NASHVILLE, TENN. – At Sage North America‘s last Summit conference, the business software vendor’s plan to drop iconic product brands such as Accpac and instead focus on promoting the Sage brand caught many partners off guard, but one year later most partners seem to have accepted the logic of the move while the rest have accepted its inevitability.
In his opening keynote to partners at this year’s Summit, Sage CEO Pascal Houilon addressed the strident partner response to the rebranding head-on, making clear it was a necessary strategic shift for Sage and its partners to be able to grow and compete and go to market as one company that’s more than its individual parts. And it’s a shift Sage is committed to.
“Last year some of you didn’t react to well to what I said. You probably thought I’d lit a few to many fires and was … a pyromaniac,” quipped Houilon. “Well, where I live in California fire is required for growth. Without it, everything dies. With it, a whole new ecosystem can grow.”
Houilon said many partners told him Sage wasn’t respecting the long-term relationship and investment they’d made in different product brands and that he was too quick to light the match on change. While he stressed he loves Sage’s partners, sometimes tough love is called for.
“Sometimes you have to be blunt with those you love so you’re prepared to face challenges. At Sage, we do love you and we’ll only succeed in the future with you,” said Houilon. “But I’m not the one lighting the matches. Our customers in the world around us are. The business and technology world is changing and we can’t go back.”
Complaining that Sage was too siloed by product before; with the rebranding, a hybrid cloud strategy and a strategy to focus investment and development around certain key product areas, Houilon said the goal is to create a common Sage experience for partners and customers with logical progression paths and the opportunity to offer complementary solutions and services.
(CDN goes one-on-one with Sage North America chief Tom Miller for more on the rebranding’s progress and Sage’s cloud strategy)
Customers have generally been reacting well to the change, and partners have been supported with communications material and messaging said Connie Certusi, executive vice-president for Sage small business solutions, who has already overseen the change from Peachtree and Simply Accounting to Sage 50.
“I was amazed. I would have been scared to death of this a few years back, and maybe was still a little nervous, but it went incredibly smoothly,” said Certusi. “Some customers struggled, while some said it was about time, but I think from a customer perspective it was almost a non-event. We’re investing more in marketing the Sage brand now, and that will help all Sage solutions.”
Sage had to take action to change its perception in the market as a holding group for a collection of products rather than one company with an integrated portfolio and strategy said Darren Bibby, program vice-president for software channels and alliances research with IDC Corp. The branding is an important first step.
“I think in time there will be more things to back that up, such as common services around all products as the Sage value-add, a common user interface, and getting rid of some of the products to focus on a few,” said Bibby. “It’s starting to feel more like a (single) company.”
Most of the Sage partners that CDN spoke with have accepted the logic of Sage’s strategy, and some even agree it was probably an overdue move for the vendor to make.
The decision to rebrand is a move that Sage should have made earlier said Imran Syed, marketing manager with BAASS Business Solutions, a long-time Sage partner based in Thornhill, Ont. that offers a number of different Sage products. He likes the move because it helps partners go to market with one consistent message.
“We’re focused on solution selling instead of selling products, and while we may sell (Sage ERP) X3 we’ve always catered to customer needs,” said Syed.
The rebranding and new marketing focus around the overall Sage brand helps partners that don’t want to push a particular product, but rather want to offer solutions and build long-term relationships with customers where their business can grow with the partner and with Sage, added BAASS president Joseph Arnone.
Still, with Sage just beginning to build its brand it will take time for partners to get their foot in the door. George Braun, president of Markham, Ont.-based TGO Consulting, is a Microsoft Dynamics partner that started working with Sage ERP X3 about one year ago. He agrees with the logic of the switch, although he acknowledges it will be a little tougher for a longer-term Sage partner to manage than it is for a relative Sage newbie like him. Still, he said Sage’s lack of name recognition is an early hurdle with new prospects.
“We have to do a bit of a sales job, as I don’t think people realize Sage is as big as they are,” said Braun. “Once they get past that it’s fine. Once they understand the size and the company behind it it’s not an issue.”