Customer First: A Lessons for Israel from a Multinational

Customer First: A Lessons for Israel from a Multinational

There’s a pleasant fantasy many of us have about doing business in Israel – that instead of putting all their efforts in separating you from your money and moving on to the next sucker, companies would be genuinely interested in you, figuring out ways to help you get what you need. It’s a fantasy because we know that this isn’t the way business is conducted; from the smallest grocery store to the top of the corporate chain, merchants, manufacturers and service providers make you feel like they’re doing you a favor by taking your money in exchange for what they’re offering.

Why can’t “they” figure out that we won’t do business with them if they treat us like dirt – or worse, cash cows? Don’t they realize that, ironically, the more they don’t try to “sell” us something we don’t believe we need – and instead help us figure out what we need – the more likely we are to buy from them, not just once, but over and over? With competition cutthroat in the market right now, only the strong will survive – and “strong” in this case means knowing how to care for your customer.

So, given the tough economic climate right now, SAP Israel can consider itself lucky that it has a manager of the caliber of Gilad Gans. Gans, Managing Director of SAP Israel, is responsible for the overall marketing, sales and distribution of SAP products in Israel. Gans oversees the strategic planning and implementation of sales and field activities, professional services and product development, as well as leading investment opportunities in the region. And, he is a chief reason for SAP’s strong showing in an otherwise so-so economy. How strong? “Israel is the second largest market in the world for rampups of SAP’s CRM 2007, after Germany,” Gans says, a significant sales accomplishment that bespeaks a winning strategy – something not lost on SAP executives from countries around the world, who pile into SAP Israel’s Ra’anana office to learn how the local branch has come up with one of the most winning sales strategies of any of the company’s branches anywhere.

SAP, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is the multinational software and information management company, originally based in Germany, that provides a wide range of solutions to customers seeking to make their businesses more efficient, or compete more effectively in the marketplace. Some of SAP’s products include database management, customer relationship management (CRM) software and systems, enterprise resource planning systems, financial planning, and much more. The case of SAP Israel is interesting because it highlights Israel’s unique position and creativity in the world of hi-tech and business – even in the context of what would seem to be a staid, conservative multinational corporation.

When one thinks of a company like SAP, the financial centers of New York, London, or Tokyo come to mind – and while Tel Aviv is certainly advanced enough, none but a handful of Israeli companies would seem to need the services of such a giant.

But one would be wrong to think thus, says Gans. “In Israel, we have about 3,000 customers, 2,500 of which are classified as small businesses with fewer than 50 employees – and many with as few as one employee!” It turns out, says Gans, that his philosophy of working with individual customers to find solutions, not just to sell licenses, has proven a big hit. “Israel is a unique market, because many people have worked in development and engineering. Every Israeli is an ‘engineer,’ having worked at – or established – their own startup at one time or another. Israelis are a very technological people, and in that sense it’s easier to sell solutions here than in many other places,” Gans says.

But what has really made the difference for SAP Israel is Gans’ philosophy of treating even small customers like big ones – by “partnering” with customers to help them find the ideal solution. “Previously, SAP sold licenses for products like other software companies, but now we work with customers as partners, to ensure they are getting what they need to succeed. Personally, I’m more interested in providing a customer with a solution than selling a license – and with the worldwide experience and resources of SAP, I know that we have a solution that will help them accomplish their goals.”

In essence, Gans’ approach is the way high-end sales and marketing staff work with their top customers – except here, it’s SAP’s strategy for working with even small customers. “We are way ahead in sales of other countries with similar sized markets.” In fact, Gans adds, SAP Israel is at the top of the list of company sales organizations selling to small businesses. His next target is the mid-sized business – with between 50 and 2000 employees – which have until now been serviced by local companies. “I think I can prove to them that they are better off with SAP than with their local vendors,” Gans says.

As a result, SAP executives from around the world troop to Israel to get ideas on how to improve their own sales efforts, as well. In fact, Gans says he even gets calls from SAP offices in the Arab world. “We have been working at a steady pace converting SAP products for use in Hebrew systems, and offices in Arab countries often call seeking help on how to make certain features work properly from right to left, like in Hebrew,” he says.

Although Gans expects a somewhat tougher time selling in the near-term, due to the worldwide economic slowdown, he’s not particularly worried. “One thing customers seek during tough times is greater efficiency – saving money wherever possible – and that’s exactly what SAP can do for them,” he says. “In fact, the current situation is an opportunity for us and for our customers. We’re here for the long term, and we want to help them plan for the long term as well. The downturn won’t last forever, and we want to help them – and ourselves – to be here when things clear up.” It’s not about selling licenses – it’s about helping customers find solutions, Gans says. But that, as it turns out, is what prompts them to buy – specifically from SAP.

It’s a lesson I wish the supermarket, the post office, the bank, and all the other places I have to do business with would learn.

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