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Posts from the ‘Sage CRM’ Category

The Road Ahead for Sage

http://www.flickr.com/photos/qmnonic/266203795/sizes/z/in/photostream/Recently Dennis Howlett, self-proclaimed no-nonsense purveyor of truth in matters pertaining to enterprise IT, penned an article called “Sage on the road to nowhere.” As a long-time observer of Sage UK, Mr. Howlett makes some tough and mostly accurate assessments of the current situation and the challenges faced by Sage as they shift to addressing new customer expectations in the increasingly Cloud-based world of software applications.

Luckily for all involved, Sage leadership has seemingly woken up to these new, and growing, set of expectations and now it’s a matter of proper, disciplined execution on the road ahead. There is no doubt that this journey of transformation will continue to experience bumps in the road with some painful ramifications for many involved.

But it’s completely necessary if Sage wants to survive in the new economy.

If you don’t believe this, consider companies like Blockbuster Video, RIM, Sears, Best Buy and others that – not waking up in time to the transformations in their particular industries – have been either put out of business completely or dramatically crippled.

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Ignore the 5 Ps of marketing at your own peril

Just wipe it off and good as new!

In the various social networking groups that I belong to I often see people talking about “strong” products. The argument goes that success in the marketplace is reliant upon the importance of having software with strong feature sets using current technology.

I always find this to be an interesting point of view.

Interesting, but wrong.

In general, customers don’t purchase products solely based on strong features and current technology. Most companies routinely select products that are not considered the best on features alone because of other considerations in the decision-making process.

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Till death do us part?

I have a friend who’s been married for over 20 years now. His wife is an amazing lady – beautiful, smart, dedicated – and has been a true friend and companion to him.

She has taken excellent care of him and their family.

She took on the responsibilities of being a homemaker – handling the finances, keeping up the house, cooking the meals, taking the kids to school, ensuring the kids grow up healthy and strong.

It’s a lot of work to make those tasks look easy.

If you ask her, she would say that she did it willingly – knowing that she fulfilled an essential role in the partnership. She took on these responsibilities and chores to ensure the overall well-being of the family.

She’s no saint though and wouldn’t suggest that she is. Just as he has benefitted from her taking on these tasks to free him to pursue other responsibilities for the family, she has benefitted as well.

He appreciated her playing this role and I can tell you without revealing any big secret that he wouldn’t be where he is today without her.

And man oh man … let me tell you – he has come a long way from his humble beginnings.

A lot of our mutual friends have commented for years on what a great relationship it is. A true partnership where they have built a wonderful life together.

Sounds perfect, right?

It was.

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I’ve got some bad news for you, sunshine

For those not in the know, the title of this post was taken from “In the Flesh” – a song on Pink Floyd’s The Wall album. The Wall resonates heavily with themes of abandonment and isolation and relates the story of a protagonist who steadily builds up a wall to hide behind in response to the negative pressures in his life.

[Here's a link to the video for those interested: WARNING FOR LANGUAGE AND THEMES THAT MAY BE OFFENSIVE TO SOME. Please don't click if you are one of those folks that get offended at such things. In fact, no one should click on it. I'm asking you not to.]

I think the themes are appropriate as the next few articles are going to focus on the Sage Transformation journey.

What exactly is the “Sage Transformation” journey?

From what I can tell (and please understand that the following is just my opinion and is not endorsed, confirmed, approved or in any other way agreed upon by anyone at Sage), at its core, the Sage Transformation journey is a plan designed to help Sage respond to the rapidly changing landscape of software publishing.

It includes many different elements including re-branding, introduction of subscription pricing, re-organization efforts, direct sales, closer interaction with end user customers, improved cross-selling, connected services and many more. We’ll cover some of these topics in the coming days but for now, let’s keep our focus on the big picture.

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Wilzoch leads Sage CRM Group on roadshow

The checkered flag is mine!

Dan Wilzoch, Head Honcho of the Sage CRM Group, has been making regional visits lately to meet with Sage channel partners and to discuss the future of the Sage CRM solutions – Sage CRM and Saleslogix.

I was fortunate enough to attend the roadshow in Chicago on 02/23/12. Dan was accompanied by Frank Downes, Brian Potter and Brian Neirby for the well-attended event (roughly 40 attendees).  While there were some points of contention, overall, I was pleased with what I heard.

Most impressive was the bold, take no prisoners attitude expressed by Wilzoch. To me, this is a breath of fresh air and gets my blood flowing.

I am a big believer that attitude, not aptitude determines your altitude (thanks to Max Sacks for that quote).

A fundamental truth of software applications: there is no perfect solution for every business. Shocking, right? If you accept that truth, then success comes down to the team with the better strategy and execution.

Sage has a great strategy – working with a strong channel of extremely talented individuals to market and sell and support the Sage CRM products.

