Freire, who works in information management at Libson, Portugal-based Cinalda Lda., was among those who complained about SAP's xApp announcement.

Freire wrote: "I don't see any line-of-business systems that we can set the xApps into. It doesn't seem to be an ERP. It doesn't seem to be a data warehouse, nor an optimizer, nor an EAI, nor an app server. The only thing that sounds somewhat alike is J2EE component-based development/Web services, but it's not a clear resemblance."

So what about the other new addition to the family, SAP NetWeaver? Asked whether they could benefit from NetWeaver, 22% (64 people) said yes, 9% (25) said no, and 69% (198) had no idea.

"SAP is still flying at 50,000 feet, telling us how good NetWeaver is going to be," said one survey respondent, a vice president at a U.S. systems integrator company who was interviewed by telephone and asked to remain anonymous.

"They need to be clear on what parts are available today and what parts are plans and visions for tomorrow. They're describing a castle in the sky without telling us where on the road map we are right now. This creates a lot of confusion."

One thing is clear: SAP has a loyal audience, one made up of people willing to work to figure out what exactly is happening. Plenty of survey respondents said they were willing to shrug off SAP's communication challenges.

Lou Costello, an SAP business analyst at a manufacturing company in Memphis, Tenn., summed it up like this: "SAP keeps making changes without telling us. There are bugs we have to figure out ourselves, and we're basically fumbling in the dark. Still, SAP has, hands-down, the best products out there. I love SAP and continue to use its products, in spite of its murky marketing."


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