If you have ever played sport or even been a sports fan there is a good chance that you will understand the emotions that sports create. It is only in recent times that marketing has started to leverage those emotions. In 1984 the global sponsorship market was $3.9 billion. In 2017 that has risen to $62.8 billion.
Companies are looking to leverage sports through advertising, sponsorship and other means. If nothing else it can deliver brand awareness through television coverage. One company looking to take advantage of this market is Steiner Sports. Founded in 1987 it is now one of the leading sports marketing agencies in the USA. In 2000 it was acquired by Omnicom Group, a leading global advertising and marketing communication services company.
Omnicom Group invested successfully in a Microsoft Dynamics deployment in 2008. Steiner Sports found that to meet its unique requirements it needed to heavily bespoke the software. This meant that by the time the rest of the Omnicom Group looked to reinvest in the latest version of Dynamics its was not so easy for Steiner Sports. Enterprise Times spoke to Kelvin Joseph COO and CMO at Steiner Sports to understand more.
Not just a marketing agency
Joseph explained the difference from the other group companies saying: “We are very unique within the Omnicom family, we operate two companies. We have a traditional sports marketing practice that focuses on helping (companies) from startups to fortune 500 use the power of sports to grow their business. That is similar to other Omnicom businesses.
“We operate like two companies but we are one company. We started off as a professional services company where we would get athletes to help companies with their marketing. Then companies started asking us for merchandise and then next thing you know the merchandise business exploded and then we had to pay attention to it.
“We also have grown a direct to consumer merchandising business where we have $20 million in inventory which is quite different from any other Omnicom company.”
Sometimes you just modify an ERP solution too far
The process started in 2008 when the company bought the old Yankees stadium. Suddenly it had several thousand new SKU’s and the business became more complex. Since that date, and testament to the flexibility that Microsoft Dynamics has, Steiner continued to modify the ERP software. However, it reached a point where without a major rewrite they could no longer take advantage of the platform upgrades that the newer versions of Dynamics were offering. As Joseph commented: “I wouldn’t blame Microsoft, we kept patching and patching the thing until we couldn’t upgrade it”.
Steiner looks forward
Joseph knew that the next generation of Steiner ERP needed to be able to take advantage of upgrades. The business had changed once and it might do again. It needed inventory control and an ecommerce store in addition to the professional services functionality. It therefore looked around for alternatives.
Joseph added “We took a look at SAP. We got the feeling that it wasn’t going to be a good fit. NetSuite was offering a situation where it was constantly going to be upgraded and they had a vested interest in it working out for us. Because their model is more based upon not hitting us with a charge up front and then see you later in 5 years. They almost have to win your business back every year.
“The business model appears to be built on ‘have companies grow and have companies grow with it.’ They seem to care. The don’t just care because they care, they care because it is good business to care if their partners grow because they will be growing too.”
At the end of the selection process Joseph selected NetSuite and went live a few months ago. So why did Joseph choose NetSuite?
“I like the NetSuite model because technology is changing so fast. If your system is five years old it is probably too old the way that technology is moving. I cannot predict the future but I do believe that constant updates of NetSuite systems is going to be good for my business. A lot can change in a short period of time and I believe that business cannot afford to be stuck with a system that is aging.”
NetSuite has also assured Joseph that any future modifications they do will not be impacted by any system upgrade. This should allow them to add customisations without the risk that they cannot keep up to date.
Embracing the NetSuite culture
Joseph also sees an opportunity in any weakness. It is something that attracts him to what he sees as the NetSuite ethos. He commented: “The beautiful things that I like about NetSuite (and I try to use it in my business as well) is that even when their customers appear to be complaining they realise that a customer complaint is an opportunity to grow their business.
“They know that if they can fix what that customer is asking the customers are basically upgrading the system for them and then they can roll that out to all their customers. They listen, they care to listen because they know they can take all the gems that we give them.”
There is a balancing act that cloud vendors need to manage when “listening” to their customers. They cannot let individual changes impacts the overall strategy of a product. However, the best ideas often come from customers requirements. NetSuite seems to have the balance right between updating its core software with the latest innovations and delivering updates that meet those customer needs.
