Sage Sells Solutions, Not Products

DENVER — Sue Swenson appeared to breathe a sigh of relief last week.

As the president and chief executive officer of Sage North America took the stage of the Wells Fargo auditorium here to open Sage Insights '10, Sage's annual partner conference, the opening remarks stood in stark contrast to her keynote at last year's Insights event. "I'm happy to see the economy improving," Swenson said. "Even though it's bumpy and choppy, at least it's bumpy and choppy on the way up." She admitted that, in retrospect, her 2009 keynote in Nashville had not been a happy one. Whereas the theme of that event involved going back to basics, she said, 2010's theme is about embracing new opportunity. 

Swenson told Insights attendees that Sage is serious about making and keeping commitments. She said that not only will Sage commit more readily to product reviews to measure and fulfill product objectives, but it will also renew its commitment to customer experience. To that end, Sage launched a new customer experience workshop for partners, to help them ensure they're meeting the needs of customers. 

"What customers expect is sometimes not what we think," Swenson told the audience. "We get caught up in our own worlds and views and we don't hear what the customer is telling us." Sage, she added, continually conducts surveys around the globe to try to understand the needs of small businesses and what's important to them. Oftentimes, Swenson said, Sage has found that what it thinks customers want is not quite the case: "Actually, it's more simple than we thought it to be." The CEO played a video montage of customers and partners talking about their true business needs and wants. The most common words used included:

  • trust,
  • help,
  • responsive,
  • needs,
  • serving,
  • advisors, and
  • promises

At Tuesday's keynote address, Sage Business Solutions President Jodi Uecker-Rust said, "Sometimes 'extraordinary' means 'doing the ordinary things really, really well.' " One of those "ordinary" areas that Sage has emphasized in the past few years is its branding, and Swenson reported that brand awareness has improved 33 percent. "We know how important brand is to sales," Swenson told attendees, "If you don't have brand, you have to make two sales: one is the brand, the second is the product." In uniting and promoting the Sage global brand, she added, the company has also made great strides in bringing together its various products. 

Himanshu Palsule, executive vice president of product strategy and marketing of Sage Business Solutions, dug deeper into product integrations in his speech on Tuesday. What Sage previously lacked, due to its history of acquisitions, was a joined-up story. "We needed to move from being known [as] 'a company with product portfolio' to 'a company with a business solution strategy,' " Palsule stressed. He then outlined a three-part strategic framework for building upon Sage offerings:

Pillar One: Maximizing existing assets.

Sage has climbed 10 points in its Net Promoter score, which quantifies customers' "willingness to recommend to others." It's also boosted renewal rates from 90 percent up to 97 percent. Customer value comes from not just product functionality, Palsule said, it comes from how easy Sage is to do business with. One problematic area in that realm has been in contracts and support. Sage, Palsule admitted, had 41 different maintenance and support contracts. For customers using multiple Sage products, this often proved nightmarish. As a remedy, Sage just launched what it calls Sage Business Care. The new model offers three tiers of customer support and maintenance that bridge across product lines. The Sage Business Care model is going to be rolled out in phases to the various products. Sage CRM executives said it might not be available for Act! by Sage, for instance, until October. 

Pillar Two: Responding to industry trends. 

Palsule highlighted mobility and cloud computing as the biggest drivers of change for Sage. "Our SaaS strategy is simple," Palsule explained, "It's taking the richness of on-premise applications and connecting it to the reach of Web services." Sage announced three new Web Connected Services at Insights. (Look out for another destinationCRM.com story with more details on Sage CRM news.) The Connected Services, Swenson said, provide an area of opportunity for cross-sells and upsells. 

Pillar Three: Customer acquisition.

More customers than ever are switching software providers because of vertical needs. Palsule showed a slide depicted how Sage zeros in on various vertical and horizontal needs. "There is very little white space," he said. 

"I think we are much happier today than before," Swenson said, concluding her keynote address.  "The recession gave us opportunity to step back and look at the basics." Now, Swenson added, Sage has built the foundation of the house--it's ready to put the roof on it. 

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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