Software used to ship on CDs and came with static how-to manuals. As someone whose led over 50 RFP exercises, the documentation piece was always one that led to some tenuous conversations on how much the vendor was willing to hand hold, once the check was signed.
Fast forward to the 21st century where we’re looking to create more fluid organizations. Cloud computing based solutions means no CDs, less lag time and minimal disruption between updates. But what about the how-to insight that comes with it? If the software is going to change on a dime, the associated know-how needs to keep that same pace. That’s where vibrant customer communities come into play. Communities where you can have live discussions with peers in your industry, and with solution experts who have answers to the broadest or most deepest topics on how to make software work. In turn, the hosting vendor gets to build ongoing relationships with customers and guide them to success, show a commitment to support not just on a paper contract but in action. And yes to find up-sell or cross-sell opportunities for them and their partners. If done in an authentic way, good for both sides.
In the software industry you can’t really have a discussion about communities without referencing the SAP Community Network. No other vendor has had the ability to manage a community at this scale, (2+ million strong) and as seen at TechEd last week and every other SAP conference, the needed offline/online balance to keep it vibrant. The community is not just a rudderless forum. It;s topical, it has reputation standards for participants and lead gen and commerce abilities.
SAP has had a lot of false starts and lost the compass a number of times over the last few years. In my opinion, had they not had this community (and its influencer engagement efforts led my Mike Prosceno) to have authentic discussions with customer and partner stakeholders, they would have bled customers at a faster clip. In good times, the customer got a helping hand. In bad times, an authentic forum such as this bought them a lot of patience as they worked to get the train back on the rails.
At the Enterprise 2.o conference in Boston this summer, Jon Reed, (a mentor him self and one of the most well known and respected faces in the SAP Community Network) and I sat down to talk about the value of collaboration – be those with customers, employees or partners. At minute 14 of this video, I asked Jon what value he got out of the SAP community. He characterizes the value by saying “I can’t imagine not having this community”.
And last week at SAP TechEd, Jon sat down with Mark Yolton, SVP at SAP, who provides an in-depth perspective on what the community has achieved and why its the much needed bling that goes along with the software sale.
There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Be nice to people on your way up. They’ll help you when you’re on your way down.”
There’s obviously value to get from communities in good times as well, as Mark lays out for SAP. I’ve written about it a lot, here and my pal Rachel Happe works tirelessly with community managers every day to get this right. But if the day to day benefits described in Mark’s interview doesn’t give you the ‘aha moment’ right away, consider what it can do for you when times get tough.
Kudos to the SAP leadership for continual investment in this program.