Photo Credit: SAP

If you attended the 2018 SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference, you know that C/4 exploded onto the scene during SAP’s keynotes. No, we’re not talking about literal explosives: We mean SAP C/4HANA, SAP’s latest end-to-end offering designed to help users deliver a seamlessly connected customer experience. As it introduces this new offering, SAP is making no secret about its attempt to compete with, and eventually overtake, the top players in the customer relationship management (CRM) market like Salesforce.

While much fanfare surrounded the announcement, with a healthy buzz rivaling its closest relative SAP S/4HANA, SAP was a little light on the details beyond what it described about SAP C/4HANA in its keynotes. To help understand what SAP C/4HANA means to the average SAP customer, we sat down with Moritz Zimmerman, the CTO of SAP Customer Experience, to get into some details.

Adapting to a Service-Oriented World

“There is a transition going on in many industries from products to services,” Zimmerman said. “You’re not selling products at a one-off price anymore, but actually creating a business model where you have a recurring revenue stream. Maybe its usage-based or subscription-based. That automatically puts the customer relationship at the center of it.” SAP sees CRM as an untapped market beyond its core ERP, giving the company a way to reach those who may be waiting to make a larger investment into SAP S/4HANA.

But serving customers well means pushing beyond the traditional silos between sales, marketing, service, and other functions. SAP defines SAP C/4HANA as “an integrated offering designed to modernize the sales-only focus of legacy CRM solutions. Following the completed acquisitions of market leaders Hybris, Gigya, and CallidusCloud, SAP now ties together solutions to support all front-office functions, such as consumer data protection, marketing, commerce, sales, and customer service.”

Shared Master Data That Drives Innovations

One of the more intriguing elements of the SAP C/4HANA product model is the power of shared data. Master data will align across the products within the SAP C/4HANA suite: SAP Hybris, SAP CallidusCloud, and SAP Gigya, among others.

When this entire suite sits on top of the SAP Cloud Platform, it can accelerate other SAP innovations. According to Zimmerman, “You now have the ability to provision everything as one suite. You’ll see more and more intelligence injected into the suite, leveraging our [SAP] Analytics Cloud and our SAP Leonardo assets. You can benefit from the fact that the more end-to-end data you have, the better you can do machine learning that feeds off of the quality and the richness of the data you have.”

The Customer Experience From Front to Back

The ability to connect front-office activities to back-office activities is the holy grail of end-to-end customer experience. Simply having a great user interface when ordering a product isn’t enough. The back end has to come through to make sure the order is processed in enough time to meet the demand and delivery expectations of the customer. If either end breaks down, it can ruin the entire experience for the customer, even if part of the process is functioning just fine.

SAP’s new mission is to tie those things together, though historically the company has played mostly in back-end environments. When asked what SAP wants its customers to take away from this announcement, Zimmerman said, “I think the fact that SAP actually can do very agile, very modern front-office applications, and has done so for more than half a decade. We stand for great customer experience applications, not just great ERP software.”

Will SAP C/4HANA Play Nice With Others?

Those who have already invested in SAP Hybris for their marketing/e-commerce needs and have deep investments in other solutions like Salesforce need not worry, Zimmerman said. You don’t necessarily need to invest exclusively in SAP C/4HANA to continue taking advantage of SAP Hybris or other SAP products, though you will only realize the full value of these products if you adopt the entire suite to take advantage of the master data alignment built into the new infrastructure.

Where Customer Support Fits

Another area that remains unclear in the end-to-end process is customer support. The new SAP C/4HANA strategy is built on a lead-to-cash approach, meaning that it doesn’t have a lot to say about what happens after invoicing and billing. Zimmerman reminded us that SAP’s service cloud and the customer support solutions are a part of SAP C/4HANA. Still, SAP recognizes it is not the current market leader in this space. There is still a lot of work to do to optimize a true end-to-end experience.

What to Expect From SAP’s CRM Vision

There’s no doubt, SAP has big plans to win over the CRM market. And it seems like a good strategy: Package its full suite of front-end products in one offering, while weaving in innovative technologies like machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) functionality, and then optimizing it all (including the most critical data) for the cloud. This is what it will take to compete with Salesforce.

But we’re still interested to see how hard it will be for SAP to convince customers to adopt the new SAP Sales Cloud. Remember that for some customers, this will mean giving up decades of experience and integrated data within Salesforce. We agree with SAP that the key to building trust in the suite is in how SAP handles its own customer service experience. SAP knows how to craft intriguing ideas. Now we’ll keep watching to see if it delivers on its promises.

Interested in how SAP can help you enhance your customer experience? See the agenda for the Customer Experience Innovation Forum, our newest event for retailers, consumer products companies, and wholesalers looking for ways to delight their customers.

You can also read how SAP’s CRM leadership strategy is taking shape.