Straton IT-Consulting, founded in Limburg an der Lahn, Germany in July 1998, provides software engineering and hardware solutions and a comprehensive IT consultancy service, including support and IT management, from a single source. In the SMB software field, the IT service provider exclusively deploys SAP solutions. Since the end of 2002, the company has been a certified SAP Sales and Service Partner for SAP Business One and, since January 2004, has also been a certified SAP Solution Partner, and certainly no stranger to success. In 2003, for instance, Straton IT-Consulting had the highest sales of any independent SAP Business Partner in the SAP Business One sector. The success of the partnership is clearly reflected in the numerous prizes and awards that SAP has awarded the Limburg IT company to date.
Strong demand identified
In addition to this, the SAP Solution Partner has also developed an extension to SAP Business One in the form of its variant generator. The solution was developed using the SDK (Software Development Kit), matches the “look and feel” of the SAP SMB solution, and is fully integrated and ready for release. This seamless interface eliminates the headaches and unnecessary costs that many small and midsize businesses face when forced to cobble together and manage disparate applications when trying to manage their business as a single entity. The solution comes in two versions – one for the manufacturing industry with variant-based production, trading companies with items varying in size and color, and machine and plant construction – but also as a solution tailored specifically to the textile industry.
The specific requirements of the textile industry can now be met by the add-on solution developed by Straton IT-Consulting. Ulrich Heep, Spokesman for the Executive Board, explained the problem of managing articles in the textile trade by means of an example. “A T-shirt is supplied in five different sizes and five different colors, and maybe also in a V-neck version.” As the number of possible variations multiplies, the number of articles that need to be stored in the merchandise management system becomes unmanageably high. However, if a company uses the variant generator, a “master” article is generated in the “Article management” menu of SAP Business One the moment an order is entered. This “master” article is made up of the article in question (e.g. a T-shirt) and the corresponding “size” and “color”. This ensures a clear overview of the available stock at all times. Companies can also use the system to call up the inventory level for any given configuration (size and color) at any time. “This enables companies to manage all their stock using the master article already classified as such in the article management system,” Heep explains.
Ulrich Heep identifies an “extremely strong demand” for the solution at the present time. In his opinion, this interest has two main sources. “Firstly, the solution meets the needs of our target groups clearly and precisely,” he says, “and additional demand is being generated by means of supplementary information about the solution, such as press releases, articles and word of mouth.” The most important multipliers in this area are SAP and other SAP Business Partners.
Targeted marketing for the solution
Further, the SAP Business Partner pursues active and targeted marketing of the solution on different levels. Appropriate documentation, for example, was dispatched to the German SAP Business Partners. “We are currently building up a worldwide network of key partners in order to market the solution effectively at an international level,” Heep explains. Starting in January 2005, Straton IT-Consulting therefore wants to launch a sales offensive involving SAP Business Partners outside Germany. The aim of this is to exploit such partners’ presence on the ground and benefit from their knowledge of the local markets.
According to Heep, information days and events organized by SAP for Business Partners are another good sales platform. “Because of our status as an SAP Solution Partner, SAP recommends our solution to others if they make inquiries in this direction. Conversely, this form of partnership with SAP provides other partners with security in terms of the quality of our solution. And this of course is an additional benefit to us,” Heep remarks happily.
At the present time, inquiries about the solution come mainly from other SAP Business Partners, but the Limburg firm also has end users in its sights. For this reason, a current mailing campaign by Straton IT-Consulting specifically targets SMBs in the textile sector. This highlights the efficiency of SAP Business One in conjunction with the variant generator and includes a list of existing customers.
Communicating via multiple channels
Successful campaigns are usually characterized by the fact that they communicate with each lead via their preferred contact channel. As such, Straton IT-Consulting explains that inquiries from Germany mainly come via telephone, while the bulk of inquiries from abroad arrive via e-mail. Some foreign SAP Business Partners contact SAP directly, who in turn pass on the contact details to the Solution Partner. In order to process incoming inquiries as quickly and effectively as possible, the Limburg company employs a multi-level approach. First, it sends leads presentation documents and product descriptions of the SAP Business One solution via e-mail. The SAP Business Partners can also access a demo version of the solution via a password-protected area of the Straton IT-Consulting website. This can be downloaded in German, English, or Dutch as required.
After a further mailing, Straton IT-Consulting follows up by phone. This personal approach provides a vehicle for clarifying any open questions the potential buyer may have, such as how the solution could be presented to a potential customer by an SAP Business Partner. “In such discussions, we are often asked if a Straton IT-Consulting employee could demonstrate the solution at the planned presentation. We are happy to do so, as far as we can,” Heep assures.
Regulating rights and obligations
A comprehensive and clearly defined communications and marketing strategy also includes contractual agreements with other SAP Business Partners which regulate the rights and obligations on each side. Important components of this are lead management and the timeframe during which a contractual partner must make contact with a potential buyer. All contacts that Straton IT-Consulting passes on to others are recorded beforehand and, a week later, a reminder is issued to check on the status with the contractual partner. “We conduct special sales forecasts about twice a year,” Heep reports. “These also include all leads that are being processed by business partners. Conversely, the contracts also regulate the timeframe within which Straton IT-Consulting must respond to queries from partners overseas.”
According to Ulrich Heep, the actual form of the contracts is comparatively straightforward within the area of the EU, “although the contracts do normally stretch to several pages,” he continues. The situation is more complex in non-EU countries. “Before we put the seal of approval on a sales partnership, a lawyer needs to go through the contract with a fine tooth comb,” Heep explains.
Network of giving and taking
“However,” Heep goes on, “even the best contract is no use if partnerships or business relationships are not based on mutual give-and-take which is born of personal commitment.” This is clearly illustrated by Straton IT-Consulting’s willingness to customize the variant generator to meet the specific requirements of a partner in the US. “To do so, we flew one of our own employees to the States to perform the installation there,” Heep explains.
On the whole, Heep is at present “very satisfied” with the marketing of the solution. “And now things are really taking off at the international level,” he says. The Limburg company is even processing an inquiry from South Africa at the present time. An SAP Business Partner based there requested information on the variant generator. Shortly afterwards, the company proposed a cooperation due to the large number of textile companies in the region. Heep is not surprised by the international inquiries, “since they are the result of a considered SAP partner strategy, an efficient partner network and our own marketing skill. Everyone involved benefits, and this in the first instance means the customers.”