Main content

The SAP CX review - what we learned at Sapphire Orlando, and what lies ahead

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed June 21, 2022
SAP CX didn't get the main stage time at SAP Sapphire Orlando, but behind the scenes, spirited discussions took place. Grab your summer beverage of choice, and check out what I learned from these debates - as well as my first sit-down with Ritu Bhargava, President & Chief Product Officer, CX/CRM at SAP.

SAP's Ritu Bhargava at Sapphire Now Orlando
(SAP's Ritu Bhargava at Sapphire Now Orlando)

Before I hopped on a plane for SAP Sapphire Orlando 2022, I set the stage on the SAP CX side with this preview.

So what happened? Did SAP's burning CX questions get answered?

I heard some grumbling from afar: that's because SAP didn't really emphasize CX during their main stage keynotes. So if you are a CX expert looking for answers, and you couldn't make it to Orlando, I can't blame you for assuming SAP has CX in the slow lane.

However, based on what I've seen firsthand, I would disagree. I've heard others say: "SAP has no CX narrative." I differ with that also - in fact, I've laid out what I see as SAP's CX narrative already. But here's where I do agree:  it's time for SAP to get its internal CX momentum (and mostly new leadership team) out into the public domain, where it can be fairly assessed. An internal narrative is not the same as staking your public claim.

From what I heard in Orlando, SAP's CX leadership doesn't disagree. Therefore, we can look to this fall's SAP CX Live event with high expectations. That's when we should look for the delivery of a compelling narrative, customer views a-plenty, and SAP CX roadmap details. I'll put this question into the mix: SAP CX has a number of modern components (albeit with some re-platforming still underway).

SAP CX adoption - numbers and questions

But: how can SAP CX become greater than the sum of its (mostly acquired) application parts? After all, SAP's CX customers aren't looking to plug holes with apps. They're looking to provide better customer experiences - and results. SAP's top job isn't becoming a category leader in CX. SAP's job is to convince its own customer base it can help them solve today's CX problems, from rolling out B2C marketplaces to winning the attention (and trust) of inflationary-wary, fickle consumers.

ASUG CEO Geoff Scott sent me ASUG's latest SAP CX adoption stats:

ASUG research shows that 96% of ASUG members are aware of SAP Customer Experience Suite. The majority are either currently using it (30%) or are considering using it (32%). While innovations in many areas slowed with the pandemic, innovations related to customer experience projects held steady. Nearly half of organizations are focusing innovations on customer experience projects.

At presstime, I don't have the breakdown on which parts of the SAP CX suite are most in demand by ASUG users (I'll look to get that for a future article). But we can say that: 1. interest in CX as an innovation spend area is strong, and 2. SAP customers are definitely looking hard at what SAP CX has to offer. This may surprise CX purists, but the reality is most SAP customers are loyal enough that when it comes to evaluation time, they will at least put SAP on the shortlist.

However, if you think I'm going to make readers wait until CX Live for answers, I'm not. I got enough answers from SAP in Orlando to whet your whistle, including my first 1:1 with Ritu Bhargava, President & Chief Product Officer, CX/CRM at SAP, where we discussed the replatforming status. And: during a revealing "SAP CX breakfast," we heard from a passionate SAP CX customer (Moen). We also fell headlong into a vigorous debate about the limitations of standalone CX.

The CX platform debate heats up - where is the supply chain?

Let's start with the drama, shall we? Two-thirds of the way through our SAP CX breakfast, analyst and accomplished pot-stirrer Josh Greenbaum pointed to the supply chain elephant in the room - not just this room, but any room where CX problems are supposedly being solved. Greenbaum blew off steam like an overlooked tea kettle:

Why is this room full of CX analysts and reporters? This is, to me, the fallacy of this whole process. We don't actually talk to the people at the other ends... I talk to supply chain people, and they're telling me, 'My job is to deliver to customers.' They have no idea what that journey is. They just know that's their job.

And I think, honestly, the fallacy of go-to-market in our industry is that we are perpetuating the silos that we've always had, and then trying to paper them over with, I have to say with bullsh!%t, because at the end of the day, if all you do is sell CX to the CX practitioner, all you're doing is perpetuating all the problems we've always had, which is, as you said perfectly, my biggest problems with customer satisfaction have nothing to do with what the CX practitioner directly influences. (Author's note: I did a full SAP Sapphire Orlando review podcast with Josh Greenbaum where we got into these issues further).

Jen Bailin, Chief Revenue Officer, SAP Customer Experience responded:

I couldn't agree with you more, and I will tell you, all the customers I talk to agree with you 1,000%. From the go-to-market lead perspective, I will give you a direct answer. We are bridging IT and business and CX people together. [Author's note: more on Bailin's go-to-market views in my SAP CX Sapphire preview].

Sameer Patel, Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer, SAP CX, made a revealing comment:

The market keeps talking about Customer 360. I joke about this with our team: if what the market has offered so far is 360, then SAP is 720. Why do I say that? Because, again, back to customer experience, if you just take edge CX data, because it's convenient - that's because you support only CX-ish technologies.

Yes, buying centers might purchase a point solution, but as Patel argues, our CX problems extend further:

You've not taken into account all the pieces that actually drive experience. A buying center is going to buy the front-end technology, no question. The head of service is going to say, 'I want to have a say in this.' But when customers start thinking about the consumer and their problems, it extends across the property. So that is who we are right now. End-to-end processes - yes. But it manifests in an industry story as well. [Author's note: see more on Patel's views in my January piece, It's time for CX to change - can SAP deliver on that?]

To me, this has big implications for SAP's CDP (customer data platform) plans, and for CDPs in the CX industry generally. How can you claim to solve customer experience problems with data, when some of the most important data to address those problems is not in your CDP?

