Canadian leads SAP through channel transition

SAP is not traditionally known as a channel company but it is trying to change that image through the development of its channel program and tailored solutions for the small and medium enterprise market.

That’s where Conrad Mandala, who heads up SAP’s North American channels, comes in and what landed him in this year’s Top 25 Newsmakers list.

Mandala was appointed in September as the new vice-president for SAP Business One in North America in addition to his role as vice-president of SME channels in Canada. With his most recent appointment, Mandala was given the responsibility of delivering the SAP Business One application for small businesses through managing reseller operations, developing partners and driving go-to-market strategies for the product line.

The SME market and the channel haven’t always been among the top priorities for SAP though. While the number of SAP customers in the SME space has reached approximately 35,000 globally, making up over 70 per cent of its customer base, and the number of channel partners that serve that market is over 2,300, a lot has changed in a short period of time.

Back in 2007, Mandala, a former Queen’s Golden Gael hall of famer, was in a meeting with fellow SAP executives, trying to figure out how they were going to execute their go-to-market strategy through the channel. At that time, changing its traditional direct selling business model to one that incorporated a channel was a big move, Mandala said. “It was a significant departure for us,” he said. “We had a channel strategy. We were on our way but we weren’t quite there.”

Following that strategic decision, SAP Canada Inc. launched a plan to target the SME space with its business process management (BPM) solutions in October 2007. SAP has carried that plan out through over 1,300 partners worldwide who sell Business One, for the small and mid-sized enterprise, and Business-All-In-One, for the mid-size enterprise, products.

While SAP has started to make that transition between a direct-only to a hybrid go-to-market strategy, Mandala admits that despite some bumps along the way, there is one key element that makes it work. “The number one thing that leaps out to me in a successful transition is leadership at the top,” he said. Mandala continues to be supported by SAP North America chief Bob Courteau, who is vice-president of SAP North America’s Business User division, and by SAP Canada president Mark Aboud.

With support from his leaders, some of Mandala’s key successes this year include the full implementation of SAP’s umbrella PartnerEdge program and increasing MDF funds for Canadian solution providers. Mandala said SAP just completed a review of the top 12 partners in the US who gave SAP strong feedback about the program, saying that it provided them with a stable, clear foundation for their relationship with SAP. But Mandala said his work here isn’t quite finished yet. “We’ve changed that. We’re clear about what the structure looks like and how we’re going to compensate them for their efforts,” he said. “We’ve got room to improve on PartnerEdge to make access points a little neater and cleaner for our partners.”

To that end, SAP has implemented an online partner resource module for its PartnerEdge partners to get access to tools inside SAP. The portal has tutorials, online demos, access to other partner’s work and customer references available to partners. More recently, SAP has added an online configurator to its partner Web site that allows customers to configure their systems to an SAP solution based on a series of questions.

Another big accomplishment for Mandala and his team has been the creation and publication of five territories for SAP’s direct team.

“By doing that we are able to put our channel management team in place,” he said, adding SAP has territory sales reps and channel executives who work with the channel specifically.

This year also hasn’t been easy for all businesses with the global economic downturn, but Mandala is confident that the SME market will carry SAP through these turbulent times. While he admits that SAP has seen a variable slowdown, he said companies will spend money on solutions like SAP’s BPM software because it saves them money. “It doesn’t take that much money for companies to be more profitable,” he said.

While channel building is largely a team-coordinated effort, Mandala doesn’t use his experience playing football for Queen’s as an example but when asked, he said those years as having taught him the importance of teamwork.

“When I build my team I look for a positive attitude,” he said. “I try and build a team around it.”

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