PHOTOS: Shobiz Experiential Communication Pvt. Ltd.
As the most prosperous business software firm on the planet, SAP SE, headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, has had a very comfortable seat at the top of the industry food chain for nearly 40 years. Partnered with the likes of Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., the firm is widely touted as a premier software provider for the globe's largest corporations, and its impressive resume has opened doors in 130 countries around the world.
Being the biggest player on the field certainly has its benefits when it comes to attracting new business, but at SAP India Pvt. Ltd., a division opened to serve all of India, leaders found that it had some serious drawbacks as well. To wit, the company had been trying to court small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) clustered in smaller cities around India, knowing that they were growing at an exponential rate and thus presented the next great frontier in business expansion. But many SMBs would have no part of it. Their leaders couldn't even be coaxed to leave the office to attend SAP India familiarization events in regional ballrooms. They'd already dismissed SAP as too huge and its products too complex, imagining their comparatively diminutive software needs to be but a gnat on a giant's shoulder.
In fact, SAP India had numerous scalable products that would serve small businesses well. But to shift the perception that SAP's monolithic stature had created, officials knew they were going to have to change their approach to reaching the masses. From that realization, a marketing plan was born – one nearly as innovative as the company's software products themselves.
Embracing the mantra "Experiencing is Believing," the members of the marketing team agreed that hands-on demonstration was the most effective way to introduce products like software applications. But rather than unfurl an SAP India banner over another ballroom entrance and expect business executives to flock there, leaders took a decidedly more humble approach. If business leaders would not come to SAP India, it would go to them – right up to their doorsteps, in fact. The team turned a large bus into an interactive demo station designed to show all of the company's software capabilities, and then it plotted a course that would cover 3,100 miles in 43 days, passing through 12 cities where prospective SMBs were located.
SAP India engaged Shobiz Experiential Communication Pvt. Ltd., a marketing and events company based in India, to help it design an integrated marketing campaign that Corporate Event Awards judges called impressive for its intricacy and completeness. Equally notable was the aggressive timeline, with planning initiated in June 2014 and the road show, dubbed the Innovation Express, set to start in September.
The layers of details that had to be sorted for such an excursion were mind numbing. The bus would pass through five states, each with different regulations and taxation laws, and SAP India had few inroads with businesses outside of India's major metropolitan areas. "It looked really, really difficult when we started," says Rajesh Kumar, head of marketing for SAP India. "But we mapped out the logistics and the processes, and had a completely smooth and flawless experience."
Officials at SAP India looked to the company's own database to begin identifying companies they felt were good prospects for new or expanded business. Some were clients or past clients; some had expressed interest in the company's offerings at one point or another. All of them were located in clusters with other SMBs that SAP India didn't yet know but wanted to meet.
Marketers sent each prospective company a package that included a toy-sized model of a motorcoach wrapped with the same brilliant graphics that would cover the Innovation Express. Emblazoned across the side of the bus was the slogan, "Run like never before," and accompanying literature lured recipients with the entreaty "Imagine where your ambition could take you."
The team turned a bus into an interactive demo station designed to show off SAP India Pvt. Ltd.'s software capabilities, and then it plotted a course that would cover 3,100 miles in 43 days.
Hitching a Ride
The mailing was attention-grabbing, but the marketing team wanted to build even deeper ties to the regions the Innovation Express would visit. To create those inroads, it reached out to various business associations with the intent of leveraging those relationships to connect to member organizations. "We realized that association heads are key local influencers," says Jude Rodriguez, manager of corporate communications for Shobiz, "and that having them host our visit would provide a lot of credibility to our effort."
SAP India asked associations serving cities along the route to help it send an eblast to members inviting them to the Innovation Express. In return, SAP India invited organization leaders to participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the bus the day it arrived, as well as panel discussions about technology challenges that were to be held at a banquet during the visit.
To further woo association heads, SAP India commissioned a local artist in each city to create a painting that reflected the Innovation Express and the community it was visiting. Finished paintings were to be presented to leaders during the visit. Offering the groups an opportunity for the spotlight in front of current and prospective members made it a win-win arrangement for all those involved, Rodriguez says, and five regional organizations representing various industries came on board.
Creating a Convoy
The marketing team ambitiously set a goal of collecting enough qualified leads to cultivate $2.3 million in potential revenue as a result of the campaign. Generating foot traffic at each road show stop was the key to eventually getting companies into the revenue pipeline, Rodriguez says, so SAP India took a two-pronged approach to accomplish that.
The Innovation Express traversed India, visiting small- and medium-sized businesses in 12 cities.