SAP CX - roadmap and replatforming insights from Ritu Bhargava

You can't talk about a modern CX without some type of data strategy. Part of SAP's CX platform unification effort is via its Gigya acquisition, which has evolved into a range of SAP CX solutions, from a CDP to Identity and Access Management. But the replatforming doesn't stop there. Right now, what was once "Gigya" is a separately licensed solution, which reflects its roots as an acquired solution around B2C identity management.  But as Bhargava told me during on first 1:1, every SAP CX customer needs some of these capabilities built-in:

What needs to happen is if you buy sales or service, commerce or marketing, you get something by default. It's always there. You don't pay for it. You buy it; you get it. - and it is not something you need to set up. That's where I think the power can happen.

And the current replatforming status? Bhargava:

Two of the four offerings I talked about are in the process of replatforming. Service happened in Q2; Sales will happen in Q3. And so I had the opportunity to organically build that in.

And what about Marketing and Commerce? Marketing is the easy one to answer - "I don't think we need to get that re-platformed. Emarsys is a really good foundation. It is microservices-based; it's  modern technology."

Commerce is a longer story. SAP acquired Hybris, the basis of SAP's Commerce Cloud solution, in 2013:

But what we have organically done over a period of time is we have tried to break it up. We have tried to modernize it.

Over the years on diginomica, we got into some of the promising Hybris microservices initiatives - though they didn't ultimately transform the product. Now, says Bhargava, SAP Commerce customers are in different places. Up until recently, some customers were still on-prem. Now, very few are on-prem, but they aren't necessarily "cloud-native" either. "They're somewhere in between," she says. So the plan for SAP Commerce Cloud? Not a replatforming, but a broader modernization effort:

Let's bring those microservices pieces you know are there. You just need to bring it to more of your customer base, bring it more in the feature set. So it's not technology for the sake of technology, that doesn't help. But if you're getting features, then it gets to the next level. [Author's note: for those SAP CX watchers deeper in the weeds, Bhargava decided to "pause" the Hybris "Upscale Commerce" microservices platform for SMBs, and to "augment and leverage" that tech  more broadly.]

Integration and extensibility are two other key elements: 

We need to get that to customers to truly feel like: is it extensible, can you partner, can you hook on other technologies, can you send data to 360, stuff like that. Is it scalable? Is it performant? So all of that is happening in real-time.

My take - and a view from SAP customer Moen

SAP CX still has plenty to prove - that can't be sugarcoated. During the May breakfast, one analyst pointed out that SAP CEO Christian Klein (and CFO Luka Mucic) hadn't even mentioned SAP CX during their prior earnings call. To convince the market of SAP's commitment, those things obviously have to change.

But as I've said before, the best way to win skeptics over (including grouchy analysts), is not through marketing bombast, or CEO assurances - it's through the authentic/compelling stories of your own customers, documenting results. At the SAP CX breakfast, we heard from one of those. Gina Carlson, VP of IT at Moen, informally briefed analysts and reporters. I can't do justice to Moen's full story in this piece, but here's one standout quote:

While we were thinking about the selling process, we were also thinking about the connectivity with the service team. So their customers are calling in; they can see these interactions that are happening. So there's that connection between sales and service that honestly wasn't there before.

Then you start to think about, 'Oh, you've got these people coming in and calling in, whether they're customers, or whether they're consumers. They could be service providers as well. And why don't we have that data?' How do we leverage that to start communicating to these folks more, and then kind of fast forward into the future, and start to sell stuff?

So we thought about how it's all connected. It's not just we were going to do sales; we were going after service. That's not how we thought about it. We thought about: what could this do completely for our business to move forward? And I'm happy to say it's been amazing. From an investment standpoint, we've far exceeded our revenue goals.

In my Jen Bailin piece, I mentioned that I liked the outspoken vibe of the SAP CX team, including a more frequent use of the term "cloud-native" than I typically hear inside of SAP. For SAP CX to be successful, they need a strong collaboration with Walldorf, but also the ability to push back against it - not every good idea comes from headquarters.

I liked an anecdote Bhargava shared about meeting with her S/4HANA counterpart Jan Gilg, where she pressed the issue: "How can we work together?" Product silos are the enemy of what SAP CX is going after. Tough decisions on pausing some projects, and yes/no to replatforming - those are the kinds of calls that have to happen. From what I could see, Bhargava seems to embrace this moment, including those tough calls. In fact, the entire leadership team appears to sense this opportunity. The CX market has shifted - market favorites may not have all the advantages they did a few years ago. Will SAP seize this chance?

I'd like to see SAP take the CX conversation beyond CDPs - into supply chain connectivity, industry issues, and smack into the end-to-end processes customers are valiantly trying to modernize. And: I'd like to see what comes of their dialogue with SuccessFactors on integrating employee and customer experience. For her part, Bhargava says stay tuned. After telling me that customers want to solve problems, not buy software "solutions," she added:

If my narrative is about that connectivity, and not just about individual point solutions, then I think, directionally, that's the line I'm going towards. As we get closer to CX Live, I should be able to come out with an articulated one-liner. The themes that I'm building on: this is not a disjointed or a siloed CX, but a connected CX that brings in the truth of data - and intelligence at heart of it.

So we can call SAP CX Live 2022 a high stakes affair. Before then, I should have more SAP CX content to share - let me know which questions you'd like to see addressed.

I would like to thank the aformentioned Josh Greenbaum, along with CX "smart peeps" Brent Leary, Liz Miller, Paul Greenberg, and Thomas Wieberneit, for the spirited discussions that impact my CX thinking. I'd also like to give the SAP comms team credit for providing me the kind of access that gets readers' questions answered, knowing full well my incurable habit of injecting my own opinions.

A grey colored placeholder image