Business of all sizes exert considerable effort keeping track of what they spend and what they take in. And many have employees who travel to meet with customers and prospects in order to drum up business. Managing all of these expenses is a tedious, but important task. Though manually keeping track of it all could be costing you money too.
I recently spoke with David Alexander, Vice President of Marketing and Market Development for SAP Concur, a leading provider of cloud-based integrated travel and expense management services and solutions. He shared how using an automated platform for managing travel and expense tasks can help small businesses not only be more productive, but also provides insight into how they’re spending money — which can help them save money in the end.
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To hear the full interview, click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.
Small Business Trends: Maybe you can give me a little bit of your personal background.
David Alexander: I’ve been here at SAP Concur for about a year and a half now. And my role here, I’m the Vice President of Small Business Marketing and Market Development. So I am essentially responsible for all of our pipeline and early conversations with existing customers and new business customers for all our prospects and customers under 1,000 employees.
Prior to that, as you know, where you and I met, I was at Microsoft for about 12-1/2 years and in various marketing and sales roles over at Microsoft as well.
Small Business Trends: Maybe you can give us a little bit of a high level view of what Concur does.
David Alexander: I think most customers out there would probably expect us to be a travel and expense company. I think that’s traditionally been where a lot of customers have gotten to know us. But we’re more than that. We’re really a travel, expenses, invoice company. We’re providing a number of different resources for our customers, specifically in the small business segment.
I like to think of them in what we deliver to customers in three big buckets. The first is the things that we help small businesses do to thrive and grow. That’s giving them automated tool sets. That’s giving them a tool to give them access to their spends, and enable them to spend more effectively. And that’s going to be the sweet spot where I would say our travel invoice and expense products fall into. And I would say that’s where a lot of customers are most in tune with what we deliver.
The second part though, would be add ons to those services, that’s helping our customers … what we say, like see the unseen, right? That’s giving them insights into data and into their business and their operational cashflow. So that’s going to help them ultimately identify risks before it finds them, which is really critical, especially for when we’re talking to customers in small business. And also help give them visibility into their end to end total spend management.
Then there’s the third piece, which is the area where we continue to grow as well, which is more of that “better together” story that we provide small businesses. So we’re trying to enable small businesses to give them a platform with SAP Concur as a solution where they can get some of the benefits of being a … similar to being a large enterprise, even though they are a small company with the collective buying power of other small businesses.
That would include products like our new Hipmunk offering, which you may be familiar with. And several of the solutions that we provide as part of our apps, and our end solution partners as well. So it’s kind of those three buckets is really where as an organization we live. It’s beyond that category of total spend management and into kind of a newer, bigger, broader category.
Small Business Trends: How does being able to manage that through a system like yours in the cloud, what does that bring to the table?
David Alexander: It brings a number of benefits, right? Like I said, the primary benefits are really enabling them to increase their financial viability, right? Help them … as we all know, the keys and the tools to being a successful small business is managing your spend effectively and helping to avoid some of the risk that would put you in a financially difficult situation, especially in those early years where it can be very, very difficult. And so our tools not only help you automate the processes that can become very time consuming … as we all know, as far as managing your expenses and managing your payments as a small business. We help automate that piece, which actually can help you get to your son’s baseball game or your daughter’s baseball game, right, for example.
We also enable you to start to get insights into pieces of your business that you may not have visibility into on a spend part. As we go and talk to a number of different small businesses, it’s actually fascinating when I talk to them to hear the stories of what they see as they start to dig deeper into their spend and start to find places which, number one, may be out of compliance. But number two, may also be places where they can start to identify risks for their business as well. It’s not just that negative identify compliance issues and risk issues. But it also gives you that visibility so you can go and optimize and spend in the best way possible as well.
Small Business Trends: Yeah, I would assume that you use the term automate as part of this process. How does this data get entered in around travel and expense?
David Alexander: Yeah, I would say the integration piece is absolutely critical. So integration with your payment systems and your ERP systems is absolutely critical. And then getting the information into the system actually starts to become very simple at that point for our customers, and we have a number of ways that you can go and access that information. For example, the mobile app, which is very, very convenient. I use this thing weekly, almost daily myself, whether it’s approving expenses or approving invoices that are coming through the system.
You can also use that to go and set up your trips and manage the trips that you may have as well if you’re part of a broader organization or traveling a lot. So, the mobile component is key to our story as well. We know specifically for small businesses, a lot of what we do every day as small businesses is be out on the road, deal with customers, and that mobile component really helps you to be productive, keep your business moving forward no matter where you are.
Small Business Trends: Does this also help in terms of maybe allowing employees to optimize their loyalty points or loyalty program stuff? Is there a way that this actually helps employees not only do the mundane, but also optimize their opportunities to get rewards?
David Alexander: Sure. And that’s kind of that big community component I talked about before where as being part of the SAP Concur community, you start to gain access to different partners like American Express and ADP that you may not have had access to discounts previously. Additionally you’ll find, to directly answer your question about kind of consolidation of loyalty points and those kinds of things, our Triplink app actually does a lot of those things and really helps you manage your travel and your spend and all of your various travel suppliers in a single application.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.