SAP Is Successful When Partners Are Successful

For 16 years, Finn Backer has led the small and midsize enterprise (SME) team within the Global Partner Organization at SAP. Focusing on what partners need and what is considered business critical to them, he and his team provide a best-in-class enablement experience for SME partners.

Helping and supporting partners to build sustainable businesses around SAP solutions is his mission. With his global team of SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign experts, Backer acts as an enabler and trusted advisor for partners.

Q: Can you tell us about yourself, your hobbies, and your passions?

A: I was born and raised in Norway, and currently live in the Netherlands. I enjoy experiencing the world by traveling, working in an international environment, and following the world news.

I feel fortunate to have lived and worked in five countries: Norway, the U.S., the Netherlands, England, and Germany. Every country is beautiful and unique, providing new perspective and appreciation.

I am married with three children; my two boys study at university and my daughter is in high school. Of course, in these times, they are learning at home via Zoom. The positive aspects of these unprecedented times are that my wife and I get to see the kids more, spend a lot of time together, and enjoy family dinners. My wife, who works for a leading health technology company here in the Netherlands, sometimes meets me at the coffee machine, where we have our own “coffee corner chats.”

Our family is completed with our dog Odin, who usually lies at my feet in the office. When I go and grab a coffee during a conference call and come back, the dog is usually sitting on my chair, staring at the moving pictures on the screen.

When I’m not working, I enjoy getting fresh air and resetting my mind by biking through the trails in the forest. I make people laugh when I speak about “mountain biking” in the flat countryside of the Netherlands. I also try to go the gym a few times a week to stay in shape.

What does an SME Partner Enablement leader do?

I manage a global organization of about 80 SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign experts located in more than 40 countries. We train partners on how to sell, implement, and support SAP solutions. We also help SAP account executives and partners in presales with strategic deals, and we deal with customer escalations if they occur. For SAP Business One, we are also heavily involved in ensuring the solution is localized, current, and maintained.

As manager of the team, my main role is to align with global stakeholders on our objectives, cascade these to the organization, and support everybody in the team to meet their specific objectives and assignments.

I am also involved directly with our partners. My task is to create transparency and give guidance to partners on SAP strategies and solutions, supporting them to make the right decisions for their companies. If partners make good decisions, they will be successful. And when partners are successful, SAP is successful.

How did your career start?

I graduated from Arizona State University (USA) in 1992 with a Master of Business Administration degree and a Master of Science degree in business statistics. I started my career at a company called Exact Software in the Netherlands, as a technical support employee. I assisted customers on the phone, answering their questions and solving problems related to their Exact ERP solution. Later I ran an international “flying doctors” team, a group of fantastic product experts taking care of the worst customer escalations worldwide.

I joined SAP in 2004 to help build a small and midsize enterprise business. SAP had just purchased a company called TopManage and renamed its solution to SAP Business One. At that time, SAP Business One had about 3,000 customers. SAP was looking for someone to build up a team, to support and enable an indirect channel to resell SAP Business One internationally.

Sixteen years later, we now have over 65,000 customers. For me, it has been an amazing journey so far, having worked with many great people within an incredible company. I also enjoy working with SAP Business One partners, of whom many also started 16 years ago and have since then built great businesses for themselves.

Two years ago, I also assumed the responsibility for all SAP Business ByDesign partner enablement teams within SAP. We’ve drawn lessons from SAP Business One and are applying these best practices with SAP Business ByDesign as we get more involved with our SAP Business ByDesign partner community.

Looking back at your career at SAP, what has been your biggest achievement? 

My biggest achievement is definitely the SAP Business One Innovation Summit. We organized the first event in Bratislava in 2014 to teach partners how to develop on top of the SAP Business One application that works with and is powered by SAP HANA, which we were launching to the market at that point in time.

We did not have any professional event management. I remember having many worries: Will enough people register to cover the costs? Will partners like it? Will the pitch for SAP HANA work in SME? Will the presentations be good enough? There were logistical concerns, too, regarding lunch and having enough chairs.

The event turned out to be a big success, and we realized the power and importance of bringing people with the same passion together. The energy at the event was amazing; seeing the smiles on the faces of all the participants when they left the summit was very rewarding. We decided to make it an annual event, and over the years we added more tracks to cover additional roles from partners, such as implementation, sales, CEOs, and others.

How did COVID-19 affect you, your team, and your work over the past months?

For the last 10 years I have mainly worked from home, except when traveling, which was about 25 percent of my time. So at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not a big deal for me. The only exception was that I had to dress up a little bit more; in the past 10 years, I hardly used my webcam, but now everybody has started to use webcams more frequently.

Today, nine months later, I have to say that the days have become very monotone – almost like the film Groundhog Day, where a TV weatherman covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Pennsylvania becomes trapped in a time loop, forcing him to relive the same day repeatedly.

Staying at home all the time is not my preferred choice. It is interesting how, these days, a one-hour trip away from home and staying in a hotel overnight feels like a big trip. Hence, getting out of the house in the evening for an hour of activity became super important for me.

As for the team, I am grateful for and amazed at how well people adjusted and how hard everybody is working to continue to stay “on top of their game.” In this virtual-only world, finding ways to stay connected on a more personal basis is important. Personally, I try to speak more frequently with my direct reports. I have also increased the number of “skip-level” calls, skipping the managers and speaking directly with their employees, which I enjoy a lot. In general, I think it is a good idea to set up calls now and then with colleagues you normally do not speak with, just to “feel the pulse,” get new impulses, and feel their energy.

My team and I also help partners understand how to convince customers and prospects to implement the software remotely. There are a lot of adjustments for everybody. But partners, customers, and prospects are adapting.

Looking ahead, what do you think is important for partners to be successful?

First, take good care of customers. More than ever “recurring revenue” is key. And happy customers ensure this. I believe that partners with many (happy) customers are able to survive COVID-19 better than others. I think SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign partners in general understand this dynamic and they all do a good job, as the renewal rates for both solutions are very high.

Secondly, many partners have unique knowledge in a specific industry or micro industry, and I recommend capturing this knowledge as intellectual property and software services. With the current web-based development tools and platforms like SAP Cloud Platform, it is much simpler than before, even for more resell-oriented partners.

Finally, I think it is important for partners to embrace the Intelligent Enterprise opportunity. I am very encouraged to see partners extending solutions with innovative functionalities and add-ons, with new technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), positioning themselves as a “technology partner” instead of the “ERP guys” and consequently winning prospects because of their understanding of the new world. Customers need more than just ERP software, and we can own this. Don’t just be the ERP guys!