Last week a colleague asked me if I could provide detail or recommend someone who could give some insight into the integration challenges for SAP CRM and R/3 4.6. This was in the context of a competitive bid that might involve a SaaS provider. I decided to set this as a Mentor challenge…a thought experiment if you like. My colleague provided a good amount of detail so there was enough with which to assemble a reasonable answer. Since this was commercially sensitive I laid down a few rules, the principle one being ‘no blog.’ Don’t worry, I’m not going to break my own rules!!

First up, it is fair to say I have a reasonable amount of invested capital among SDN’ers and Mentors. The likelihood of them failing to respond is small. To that extent I have an advantage and won’t claim the results are representative of any trends. 

Setting aside the end of (SAP support) life issues around 4.6 the exercise was interesting at multiple levels. 

  • I gave respondents 3 working days to supply an answer. They all got back within 36 hours…on a weekend.
  • All gave solid answers with varying levels of detail.
  • Some addressed the competitive issues alongside the technical take, adding value beyond that which was originally expected.
  • Where there was uncertainty or ambiguity, respondents posed fresh questions. 

One respondent made an excellent point that is worth the repeating: “I can’t believe that in the current climate customers don’t make more use of people like us (mentor freelancers). I mean, no offense, but you basically had massive consulting advice there. From an SI you would have had to wait ages and pay ££££ for it. That’s the sad truth.”

Which raises some interesting points. 
  • If SAP Mentors are willing to freely give of their time in such a manner then does this signal some sort of shift in consulting or was I simply able to trade a bit of goodwill? 
  • Does it mean that consultants need to think about pre-qualifying themselves by giving something away first?
  • Can the independents steal a march on the Big Boys by offering this type of service?

What do you think? Did I strike lucky or do you think that the consulting game is changing? Has commoditization reached into the otherwise premium world of SAP? 

Side note: When I set the challenge I didn’t mention any reward. However, the answers were so impressive I asked my colleague to select the best and then roped my buddy Vinnie Mirchandani into donating a copy of his book: The New Polymath. It seems wholly appropriate.
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  1. Steve Bogner
    Hi Dennis –

    There probably was a bit of goodwill that influenced the response; but also – SAP Mentors are the best of the best. Giving such high quality responses are part of what they are and do. They live for that!

  2. Holger Stumm
    I don’t like the “FREE” aspect of everything, that recently swaps across the Internet. I do run an SAP consulting company and we are here to  make a decent living. It takes a lot of effort, money and dedication, to gain the knowledge required to answer these kind of question in a professional way. Making this “free give away items” even more institutional by promoting this through sdn as part of paid, professional work, than we are quickly cannibalizing our business over time. The customers – especially the big ones with big purchasing department will make this “work for free” part of their rebate scheme.

    FREE has also the notion of “someone has the needs to give it away”.
    I rather take the charging aspect the other way round:
    If the customer pays my first days, he is really interested in my work. If we come together, we can still work on deals for the long run.

    My 2 cents as a serious entrepreneur and opponent of the “Cheap&Free” society.

    1. Dennis Howlett Post author
      Everyone needs to get paid at some point but I am absolutely a believer in “show me” first. It’s one of the few ways you get to sidestep the brands. The world is changing and if it means I have to give something up in order to get a reward later then I’ll take that every time. Otherwise I am not being transparent in my dealings and putting up an un-necessary roadblock.

      The ‘takes a lot of effort etc’ argument doesn’t wash. In my 1st world, that of professional accounting, the cost of knowledge acquisition is huge yet more and more firms are providing first interviews at zero cost. Others are providing solid advice on websites – for free.

      There is no substitute for solid technical assistance appropriately charged but how do I know you’re any good without seeing what you can do?

    2. Michael Koch
      Hi Holger,

      My impression is that not every consulting business charges days of work and top rates for advice that in reality can be provided within 30-60mins. And of course there is a difference between “having a quick look” and in-depth research. But sometimes borderlines can be blurred and some advisors take advantage (I’m not assuming for a second that you do, by the way!)

      The other aspect to keep in mind is that the consulting world is changing. A look into the discussion of the delivery models for SaaS-based BYD support and consulting speak volumes. On-Premise might be safe for a while, but things are going to change sooner or later.


  3. Michael Koch
    Fair points. Why?

    Because some customers listen blindly to their SIs/partners who push them down a path and then present them with the bill later. Why should customers not use some passionate and motivated freelancers to question strategies and press SIs and partners on their recommendations? Nothing wrong with that. But this work has also to be monetised, no freebies, and probably at a lower rate, as they can operate on a lower financial footprint.

