My Journey as a Marketer Driving A New Product Category

sap hana

Last Updated on April 8, 2019

SAPPHIRE 2011 was a pivotal event for SAP — it marked the general availability of SAP HANA, a game changing in memory data platform for real-time business. While the hype cycle “zigged” in favor of big data, SAP HANA zagged for fast insights on any data — we were on the verge of creating a new category.

In the next 3 years, SAP HANA would create the in-memory platform category and lead it, redefine several markets (databases, data warehouses, analytics, applications, cloud, appliances) and reshape the technology ecosystem. It out-hustled to be one of the fastest enterprise software growth stories (before growth hacking was cool!) to a billion dollars in net new revenue (by contrast it took Salesforce 9 years to grow to the same number). Such exponential growth in marketshare and mindshare is rare and I was so glad to be on the team to drive it.

In hindsight, it looks amazing, but back in 2010, when I joined the early team as VP of Marketing for SAP HANA, the path to exponential growth was not obvious or even visible. We had a very small team and budget, nobody thought SAP could build a database business (MaxDB anyone?) and competitors (IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and Teradata) ruled the market and new innovators (Cloudera, Hortonworks, MapR and MongoDB) left little room for any new player to disrupt the space from below.

Product innovation was a prerequisite, and SAP development and product teams pioneered a whole new approach. However, subsequent success and rapid growth came with exponential marketing with an network of aligned companies. Consider this:

  • A large IHV played a key role in defining the technology for large main memory chips and then had the foresight to double down on the bet with one most consequential joint marketing initiatives in enterprise software with shared campaigns with real-time visibility to various markets and industries across all regions. The circle of trust fostered by Kathy Barboza, Steve Asche and team along with management support from leaders like Kirk Skaugen and Diane Bryant led the way.
  • All major hardware vendors — Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP (first with large scale up systems made who SAP landscapes fit in one system), IBM/Lenovo (who can forget the bragging rights from a 100 petabyte main memory system) joined to to provide certified appliances and joint marketing initiatives to take them to market at exponential speed to shared customers. At SAPPHIRE 2011, they forgot their rivalry, and stood next to each other in Appliance Test Drives with real business use cases.
  • While HANA was known for high end prices for the value delivered, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and SAP worked together to HANA One offering for test and development at 99 cents / hour. The joint marketing towards startups and migration of new enterprise workloads to the cloud had begun. In the next 2 years, there would be over 2000 customers on AWS alone for SAP HANA, many from small companies and startups. Many hosting partners from Virtustream to T-Systems to Savvis (now CenturyLink) stepped up to build the market around managed cloud services for SAP HANA making the product available to customers.
  • Not only Large SIs from Deloitte (Harald Reiter, now at Apple leading the SAP technology practice there) to Accenture (Liladhar Bagad’s forward innovation team) joined in, but smaller ones like Bluefin (John Appleby) jumped in building competency around the product with real customers, use cases and Forums (John’s FAQ on SAP HANA was most widely read and frequently updated!) and even a LinkedIn HANA community (Hari Guleria from PridVel Consulting). SAP mentors group became a great place to share ideas but also hold SAP accountable.
  • ISVs and startups on SAP HANA became a very effective marketing initiative to bring net new use cases to market. The Startup Focus program grew to thousands of startups learning and putting their solutions on another 40 year old startup (SAP!). The joint marketing machine required to win mindshare here was simply outstanding.

As I reflected on the growth story, our role as marketers was to create new joint go to marketing initiatives and platforms where every opportunity to work together was taken to its full potential, beyond the hype of the announcement itself.

There were three key learnings:

  1. Discovery in a Open Innovation Network — To deliver exponential growth had to re-think the role of marketing as an enabler of an open network of equals — where people can span boundaries and share growth ideas, provide market access, share funds and above devote their personal passions. The shared learning and scaling growth hacks is very powerful shared experience.
  2. Focus on the Top 20% of motivated partners — Traditional partner / channel wisdom was treat partners transactionally at scale. Our learning was to engage with top 20% of the motivated partners, irrespective of size, with early access to raw ideas that jointly matured into successful marketing or sales initiatives. In market transitions, like data, cloud, AI and machine learning, early markets are developed via strategic go to market initiatives. Channel initiatives, microwave ready campaigns, partner portal strategies are dead — nobody likes talking to the hand. You have to engage collaborate and coordinate to develop in new markets. Agree on joint goals, give and get visibility to jointly out execute others.
  3. Flip the time allocation — Marketing teams spend 80% of their time coordinating and 20% of their time on creative work. What if we could flip it? For instance SAP HANA Academy saw its role to educate SAP partners at scale as a free marketing service delivered via Youtube videos, and SCN provided fantastic communities online, the traveling demo bus done together with a large IHV visited top accounts requesting this service anywhere from marketing, automated test drives with AWS created strong leads, numerous meet-ups, roadshows, forums, lunch and learns were organized as a service. If you are coordinated at scale, the marketing chaos created by 24/7 marketing channels actually reduces and end customers hear a clear and unified voice with right message and proof points. To execute at this scale, you need to get your marketing agencies on the same page and aligned — we had a strong machinery to execute anything from an Wall Street Journal full page ad, to a new event, to a customer success video or a case study within a few days at scale anywhere in the world.

Just as SAP HANA did for the nascent data market, I see this networked way of working across strategic partners as the ONLY WAY to win with emerging technologies — from Industrial Internet to IOT, from Converged Systems to Cloud, from Security to Autonomous driving, companies that have a multiplier effect in their GTM will win more often.

In 2015, I left SAP to start WorkSpan, together with Mayank Bawa and Milind Joshi, to make a network for marketing — where you can work with your colleagues, go to market partners and agencies together on marketing projects and campaigns.

In 2016, we brought the network to market with SAP as foundational customer — subsequently 56 others have joined this network to find and offer funds, propose and discover marketing ideas and execute at scale.

In 2017, we are opening the gates!

Amit Sinha
Amit has a passion for all facets of marketing, user experience, and technology. Prior to WorkSpan, Amit spent over a decade at SAP, where he held various marketing leadership roles. As SVP of Marketing for SAP HANA Platform and Applications, he was responsible for bringing the technology to market. He has an MBA from Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and B.Tech from IIT Bombay.

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