With SAP's Sapphire 2022 events set to kick off on May 11 in Orlando, the burning questions are lining up. One of the biggest is: where does SAP CX go from here?
I've had backchannel debates about the surprising departure of SAP CX lead Bob Stutz last year. But wherever you stand on that, one thing can't be argued: the work wasn't finished.
SAP CX has a (mostly) new leadership team, though there are some familiar faces in key roles as well (Hear from one of those, Sameer Patel, in my January 2022 piece, It's time for CX to change - can SAP deliver on that?). In January, I raised this question: "At this late date, can SAP have a substantive impact on the CX market?"
SAP would, of course, say yes - but why? SAP believes the fundamentals of the CX market are changing. You can start with global supply chain disruptions:
- Put highly-connected, omni-savvy consumers and problematic supply chains in a global mashup. Who has sorted that?
- The so-called "customer experience" will remain elusive until employees feel like they matter - no matter how automated the world around their jobs becomes.
Do these converging issues create vulnerabilities for the CRM vendor stalwarts - and new market openings for SAP? If so, how will SAP execute on them? Even if SAP's strategy appears sound, it must be backed up by product - and customer roadmaps. For those answers, we'll have to wait until Sapphire Orlando, where I plan to speak with several members of the SAP CX leadership team, including Ritu Bhargava, Chief Product Officer for SAP Customer Experience.
Prior to Sapphire, I was able to tee up my burning questions, via a big picture convo with Jen Bailin, Chief Revenue Officer, SAP Customer Experience. How does Bailin see SAP's CX opportunity? As she told me, CX is changing fast:
There's an $8 billion total addressable market right now in conversational commerce. So not just first-mile conversations, but conversational commerce. If you look at what has traditionally been commerce, what's traditionally been service, the way we think about customer experience needs to evolve probably four times a year, not once a year - four times a year.
SAP CX priorities for 2022 - Bailin's take
I asked Bailin: what would constitute a successful 2022 for her and her team? Bailin says it starts with attracting "bar-raising talent."
Over the last 60 days, we've had a ton of interest from folks that traditionally haven't seen SAP as the groundbreaking noteworthy place in customer experience. Now they see it as a growth area. If I'm able to continue to attract that talent, across service, across data, across every line of business that I have, that that will be incredible - because then we deliver value back to our shareholders and back to our clients.
As Bailin sees it, talented people not afraid to speak their minds are a corporate asset:
If I get somebody that comes here and says, 'Why are we doing things that way; how come we're not talking more about our brand-new version of service cloud, it's cloud-native, it's better than the competition, because we're able to pull out all of the data from the back-end ERP systems with limited integration, because it's native integration, and drive that data to the point where someone is servicing a client?'
Bailin says this SAP CX leadership team is firmly committed to "cloud-native by design."
We're here to do some things that have never been done before. So the second thing I would say is making sure our customers are aware of what we have, and where we're going. Because we're talking about sustainability and CX, we're talking about lighting up the service market in a groundbreaking way that has never been done before.
Scenarios in the CX metaverse - viable or futuristic?
It won't surprise readers to know that I'm down on the metaverse. Or, more accurately, I'm down on the vendor hype around the metaverse, versus the reality of today's enterprise use cases. For CX scenarios, Bailin provided specifics:
When I think about the metaverse and how things align, while we're all nervous, it's already happening. This whole generation, if you look at gaming, right now, they can use their tokens, or Mom's money, to buy shoes that they want to put on their characters - and try them on.
That can translate into real world shopping:
You look at some of the luxury brands we work with in Europe... I think it's fascinating how they found that for a luxury purse manufacturer, the average virtual consumer kept the purse on five hours longer than they normally do in a store, to try it on with different outfits. So while you and I are thinking, 'Gosh, is this here to stay?' It's already here. It's just a matter of what brands jump in, to see how they stay.
It's easy to see how retail and consumer goods could get a virtual boost. But Bailin sees this extending to areas like financial services:
To extend your house example, you could tour a house online; you could probably have someone meet you in the metaverse to walk you through signing, your financial documents, your mortgage documents. You could meet your service people in the metaverse from anywhere in the globe.
It won't be the feeling that it is today, where it feels like you have to wait for a notary to show up at your house to buy a house. Everything will move to more of that virtual environment - and so we're trying to think a lot more about that. The good news is we have all the access to back-end data, to not just help at the customer level, but to see how consumers are using data. So we have that data pool of information to help visualize and pioneer here in the future.
The metaverse is a tough one because it all depends on how you define it. I can see why SAP would want to invest in metaverse scenarios, inside and outside of CX. But I question whether we need to use the word "metaverse" at all, and further hype that train. Almost none of what Bailin described here requires special equipment (e.g. VR goggles). Turning cumbersome paper processes into online and virtual? Absolutely makes enterprise sense - but is that really the metaverse that Meta and Accenture have been pitching so vigorously?
About a year into the pandemic, I had to replace my car. I was hopeful my car dealer would make it easy for me to do most of that online. Instead, I was stuck at the dealer for three hours - not where I wanted to be. Virtual medical visits were great at times, but now there is a regulatory clamp down on how those work. If the pandemic didn't push these obvious virtual candidates into overdive, what will? The point is: I see slow, evolutionary change at work in these scenarios - not an enterprise metaverse revolution. But that's a debate for another time.
Onto a different buzzword: I won't lie, I find it extremely refreshing to hear anyone from SAP talk about "cloud-native." Not that cloud-native is appropriate for all SAP software, but for years now, the SAP CX team has struck me as the most naturally-savvy about modern SaaS of any team inside of SAP (along with SuccessFactors of course). Mercifully, I heard no mentions of HANA, which in my opinion is more of an architectural hindrance to SAP than a help, outside of ERP of course. Whether SAP CX can continue to chart a strong course in cloud-native in the wake of Stutz's departure remains to be seen, but I like what I'm hearing to this point.
As for my insistence that SAP CX has an opportunity to gel with SuccessFactors and connect employee experience to CX, it appears Bailin has been reading my missives, and I wasn't just howling into the wind there. She told me she is talking regularly with her SuccessFactors counterpart. I am really interested to see what they come up with.
SAP now has a good collection of SAP CX software assets. SAP doesn't need a completely seamless CX suite. But it does need a unified data platform, and a fluid UX across processes. How these CX assets work in a unified, omni-savvy way is a talking point for Sapphire, where I hope we will hear more on integration and roadmaps. But change doesn't necessarily have to wait for unified roadmaps. I liked hearing Bailin's stories about the leadership council she formed early on at SAP:
I've noticed that many of the decisions on strategy are being made with the same corporate people - that's how businesses operate, that isn't just us. So I very quickly said, 'Let me create a Leadership Council across all levels in my organization, to see who has ideas, and there'll be a quarterly cohort. So now I have a representative from that cohort, joining leadership meetings, joint customer meetings, joining strategy meetings and forecast meetings, and we're having some of our best results. It's funny how inclusivity of all genders, of all people, of all tenure, of all industry backgrounds, changes the world.
SAP CX can certainly stand on that - along with SuccessFactors, they have a strong lineup of female executive leaders. Bailin told me of a manufacturing customer example where someone from the cohort spoke up - and influenced the customer offering, shifting it from a pure e-commerce play, to a broader push into personalization, and an integrated service aspect. SAP CX is articulating a vision that makes sense - but now it's time to hear what's what on the ground. Let's see what next week holds.