SAP Now 2020: Customer event in times of crisis

The large company SAP almost had to cancel its annual Swiss customer event - due to the Corona crisis. But then those responsible decided to completely digitalise the event. A successful experiment that was able to accompany.

Imagine the following scenery: The Congress Center Basel, which normally holds several thousand visitors; maybe four or five dozen SAP and building services employees; professional camera crews and photographers. That's it. No, we're not talking about the dress rehearsal of the two-day SAP NowThe event itself, in times of Corona, has been reduced or transformed to the maximum.

"Everything changed over within a week"

In mid-March, around 3000 people would actually have wanted to answer the digital company's call to Basel, everything was organized and set well in advance. But when it became increasingly clear at the beginning of the month that infections with the new corona virus were on the rise in Switzerland, when the Federal Council initially banned events with more than 1,000 people and the first companies sent their employees to the home office - SAP was also faced with a difficult decision.

"At first we thought we'd have to cancel everything," recalls Stephanie Freise, responsible for communications at SAP Switzerland. "But then we very quickly decided to let the event take place online." The internal task force had just one week to ensure the right infrastructure, inform the invited guests and speakers and, of course, change the communication.

From the stage directly into the net

From the large CCB stage the SAP Now played directly into the net - moderated by Tobias Müller, who is responsible at SRF for the programme "Einstein" is responsible for. "For me"Müller said between two introductions, "it's actually not that unusual. We never have an audience in the TV studio." However, the new format was unusual for some of the speakers: One of the keynote speakers, for example, remarked afterwards that he had missed the audience's laughter - and a bit of the applause at the end of his performance. It helped that at least the moderator and some colleagues were physically present to listen to him.

Figures speak for themselves

According to the stream numbers, the SAP Now 2020 a success: every day, around 1,000 people wanted to see the presentations given at the event - and that's just the people who tuned in live. All the video material from the event, which focused on the topic of customer experience, is now permanently online and can continue to generate attention for many months to come. The highlight film from SAP gives a foretaste - further videos will be shared in the coming weeks via the daily newsletter of, among others.

The future of customer events?

It's fair to ask whether the future of customer events could look like what was practiced - out of necessity - at SAP Now 2020: Speakers and stakeholders on one stage, somewhere in a studio; the audience around the world in attendance. And everything captured for eternity in sound and video. Stephanie Freise again, Head of Communications at SAP Switzerland: "Of course, the networking aspect is missing. But a hybrid model certainly has a future."


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"My heart sank a little, too"

SAP Switzerland's Marketing Director Dirk Scherble and his team had to digitize SAP Now 2020 within a week. The pressure was on - because the company is aggressively raising its profile in the area of customer experience management. That means customer events are needed more urgently than ever. So how did the experienced marketeer experience the situation?


MK: Dirk Scherble - as Marketing Director of SAP Switzerland, you had to spontaneously change your biggest customer event completely. A nightmare for a marketeer?

Dirk Scherble: I've been asked that quite often in the last few days. We have built up the event format over many years. Today, SAP Now in Basel is SAP's most important event in Switzerland. Numerous partners are also involved, and they all put a lot of heart and soul into it. We now have more than nine months of preparation behind us. That's why such a forced reorientation is naturally bitter at the beginning. But for me it was clear from the moment the Swiss Federal Council decided against staging major events: We have to look for an alternative. Our High Performance Team here in Switzerland and our regional colleagues decided to act. And we immediately went into clarifying the extent to which SAP Now could be carried out digitally.


That was new territory for you, even as a digital company, right?

Yes, and that's why - and this is perhaps a somewhat atypical answer - my heart sank a little. We've been talking about digitalization and disruption for a long time now, and it often takes an external influence to get things rolling. Of course, you could have done without the virus in the best possible way, you would have wanted to do without it. But now it's here and we had to react quickly. We did that, communicated properly and were even copied by other companies in our crisis communication. That was exciting to see.


If professionals are in a similar situation to you before your event, what were the biggest challenges and learnings from the week you digitized your event?

I have to answer this question in more ways than one. When you organize such a big event, you have a core team that organizes everything anyway - the responsibilities are clearly distributed a priori. But you have to make sure that you don't just have sunshine managers waiting for instructions, but people who really take the initiative and get involved on their own. When it comes to the technological and infrastructural challenges, we have also benefited greatly from our international orientation. In South Africa or Russia, we already organize digital conferences in ordinary cases because the distances are much greater and you can't invite all the local people. You can cross Switzerland in three hours (laughs), so the need for such formats has not been as great for a long time.


Do you think SAP Now 2020 could be a precedent for a new form of customer events? You let the knowledge transfer take place digitally, save money on locations, and then let individual key account managers travel to important customers...

We heard it this morning and it goes into our core theme of Experience: we are all human. Live communication is and remains important to us. At events like SAP Now, which are organized and implemented by local teams in each country, this is even more important than at international SAP events. Direct networking with customers and partners falls by the wayside a bit when everything is done digitally. That's why I think there will be hybrid models: Neither one alone will be right, nor the other, if you want to live the motto of the event - "Business has feelings". You have to find a middle ground.


You used to sell standardized solutions with SAP - very successfully. Now you use formats like SAP Now to promote creative customer experience management. Why this change?

We have set standards that have become gold standards. But we are in a position to do much more. From "best practice" to "next practice," so to speak. SAP has long focused on providing the technological underpinnings for virtually every area of enterprise management. We now want to create awareness and also approach areas such as marketing and communication - here we are still being undercut by other players, even though we have more to offer than others.


What exactly sets you apart from the competition, from companies like Salesforce or Adobe?

That our offering is holistic. We don't offer niche solutions that you then have to integrate, but comprehensive solutions whose components are coordinated with each other. That is a USP of SAP that I would say no one else can offer in this way.


In the area of customer experience management, is SAP a company that acts out of conviction - or do you feel driven by the competition?

We are all business consumers. However, we often have completely different experiences in our private lives than we do at work - and often consider them to be even smoother, more pleasant. This is transferred to the expectations in the business. As a company that comes from the ERP sector, we had a bit of catching up to do here, it's true. We have and are now advocating across SAP the vision of combining our "backbone" - organizational data - with experience data. If we communicate and implement this consistently, we will be at the forefront of customer experience management.


SAP wants to combine organizational data - for example, from resource planning, from warehouses, from finance - and experience data from marketing and research. Traditional silos are being torn down. Does this also have to apply to the companies that want to work with the new SAP tools?

Yes, here too, an end to silo thinking is absolutely essential. With experience management, we are not only talking about customer experience, but also about employee experience. Everything has to become more agile, more flexible. Just as the Corona crisis forced us to digitize our SAP Now, it will also radically change internal processes at many companies. Old concepts no longer work. We are well positioned to give our customers the tools to deal with this.

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