This is the first in a series of snapshots profiling graduates from the SAP Academy program for early talent.
In this kick-off article, Tina Chen talks about what convinced her to join SAP directly out of university, why she’s amazed at the opportunity she has, and what it’s like to be at the epicenter of the cloud computing revolution advising companies in China how to get real about innovation.
Fast Tracked to Become a Trusted Advisor
Tina Chen arrived at SAP Academy straight out of graduate school last year with a limited technology background and big career plans to be a top salesperson, bringing cloud innovations to the fast-growing Chinese market. Now a specialist based in Shanghai responsible for selling solutions for customer engagement and commerce (CEC) SAP Hybris Cloud for Customer solutions, Chen looks back at her experience at the academy with appreciation and awe.
“Many of my classmates during my graduate school studies were interns at SAP, and they talked about what an amazing company it is,” she said. “I also really liked the training program that combined classroom methodology with practice in the field. I love sales, and knew this approach would speed up my learning curve. Our regional academy director was a local expert from China, providing informed guidance that helped me quickly apply what I learned to the real world. She’s stayed with us through onboarding and getting settled with our teams.”
Being a top salesperson has been Chen’s longtime career goal, but attending SAP Academy crystalized those aspirations towards a higher purpose.
“I understand that my role is to be a trusted advisor to customers, something you’d never believe someone as junior as I am could be,” said Chen. “As a specialist having the opportunity to learn from seasoned account executives with years of selling experience, I’ve discovered that everyone succeeds in their own way. Everyone has their ups and downs, but the way SAP sales professionals persevere in the face of complex challenges, stay humble even as they gain knowledge and succeed, and always listen to their customers inspires me every day.”
Chen sees her role in cloud sales at the epicenter of SAP’s transformation to meet customer demands. “I found it easy to get hands-on with our CEC solutions, showing it to customers so they find it satisfactory,” she said. “People are paying a lot of attention to SAP’s new direction as a cloud company powered by SAP HANA, and it’s very rewarding to be in touch with where the latest technology and the growing Chinese market is headed. Companies in this region are more and more open to cloud because they can see the business value.”
SAP Sales Bets Big on Diversity
Chen typifies academy graduates. Breaking with SAP’s tradition hiring tenured, experienced sales people, the average age of academy entrants is 24 years old. After attending a nine-month training program, new-hires graduate as fully-fledged industry account executives, able to transition into their designated market unit. Since its launch two years ago, 450 people have graduated from SAP Academy, moving into pre-sales and sales positions at the company across 54 countries.
“The academy one of the largest development investments in all of SAP,” said Rae Kyriazis, Global Vice President, Field Transformation & Readiness at SAP. “It’s the first time SAP has had a consistent, global training curriculum at this level. We’re focused on diversity in training global leaders, bringing people from 54 countries together in one place for an extended time period where they learn how to collaborate with each other.”
SAP’s sales team demographics have shifted, much of it fueled by market realities and enabled by the academy. Millennials are already the largest generation represented in the workforce overall, bringing expectations of greater diversity that encompass women, culture and many other areas. “Diversifying the workforce has been a major initiative for SAP because it’s good business. Research shows diversity generates stronger results,” said Kyriazis. “We are also preparing to get ahead of changing employee demographics. By 2025, we anticipate that 50 percent of our salespeople will be millennials.”
According to Kyriazis, academy graduates have achieved an extraordinarily high retention rate of 95 percent in the past year. Also last year, graduates performed at or above experienced salespeople KPIs with 10 percent qualifying to attend Winner’s Circle, SAP’s annual sales team recognition event. Only six percent of the company’s experienced salespeople made the cut.
As for Chen, her winning formula is simple: “You have to love what you’re selling. That’s the only way to convince the customer to buy.”
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