Implementations are rarely easy
As we spoke to Joseph it became clear that he has a pragmatic streak running through him. This might be because of his background as a CPA. He was once an auditor at Ernst & Young.
The implementation came off the back of introducing CRM into the company. Technically it was a success, but from a change process and cultural point of view Joseph believes it built bad habits into the organisation. What about the NetSuite implementation? Joseph gave a blunt assessment:
“Again one of the things I like about NetSuite is that we are not a not typical client. The typical client listens, we don’t listen. We are stubborn. We have a lot of users of the system that don’t want to change, that don’t want to make their job any harder, that are set in their ways. We gave Netsuite a rough time implementing us because we are a tough nut to crack.”
This is one of the benefits of the SuiteSuccess process that NetSuite now uses during its implementations. It is more than just a technical implementation to meet the client requirements. Joseph continued: “One of the beautiful things is that transition is not easy, especially if internal processes are changing. It became not just a system implementation but a mindset change in a 100 people which is amazing and brilliant to see. Now we have our people thinking different which we really think is a big win for the business.”
So was it all down to NetSuite?
“I really feel that it is a partnership. I really feel we want to give them the credit but we are going to take some too, that we have finally got out of our stubborn ways. The reality is that people love change, they want new things. Transition is the part they hate.“
What next for Steiner Sports
For Joseph the journey has hardly begun, he is excited by what is possible with the new software. Importantly, this is about what NetSuite reporting and analytics can deliver to Steiner Sports. He added:
“The culture change here is about collecting data on customers. Collecting the data is so powerful for us. The reality is I don’t know how we operated for so long without a CRM. That is the biggest change that we are so excited about. It is the data and using the data. We always knew it was important. The future is bright, we enjoying the journey right now, we see data coming in right now and we are excited because we know what it means to the future of our business.”
Joseph may also take a look at Bronto to help with email marketing. This should help drive the merchandising arm of the company forward. What the NetSuite installation will allow Jospeh is more time to move the company forward. He is considering expansion into Europe and elsewhere. NetSuite is already localised in many European countries and has operations in many. He recognises that beyond the borders of the USA, other sports are important. He specifically called out soccer in Europe, cricket in India and the NBA in China. Will it happen soon? Possibly not. Joseph added: “We do have international ambition but we have a lot of work still to do in the US.”
The link between emotion and procurement decisions in B2C is well documented. A similar influence can be exerted in B2B marketing according to Steiner. He explained: “On the B2B side there are a bunch of decision makers that everyone is trying to talk to in the C suite. It is tough to get those individuals attention and sports is one thing that is a common denominator that if you looked in the C Suite and how many people use their free time enjoying some level of sport either watching it or enjoying it with their families the numbers are staggering.”
Joseph will be on stage at SuiteWorld, talking about his experience. Another guest, slightly more famous, is Earvin “Magic” Johnson, NBA legend and now CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises. It was Steiner Sports that arranged this.
Joseph said: “When we bring a celebrity it is an amazing thing. We will do everything from bringing a magic Johnston to SuiteWorld to get peoples attention or for a smaller company there might be a home town hero in Denver, or a home town hero in Minneapolis that we would bring to get the attention of those in those areas.
“We are finding that we are getting amazing success with that because we all want the same thing, we all want to be happy. We are finding that sports is one of the things that makes people happy.”
What does this mean
Steiner Sports is at the beginning of its journey with NetSuite. It has not always been easy, but then change isn’t easy. What Joseph likes about NetSuite is the similarity in their outlook. He summarised this by saying that there are “two things people want: to be happy and companies want to grow sales.”
For NetSuite this is about its software, delivering the functionality and future proofing that companies need in an ever changing world. For Joseph it is focused around Steiner’s offering. Joseph concluded by saying “I am truly focused on helping them use the power of sports to help them grow their business because I know that is what keeps Steiner sports employed with these corporate clients. If we help us grow their sales they will need us or want us.”
NetSuite will hope for some that magic at SuiteWorld.