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SAP SME Summit: Millennials now influencing B2B customer experience

Small-business panelists at SAP conference say Millennial customer experience preferences driving recruitment, B2B technology.

NEW YORK -- SAP is finding its small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) champions in the Millennial generation, whether they run startups or established family companies. Nowhere was that more evident than at the SAP SME Summit held last week at SAP's Manhattan office. A Millennial-packed customer panel discussed how technology is driving their businesses, not just to succeed but to serve B2B customers with a B2C experience.

According to "Workforce 2020," an Oxford Economics study commissioned by SAP, 51% of executives believe that Millennials entering the workforce are greatly impacting business strategy. By 2020, they'll be 75% of the workforce.

Since 80% of SAP's customers are SMEs, it seems logical for SAP to align its products with them, said SAP CEO Bill McDermott, who also sat on the panel.

The Millennial generation is not just about running successful businesses but social responsibility, which is in line with SAP's vision for SME software, he added. Indeed, three of the four panelists have social responsibility at the core of their businesses: Jacob Rosenbloom, co-founder and CEO of Embrego Ligado, based in Sao Paolo, Brazil, which uses SMS messaging to connect job seekers with nearby employers; Alanna Krause, co-founder of New Zealand-based Loomio, a free collaborative decision making tool; and Meg Gill, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Golden Road Brewing, which brews beer sustainably.

All four panelists have technology as a lynchpin of their businesses, whether it's used to ensure the freshest hops possible are going into the beer or helping the company grow, as in the case of Gavin Lynch, CIO of Lynch Fluid Controls, based in Mississauga, Ontario. Lynch has expanded the company his father started 27 years ago, and it now ships to 50 countries.

Technology breeds business continuity, brews fresh beer

One of the challenges faced by Lynch Fluid Controls is an aging workforce combined with a shift in education policy in the 1990s that emphasized financial, technology and healthcare jobs rather than mechanical jobs, according to Lynch. As a manufacturing company, Lynch Fluid Controls needs skilled machinists and is fighting to attract more as its own reach retirement.

Technology is a way of making sure those jobs don't go unfilled, Lynch said. "Right now, we're looking forward to implementing SuccessFactors in the next 12 months to help with recruitment and managing of our [talent] to ensure we don't get stuck in a tight position five or 10 years from now with no one to hire," he said.

Over at Golden Road Brewing, technology is the key to ensuring fresh beer, a competitive advantage particularly as the market fills with craft brews from large and small brewers alike, according to Gill. In the second year of business, Gill chose OrchestratedBEER, a craft brewery-specific cloud ERP package based on SAP Business One and customized by Orchestra Software. While the initial implementation was met with pushback, CFO Paul Burgis, an Anheuser-Busch veteran who had worked with the SAP platform before, was able to sell its advantages to a startup staff that preferred to view brewing as an art.

"Fresh beer is a huge competitive advantage," Gill said. "If we're using SAP tools to monitor that, from where our grain comes from, where we buy it to the beer depleting on shelves, if we can track and eliminate variables, that will keep us in front of the competition."

Burgis's push worked: Golden Road Brewing now has the most SAP hashtags on Twitter of any craft brewer. "The results are in the numbers," Gill added.

Using technology for customer satisfaction

Technology is also helping the panelists take B2C experiences, such as shopping online, and translate them to their B2B customers. "I'm bringing in ideas, skills and tactics that my dad used from his generation but bringing in a Millennial flavor to upgrade and update the company," Lynch said. That means remembering there's a person at the end of the transaction, even in a B2B sale, and if the customer is treated well, the relationship will be enriched and the customer will be satisfied.

"B2C expectations are shaping how we handle B2B relationships," Lynch said, noting that the customer experience is about full visibility into transactions and offering the quality and commitment that's being asked of suppliers.

In the craft beer market, the customers aren't just sophisticated beer drinkers but also distributors and retailers. Maximizing shelf space is a challenge for Golden Road Brewery, according to Gill, and technology allows it to know, down to the exact shelf position (left of the handle, middle shelf of the cooler) what is selling.

Embrego Ligado has two sets of customers: job seekers and companies that need workers. To be able to create a resume via SMS, upload their location and receive jobs nearby makes it easier for lower- and middle-class Brazilians to find work, Rosenbloom said. "This is the first time this user has had anything built for them."

But on the flip side, supervisors are looking at these interfaces but preferring to copy and paste the information into a word processing program. Rosenbloom said this illustrates the importance of understanding user psychology when designing local interfaces for products such as SAP SuccessFactors.

Ultimately, it will be the user experience that transforms the business and keeps it running, whether it's a B2B or B2C enterprise. By leveraging technology, according to the panelists, they'll be able to deliver what their customers need.

Next Steps

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