First, it invited companies who received the promotional mailing with the bus model to schedule a time for the Innovation Express to come directly to their organizations' parking lots. That curbside service removed virtually every barrier a worker had to learning about SAP's products.
It also created a series of email blasts that were sent to companies on the SAP India mailing list as well as the lists shared by associations. In addition to appointments at specific businesses, the Innovation Express would have stops along the route that were open to prospective clients that had not yet signed up for a company meeting, and marketers used the email blasts plus a telemarketing campaign to stir interest in the visit.
The second plan of attack was a broad one that intended to put SAP India on the map in the regions it would visit. The company appealed to the masses via billboards, radio and in-flight magazine ads, outreach to the press, and banner ads that touted the Innovation Express' groundbreaking journey. By blanketing an entire community with its message, SAP India hoped to make itself appear more approachable and to dispel the myth that it was too big and expensive for small- and medium-sized businesses, Rodriguez says.
At each stop, a crew welcomed people onto the bus, where a row of stools along each wall could seat at least a dozen people.
But marketing to 12 different cities in India was not as simple as it sounded. Sprawling across 29 states and more than a million square miles, India is a melting pot of different cultures, languages, and religions. This diversity created a unique challenge for SAP India, which opted to translate all signage and collateral for the regional vernacular at each stop on the road show. It could have invested far less effort and created one message in Hindi, India's official language, but using local dialects, Kumar says, further demonstrated SAP India's respect for and interest in the businesses located in that region.
All of the campaign's collateral drove the audience to a microsite populated with detailed information about the road show and SAP India, and the company's social-media channels became message boards for the Innovation Express expedition. In addition, the company posted YouTube videos that featured information about the Innovation Express and testimonials from SAP India customers.
By the time the bus pulled away from the curb in September to start the journey, no communications stone had been unturned, and Corporate Event Awards judges marveled at how thoroughly knitted together the resulting campaign was. "I love how truly integrated this program is," one judge said. "It was so smart and really well done."
Rolling in the Dough
SAP India Pvt. Ltd.'s Innovation Express paid off, helping the firm connect with prospects and raking in impressive sales figures. As a result of the multicity event campaign, SAP netted $2.3 million in sales from new small- and medium-sized businesses.
At each stop, a crew welcomed people onto the bus, where a row of stools along each wall could seat at least a dozen people at a time. Stations with laptop computers and monitors were outfitted with interactive demonstrations tailored for various jobs functions. Scheduled in 30-minute blocks throughout a tour stop, these job-specific presentations made the experience relative for everyone from human-resources directors to CEOs.
Knowing that word of mouth is a powerful force in the Indian business culture, the marketing team parlayed the earliest visits to the Innovation Express into promotional material distributed through all of its digital channels in real time. New video testimonials – 70 in all from people who had just received a demo – filled SAP India's website and social-media feeds with enthusiastic praise from enlightened visitors, ratcheting up the excitement level in the cities down the road on the journey. Also, people were asked to shoot selfies while at the bus and tag Innovation Express on social media, creating an exponentially growing air of excitement around the campaign.
After 43 days, the road show had amassed 1,408 visitors, a number that would have taken six months to attain using the company's former approach, Rodriguez says. And because SAP India made it nearly effortless for a company's workers to attend by parking the bus at their workplaces, the average number of quality employees – those with decision-making abilities – who came for a presentation was four times higher than when SAP was holding its events in ballrooms. In all, 328 SMBs engaged with the multicity campaign, and 36 invited the Innovation Express to come directly to their door.
In all, 328 small- and medium-sized businesses engaged with the campaign, and 36 invited the Innovation Express to their door.
Thanks in part to the 70 new testimonial videos as well as a dedicated effort from the marketing team to keep its audience updated on the road trip's adventures, social media was on fire about the Innovation Express. The company engaged 41,000 people on Twitter and received 27,000 "likes" on Facebook. It also scored 35,000 views on YouTube and got 278 media mentions via articles and news clips, bringing the overall reach of the campaign to an estimated 4.5 million people.
More importantly, SAP India executives could see a direct correlation between the road show and a proliferate increase in prospective business coming into the company's revenue pipeline. In fact, the number of qualified leads during and after the promotion increased by 180 percent over the campaigns that ran before the Innovation Express hit the road, and the company surpassed its $2.3 million sales goal by 35 percent.
So successful was the venture that a second road show was planned for 2015, this one visiting 15 cities on a 3,400-mile route and using exactly the same strategy. Officials expect another stellar return because the company has embodied the maxim "Don't come to us; we'll come to you," and is saying it in a language its prospects understand. E