Getting in on the Ground Floor

American Express Tax and Business Services, Inc. (AETBS), a wholly owned subsidiary of American Express, provides a one-stop IT service, including software, hardware and support. With more than 50 locations in the US, AETBS maintains a dedicated focus on the SMB market, combining a strong accounting and finance background with industry knowledge of the wholesale distribution markets.
The company became an SAP Business One partner in March 2002 and is also building a national network of qualified channel partners. Key elements in its strategy to increase its coverage of the SMB market include an increase in geographic coverage through the American Express Alliance Partner program, its combined focus on the financial and wholesale distribution vertical markets, and an increase in trained sales staff and implementers. The industry approach may later be extended to include other vertical markets.
According to Charles Riess, the company’s managing director of consulting and information solutions, AETBS was interested in tier-one software companies looking to enter the American SMB market – preferably a known and respected software brand. When SAP introduced the SAP Business One suite in the US, the SAP partnership seemed a great opportunity.

Building co-branded vertical solutions

Although AETBS partners with other software vendors too, SAP and its technology enabled the company to build co-branded vertical-market solutions. “SAP gave us the opportunity to be involved in the development of the solution from the start,” Riess recalls, “which was an important element for us, given our specialization in financials and accounting. In addition, we are given the opportunity to build a channel strategy for the solution, which enables us to extend our market position.”
AETBS’s SAP Business One solution is specifically designed for wholesale distributors, which has improved the company’s competitive position. In addition, SAP has introduced AETBS to numerous client opportunities, including SAP’s corporate clients.
Riess sees SAP Business One as the perfect solution for the SMB market, since it is “easy to implement, easy to use, and easy to support. It is affordable, and we are able to show our clients a rapid return on investment. Yet the product maintains its power, offers great functionality, and can grow as and when the client needs it to.”
The opportunity for AETBS to build its own expertise in wholesale distribution into SAP Business One has been a major motivation for the company to work with SAP. The solution enables AETBS to optimize the product with pre-integrated capabilities, such as wireless warehouse management, electronic data interchange (EDI), sales and use tax, credit card authorization, and document management.
AETBS’s first SAP Business One implementation took place at NextiraOne Federal, a systems integrator to the United States Federal Government. It was one of the first SAP Business One implementations in the US. AETBS easily adapted and customized the solution for the client, says Riess.

Building a channel network

Becoming an SAP Business One partner at an early stage also enabled the firm to build a national network of qualified channel partners who will receive account management support, plus assistance in marketing, sales, implementation, and technical support. Alliance Partners will be offered tiered programs that enable them to participate at a level that best matches their core competencies.
One disadvantage of being an early adopter involved delays in the product launch and the systems development kit. AETBS also had to fight the misconception that SAP is only for large accounts and that the product is big, expensive and complex. Riess envisions a joint role for SAP and its SAP Business One partners in changing this market perception.
He explains that AETBS’s goal is to be the “most respected consultancy brand” serving the SMB market, by relying on Amex’s reputation and heritage, partnering with global leaders for their brand recognition and delivering what it promises. The company plans conservative growth followed by a doubling of clients in the next two years. SAP Business One will play a crucial role in reaching this goal.

Employee motivation

“Our employees have been motivated from day one,” notes Riess. “Our developers get the opportunity to work with SAP developers, and our marketing team gets the opportunity to work with SAP’s marketing team. The training provided by SAP is excellent – our people became self-sufficient early in the process and were able to implement the solution quickly and easily due to the quality of the product and the training provided.” The employees are also motivated through quotas and incentives.
SAP has a professional market approach and a good understanding of the requirements of the SMB market, he adds. The two companies have a close working relationship with a constant flow of information that helps them function as one organization. “Both companies share the same set of values – to provide clients with top-quality services,” he says.
AETBS has set up its own aggressive marketing plan promoting the SAP-American Express solution, and has also sent employees to SAPPHIRE. AETBS has been on an eight-city tour with SAP to roll out SAP Business One, and SAP has developed “excellent” joint marketing initiatives as well as joint sales opportunities and lead generation, says Riess in conclusion.

Derek Davis
Derek Davis