Leave the Rambo to Stallone

Everybody loves an underdog, especially one that’s getting picked on by the big kid on the block. It’s a lesson enterprise applications vendor SAP AG forgot last month, providing a little entertainment at its annual Sapphire user conference in Orlando.

It was a big event for SAP, bringing over 15,000 attendees to the Sunshine State eager to learn more about SAP’s new products and direction.

Looking to grab some of that spotlight for itself, San Mateo, Calif.-based mid-market CRM vendor NetSuite invited the media to a cocktail reception with its CEO, Zach Nelson, at a hotel across the street from the conference. It dubbed the event “SAP for the Rest of Us.”

Now, while SAP is a competitor to NetSuite, NetSuite is not much of a competitor to SAP. They’re not in the same league. When it got wind of the counter programming, the thing SAP should have done was let the scrappy upstarts have their little wine and cheese, and, if asked to comment, just say the market share numbers can speak for themselves.

It’s a simple public relations rule: Elephants don’t swat at gnats. Unfortunately, SAP seemed to forget that rule and went Goliath, reminding the hotel hosting the NetSuite affair of a contract clause forbidding events of SAP rivals to be held at the same time as Sapphire (booking 15,000 hotel rooms across a city gives you some muscle.) The event was canceled, thereby casting NetSuite in the role of David.

For NetSuite, though, it was mission accomplished: the cancellation drama caused a buzz in the corridors of Sapphire.

Discussing the whole drama with the IDG News Service, SAP spokesman Bill Wohl showed he just didn’t get it.

Wohl called Sapphire the family christening for a beloved daughter to which all her relatives and friends are invited. He then asked whether the family would want NetSuite’s “bachelor party taking place in the same venue?”

I’d question his choice of analogy, because the bachelor party sounds more fun to me, but SAP’s decision to flex its muscle, besides being silly, was counterproductive. The cancellation got NetSuite far more press then its reception ever would have.

The company’s vice-president of marketing, Jay O’Connor, said with NetSuite set to announce a number of product updates aimed at SAP users in the mid-market, it thought holding a reception during Sapphire would be a good opportunity to access a relevant audience.

But while the event didn’t come off, O’Connor said he couldn’t be happier with how things turned out.

“SAP is nervous, their strategy (in the mid market) is all over the map,” said O’Connor.

There’s a reason elephants don’t swat at gnats: they don’t have to. But it’s sure fun when they try.

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