    I’d wish that more customers realise the potential and flexibility smaller outlets or groups of freelancers can give them.

    Most importantly, I also think that it’s important for all of us to realise that SAP’s solutions are not always the perfect fit for every business. That’s just part of the consulting business.


  4. Mark Finnern
    Hi Dennis,

    Of course you have cloud and the SAP Mentors love challenges. You have a big advantage with your connections.

    I was not on the email thread, but I assume you all shared the different solutions between you.

    Therefore I solve a challenge and get the insights and critique from other trusted experts aka SAP Mentors, which makes the whole effort worth it.

    That there may be a paid engagement further down the line is icing on the cake.

    That model works in that tightly knit mentor community. The question is how scalable is that?

    SAP Mentors have their day job or if they are consultants their customers. To get their attention in that limited time that they have left is tough. Call yourself lucky.

    All the best, Mark.

    Let me know, Mark.

    1. Dennis Howlett Post author
      @mark: Once my colleague has got the inquiry out the way (very soon) then I will share between those who took part. Sorry to sound ‘secret squirrel’ but since this is a live gig I need to honor confidentiality.

      Why should it not be scalable? If I know there is a pool of experts in different disciplines within the SAP Mentor community there’s a fair chance someone will pick up a challenge. Expanding the Mentor community only serves to deepen that pool. (hint)

      Another interesting aspect of this – a couple of Mentors suggested people I’d not thought about approaching. I bet you wouldn’t get that from an SI (lol)

  5. Stephen Johannes

    I have made it a practice that I will personally discuss any issue in my area of expertise for thirty minutes if does not directly impact me.  If it is a concern that might impact me you might get more of my time.  I found this keeps my mind sharp and allows me have the favor returned when I need an answer.

    For all the consultants worried about giving away the barn, don’t worry.  If everyone could execute perfectly on the recommendations that consultants bring, we wouldn’t need them in the first place. 

    Take care,


  6. Jon Reed
    Dennis, you’ve raised some really significant points in my view:

    – Has SAP skills market commoditized? Yes, in my view to a large degree it already has (though even commoditized SAP rates can be better than most other in IT). Serious consultants have to take it constantly upon themselves to stay one step ahead and the ways to differentiate are numerous and constant fodder for my efforts.

    – Can providing online/on demand consulting help to differentiate? I think so. I expect to see more “disruptive” consulting models emerge – one of my favorites is the notion of a collective of experts who provide on demand SAP services at bitesize billable intervals or affordable subscriptions. This hasn’t taken hold yet aside from some upstart vendors but I hope and expect it to.

    – The viability of giving away billable time to justify value. I’m totally with you and Stephen J on this – giving time to a client to truly let them get a feel for your services and how you resolve problems is smart business in my book. Too many folks are still afraid to use this kind of model and instead offer “teases” and “previews.” I believe you try to solve one small problem and this has a powerful effect on obtaining future work. “consultants need to think about pre-qualifying themselves by giving something away first” – I’d say yes. Did goodwill factor into your results – quite possibly, but that doesn’t change the reality that the SAP consulting world is ripe for reform and bottom-up innovation.

    – Could SAP Mentor and other senior independents be centrally involved in some of these business models? I think so. Do SAP Mentors kick ***? Well yeah we knew that. 🙂

    – Jon

    1. Dennis Howlett Post author

      Now that we have seen Business ByDesign implementation pricing guides from SAP, the benchmark is set for certain types of implementation. In order to compete, independents will need to be flexible in approach and pricing. The idea of on-demand consulting (probably via the web) is certainly something I can see making a lot of sense and woven into the ecosystem with relative ease.

  7. John Appleby

    When I go into a presales engagement I have to think what the customer is looking for. Usually it is that people buy people and they are looking for advice.

    I don’t know how others act in this scenario but I’m always willing to give free, unqualified advice. It doesn’t come with a warranty or with free 24/7 telephone calls, but it is what says on the packet.

    Often times I blog about customer issues (in a generic way) or forward onto the other people’s blogs, or articles that I have written.

    Because as I said, people buy people and they need to trust. The cost of some free advice is nothing compared to a long term relationship based on mutual trust.

    So for my money, the replies you got were one part good will, one part technical curiosity and one part self-selling. And this is the way of the world!



  8. Divyesh Dave
    SAP mentors are doing a tremendous job giving their advice and consultation for free. In theory, this can provide a shift in the consultation industry. But I don’t see this happening. Depending on the priority of a given project, a customer may have no choice but to pay top $$.

    Divyesh Dave

  9. Jarret Pazahanick
    This is a great blog and one that touches on several items that I have not seen discussed before. 

