NASHVILLE — When Sue Swenson, the president and chief executive officer of Sage North America, took the stage at her company's Insights Partner Conference here this week, she arrived with an air of determination and transparency.
"This has been a transformational year at Sage," Swenson told attendees seated in the Gaylord Opryland ballroom, before launching into the hard truths. “We trimmed our operational expenses in a big way," she said. "Yes, that includes a reduction of staff." Just last week, in fact, Sage cut 500 employees for economic reasons. Although the company has had to reallocate its resources, Swenson assured partners and customers that there are bright spots and opportunities on the horizon.
She emphasized Sage's "back-to-basics" approach, which she described as a recommitment to employee and customer satisfaction. "We are moving from…rapid expansion from acquisitions to a new foundation for healthy and vibrant business grounded in delivering extraordinary customer experiences," she said. Part of delivering memorable experiences, she added, requires the company to cement its corporate branding and messaging. With Sage comprising more than 40 ERP and CRM products, consistent branding has been an ongoing struggle. Swenson told the crowd that Sage has upped its marketing for increased brand visibility.
"It works," she says. "The advertising works."
A new face arrived on stage on Tuesday morning. Motasim Najeeb, Sage's recently appointed chief technology officer, addressed attendees on the topic of Sage's technology strategy. Najeeb's pre-Sage career has included time on both the systems software side (with Intel, Tandem, and Silicon Graphics) and the business side (with WebMD, PeopleSoft, and Oracle).
“Quality and user experience that are taken for granted in systems software become competitive differentiators in business software,” Najeeb told the crowd. Sage's technology strategy, he said, revolves around two distinct groups with differing needs: existing and prospective customers.
“The installed base [of customers] has been using the product for many years," Najeeb said. "The fact they have stayed with us for such a long time means they are generally happy with our products. Longevity underscores that good software products have a [long] shelf-life.” He went on to say that the main concerns for existing customers involve the stability of upgrades. Newly acquired customers, on the other hand, are the ones looking for innovation and new features. One rising demand among potential customers, Najeeb said, was for a relational database -- and that has now become a significant goal for the company to deliver.
With regard to the company's CRM-specific roadmaps, Sage Senior Vice President Larry Ritter described three emerging trends:
1. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud computing:
"On-premise[s] is not going away anytime soon," Ritter assured the crowd. He pointed to research indicating that on-premises software has four times the penetration of on-demand, but that statistic won't hold up for long -- SaaS's growth rate is double that of on-premises. To address the increasing demand for SaaS, Act! by Sage has delivered what the company calls "software plus services." (Microsoft, it should be noted, used a similar phrase last year.)
Basically users can have all their data on premises but can access a few select and intergrated Web services to supplement the traditional, installed pieces, Ritter said. In a way, Sage is developing the "partial-SaaS" approach with SalesLogix Today, a delivered appliance that hosts a company's data, but requires little set-up or technological support.
2. Social media:
Ritter said that Sage CRM users' interest in social media falls into three categories:
- Networking: Finding or building communities to share common interests.
- Authoring: Easily sharing your point of view or publishing a profile so people can learn more about you.
- Searching & Following: Tracking what influencers, customers, and prospects are saying about you and your company in order to gain insight.
Diving into the Sage CRM 2010 roadmap -- which was originally announced last year, but continues to change -- Ritter demonstrated new social capabilities already available within Act! by Sage. Users can now visit social networking sites to populate contact fields, and can also post messages directly to Twitter from within the Act! interface.
"I was very happy to see Sage embracing social networking," says Denis Pombriant, principal and founder of CRM consultancy Beagle Research, and a CRM magazine columnist. "By making it possible for customers to access Twitter and Facebook from within Act!, Sage has made social networking a part of business and a part of selling."
Pombriant says that what's interesting about economic recessions is that they open the door for new technologies to emerge and add value. "The last recession saw Web meetings and on-demand applications become mainstream," he says. "I think this recession might be the crystallizing moment for social networking."
Sage executives conveyed a commitment to migration across the company's full product portfolio. Many Sage users are currently small-business owners -- but as their businesses scale, they might need to upgrade to a different Sage product -- or perhaps start blending ERP with CRM. It's not always easy, however. As Najeeb told the audience, "Integration and migration between products emerges as a most pressing challenge."
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