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Diversity in SAP Marketing: Driving Business, Having Fun Amid Uncertainties

Feature Article | January 26, 2018 by Friederike Kohl

Erdem Aksakal leads SAP Marketing in the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) region, covering three market units with 17 countries that span from Egypt to Pakistan. The region is economically, politically, culturally, and socially diverse, with political and social challenges and many possibilities.

“I really believe in SAP’s growth in the MENA region,” says Erdem. “The region’s three market units have different stories: people have diverse backgrounds and skills, customer behavior and — accordingly — marketing tactics vary. It’s challenging and exciting at the same time.”

“Everybody knows about the tensions and political complexities in the region,” Erdem says. “We cannot make longterm plans as the situation may change daily. For example, travel to some other countries in the region may sometimes be complicated or marketing tools among the geography need to differ from country to country — different tactics in event management, different stories in content, different digital strategies.”

These circumstances require Erdem and his team to stay flexible and adapt quickly to changes in the external market conditions: “I call it ‘ad-hoc planning’; most of the time we need to be quick in terms of decision-making or responding to customers. We always try – and manage – to find smart ways to overcome these challenges, to turn them into a colorful variety and drive business in the region.”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach in a region with a huge range in market maturity among countries with higher GDP per capita and some others with different economic challenges and realities. “Marketing execution needs to differ from country to country,” explains Erdem. “Of course, our messages are the same at the core, but the way we tell the stories varies.”

His passion lies particularly in entering new markets where SAP has no offices or even business so far: “Some of the new markets are exciting as SAP has a limited number of customers but a huge potential. We try to position SAP with new, creative marketing tactics, mostly digital and easy to replicate.”

At the same time, Erdem’s team must meet the requirements of customers in a mature, digitally transformative markets with high-tech affinity: “In huge markets like Saudi Arabia or UAE, SAP closes big transformational deals. Here, we’re a crucial partner in government projects like Expo 2020 and for digital transformation, IoT and smart cities and business. SAP has delightful stories in each market domain. We are at the forefront of innovation.”

When taking these aspects into account, it stands to reason that an adventurous, dedicated, and aspiring professional like Erdem wouldn’t hesitate to take on a leading role in this exiting environment. After seven years as marketing director for Turkey, he felt prepared for this: “Although the MENA region does not have so much in common with Turkey, this country represents the bridge between the eastern and western world, so I acquired skills and understanding that have really helped me in Dubai.”

Erdem also considers Dubai an attractive city to live for himself and his family: “I recently read in an article that there are people from 200 countries living here. I think it’s the capital of diversity. In my son’s school class, there is not one person sharing the same nationality with a second person.”

And it’s the same with Erdem’s Marketing team: Among the 19 team members, there are 12 different nationalities and almost the same number of native languages. “When we gather as a team, I try to foster a mutual understanding, learning, and intercultural sensitivity with little games and activities.”

Among his marketing colleagues regionally and globally, Erdem has the ongoing mission to create awareness for the special mechanisms of the MENA markets. As many unplanned external circumstances unfold, deal closing and marketing KPIs are often not linear: “So I need to calm my regional colleagues and assure them that MENA will hit the targets,” says Erdem with a smile. “This goes kind of hand-in-hand with the way we need — and love — to work. Uncontrolled issues are part of our daily business. So my team and I are driving business and are really having fun in the middle of uncertainties.”

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