    Over the past 12 years I have worked in various roles including a large SI, independent consulting and co-founder of small niche SAP consulting company. I can say first hand that as an independent or small company you typically have to prove yourself more than the large SI’s do. One of the easiest ways to do so is by pre-qualify you or your company and it could be a webinar or providing guidance or troubleshooting a minor issue. If you are good or great at what you do you will relish these opportunities and I have found that the savvy clients with some SAP experience can easily tell the difference between a true expert and a SI “senior consultant”

    I will also say that many smaller companies or senior independents also have very large networks and have built up lots of goodwill over the years. I make a point to give my time and try to help folks out both consultants and clients. The great thing is that when I ever have a question I often get responses back within a few hours from folks who are extremely busy and SME in their areas.  It doesnt surprise me in the least that got such quick responses back from the mentors as most seem to have sharing as part of their core.

  10. Martin English
    Hi Dennis,
    I’ll get the easy bit out of the way first; the “New Polymath” is an excellent read and is so applicable to any professionals life, even people like me who are employees of a large scale SI.

    As to the other issues in your post; the SAP Mentors list is available to anyone who uses twitter or SDN, or anyone who asks.  By definition, SAP Mentors are highly energetic and motivated people in general, but especially about SAP.  You were smart enough to think to use them (being one yourself probably helped trigger the thought), but they’re available to anyone in the SAP community.

    I may be playing with semantics, but Consulting will never be a commodity. Supply may overwhelm demand, but thats another story.

    Community is probably the word du jour here – someone you ‘know’ asks a question and you answer.  It’s something I’m trying to encourage within our SAP practice; I don’t see any negatives (if I thought ‘giving away’ 3 or 4 hours of time to produce a decently formatted answer to a reasonably complex question was going to send the company bust I’d have left already !!), and the positive is that AT WORST you’re generating good will for your brands (you, the company, SAP, etc). 

    Of course, when you talk to the metrics people and the bean counters, you may need to make up numbers, but sales people know this stuff in their gut; we aren’t selling SAP, or CSC, or AIX / DB2 or whatever technology.  We are selling ourselves and the other people that go onto the customer site (physically or virtually).

    The ‘modern’ way of saying it is that Consultants don’t have anything else to sell except their brand.  What that means is that we, specifically me, myself, I, have nothing to sell but myself and the relationship between me and the (potential) customer.

  11. Witalij Rudnicki
    Before SAP Mentors there was an SDN, where thousands of people (including me) were giving their time and advises for free. So, I am not sure what new this blog’s example discovers. There is one thing that is coming with all free advises – NO OBLIGATION. I have seen lots of incorrect answers and suggestions on SDN as well, so be cautious.

    The interesting aspect, of all those of us who are giving recommendations for free (and by the way I know lots and lots of good experts, who do not participate in SDNs of the world) is turning work/life balance into work/volunteering/life balance.

    Cheers. Vitaliy

    1. Holger Stumm
      Hi Vitali,
      thanks for the post. I guess this also sums up my idea about this topic. I think that there are a couple of thousand great regular sdn contributors who provide work and support on the same magnitude. And as you said, I believe too that “for free” , either as professional work or as volunteer contribution, needs to be in balance with our daily lives and income. On a second thought, I find the title of Dennis blog a little bit embarassing to all non-mentors at sdn.
      1. Bala Prabahar
        Hi Holger,

        I agree Dennis blog is embarassing to all non-mentors at sdn. Do I want to turn work/life balance into work/volunteering/life balance? For me, quality is more critical than quantity.
        I still wonder how someone could provide solid(I repeat solid) answers to a complex question in less than 36 hours. In my opinion, Dennis really struck lucky to have received solid answers in short time.
        Certainly I could provide “some” answer in an hour or so to a complex question;however I wouldn’t vouch for the quality or accuracy of my response. That said, there is time and place for everything. I agree I was not a good fit for what Dennis was looking for. That doesn’t mean I am not a good fit at some other time and place.


        1. Mark Finnern
          Hi Holger, Bala and Vitaliy,

          Please don’t read too much into the title of Dennis’ blog post. He is asking a question and shares his experience.

          He is not making any judgment calls regarding the rest of the SAP Community Network. In no way did he want to embarrass dedicated contribution community members of SCN.

          All the best, Mark.

          1. Ajay Das

            The replies from these three would resonate with many, and in my view rightly so. Not that the blog would embarrass (m)any, for most people would have a fair understanding of their intrinsic (professional) value regardless of the ‘M’ icon on their SDN profile.

            In my opinion the blog was but a projection of high order (and really not much else), not that there would be anything wrong with posting any such thing.

            my 0.02


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