NASHVILLE — As software vendors are wont to do, Sage took the occasion of its annual gathering to put its corporate strategy and development roadmaps on prime display. So the fact that a number of presentations at Sage's Insights Partner Conference here last week was devoted to Sage CRM strategies and objectives came as no surprise. Joe Bergera, Sage CRM's executive vice president, and Larry Ritter, the division's senior vice president, fleshed out what those strategies could mean for the Sage CRM customer base. Instead of paying tribute to the bells and whistles the software will eventually provide, the two executives stuck to the end-user benefits and how the features will transform business.
"The real value in CRM is about the aggregation and [the] taking action," Ritter told industry analysts and members of the press during an intimate briefing on CRM strategy. Ritter was referring especially to social capabilities that Sage CRM products -- in particular Act! by Sage -- are embracing. "Sticking [in] a Twitter plug-in is interesting," he said. "But the ability to go out into the social media space and track what people are saying about your products -- and then schedule your team to call them and record that and put it back into CRM -- is where the opportunities are."
In earlier keynote presentations during the week, Sage had announced Act! by Sage plug-ins that would connect to Twitter and Facebook. Users will now not only be able to send tweets directly from the Act! interface, they will be able to aggregate data from social networks to fill out a customer's contact information.
Ritter noted that social CRM is still young, and that it lacks maturity, but Bergera pointed to signs of growing interest, especially among Act! users. Social networking is certainly a familiar feature to the Act! user base: The Act! by Sage Community site, for example, had more than 8.9 million page views and 266,000 searches in its first year, according to the company.
Interest doesn't necessarily equate to adoption, though. Two SalesLogix customers presented during the Insights briefing. Neither mentioned social capabilities in their presentations, and when asked further about their social initiatives, the executives said they weren't ready or didn't think it was right for their businesses. In recommending a good place to start with social strategy, Denis Pombriant, founder and principal of CRM consultancy Beagle Research Group, pointed out that for those two customers in particular -- and perhaps the typical Sage user -- today might still be too soon to take an offensive approach to social. There are positive ways to begin using social methods as a defense, he said -- listening to and learning from the social Web in oprder to glean what people are saying about your company.
The second hot topic of the week was cloud computing. Sage occupies an uncommon position in terms of cloud computing, essentially challenging the idea -- put forth most often by software-as-a-service vendors such as Salesforce.com -- that everything is moving toward the cloud. Sage instead offers Saleslogix Today, which employs what the company calls a "software-plus-services" approach -- a hybrid model that still requires software installed on the premises, but nevertheless offers users access to Web-based applications. Additionally, SalesLogix Today is a tangible appliance that hosts a company's data, but requires little set-up or support.
Laurie McCabe, a partner with analyst firm Hurwitz & Associates, says the appliance market could represent a huge opportunity for Sage. "It gets at the religious dogma, 'It's got to be in the cloud,' " she says. "The reason cloud computing has such a compelling value proposition is that it solves a lot of problems -- but it's not the only way [to do so]."
Still, McCabe says an appliance-based approach just might be ideal for a small business hesitantly looking to move forward. "A big part of the [small-business] market segment [is] looking and hearing of cloud computing," she points out. "To them, it sounds good -- but they're not quite ready."
Sue Swenson, president and chief executive officer of Sage North America, noted in her welcoming keynote on Monday that SalesLogix Today has been a bright spot for the company, garnering a healthy amount of interest.
For partners or tech-savvy customers wanting to bring Sage CRM into the cloud, the vendor has attempted to simplify the process: Sage announced an arrangement with Amazon.com's Amazon Web Services for cloud capabilities, and has also integrated the Amazon sign-up experience into Sage applications.
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