There have been some hiccups lately in execution of this approach by Sage but overall Wilzoch’s message was strongly partner-centric. The last 60 minutes or so of the roadshow consisted of Dan fielding questions and queries with refreshing directness. After responding to each point, he would re-state “Ok – what can we do for you?”.

I greatly appreciate Dan’s “Ok – what can we do for you?” approach. He wasn’t making bold, outrageous comments or suggesting sweeping changes. He was talking about a fundamental connection between human beings that resonated nicely.

It goes further than that though.

Asking a question like “ok – what can we do for you?” over and over like that begs the reverse question “ok – what can we do for Sage?”.

Maybe I’m alone in that thought but if we are partners – true partners – we have to ask that question of ourselves.

As a partner, what can we do for Sage? How can we help them sell more software? After all, doesn’t helping them, help us as well? And, more importantly, if we believe in the software, doesn’t it help our customers?

I believe in Sage CRM. I believe that small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to do more with less. I believe CRM is the answer to these problems.

How can I do better at getting that message out there? Helping more customers? Helping Sage? And, of course, helping my firm?

I don’t have all the answers to that one but leaving the roadshow left me more determined than ever to get my ass in gear with my own marketing efforts and spreading the gospel of Sage CRM.

We’ll see how it goes in the coming months and years but, one thing is for certain, my future will be in my hands and not anyone else’s. And isn’t that why I started my own business? And why I’m proud to be a part of a small business? I’m sure many of you reading this feel the same.

In summary, Dan Wilzoch clearly drew the line in the sand at the roadshow: we aren’t settling for where we are – we are going to kick it up a notch and start to make sales.

I applaud this attitude and encourage Sage to have more of these types of events.

Dr. Sagelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Re-brand

http://www.flickr.com/photos/purplemattfish/3918004964/sizes/z/in/photostream/Ok … maybe “love” is a strong word but bear with me here and then feel free to blast me in the comments if you don’t agree. Or for the more disagreeable among you, feel free to blast me even if you do agree. :)

When the re-branding was first announced, it was short on details, long on speculation, concern and fear.

The details made themselves known over the course of time which has helped squash most of the speculation but hardly any of the concern and fear.

For many, the largest concern on the table is that it’s going to create customer confusion. Personally, I don’t think this will happen but I can understand why some feel that way.

As partners, we are always discussing the products – amongst our own teams, with our clients, with other partners, with Sage, with our spouses, etc.

It’s natural that we partners think in terms of the product.

I don’t think the same is true for most customers though – at least my customers. My customers call it “the system”, “Accpac”, “CRM”, “the Sage program”, “Accpac CRM”, etc. Most of my customers don’t really care about the product name.

They just want to do their jobs.

A related concern to the customer confusion is prospect confusion. To me, this is more serious. People know “MAS”, “Accpac”, “Peachtree”, etc. and will be asking for and looking for those products for a long time. Many of these people won’t necessarily know that they are owned by Sage.

Hopefully this will get sorted out by the branding initiatives spread by Sage, the channel, the media, analysts, etc. People will start to become aware of the new names over time.

How much time this will take is open to debate. People still talk about “Great Plains” when Microsoft re-branded that four (five? six?) years ago as “Dynamics GP”.

Adding to prospect confusion though, I contend that the new product names are so generic that – assuming a prospect knows what they are supposed to be looking for (ex. Sage 100 ERP) – it is going to be difficult to find the proper information sources on the Internet.

A search for “Sage 100″ or “Sage 100 ERP” is going to return a lot of junk and we will be asking our prospects to sort through it. Search engine technology is always improving and the Sage brand pages have high authority (used to promote search results) so this might get sorted rather quickly.

So … putting aside those concerns, here are the positive take-aways from the re-branding:

  1. Sage efforts to promote the Sage brand are already working. I’ve had several different sources – prospects, referral partners, clients – mention that they heard the ads and they have had a very positive result. The marketing groups are really producing some high-quality, effective messages. This will ultimately make it easier for partners and Sage to introduce other products in the Sage family – CRM, HRMS, Payment Solutions, etc.
  2. Sage internally is beginning to focus on the Sage brand. Traditionally, as Sage has acquired companies and product lines, each group has had their own mandates, their own missions, their own messaging. I already see a shift in this – in large part because of the new unified brand message. This will make it easier for prospects, customers and partners to work with Sage in the long haul.
  3. Sage is going to be forced to deliver on the brand promises. “Forced” may be a strong word but it works. By putting themselves out there and committing to a brand and trying to drive meaning to that brand, Sage efforts will need to support that meaning or risk losing a lot. My thought is this requirement impacts every last initiative at Sage including a renewed focus on R&D to meet the brand promise. R&D has always been a soft spot in the Sage strategy and, like the other areas I’ve mentioned above, I see evidence that R&D is already turning around.

So, yes, there are still several unknowns coming with the Sage re-branding and I’m guessing that people will still be talking about “Accpac”, “MAS”, “Peachtree”, etc. for the next ten+ years despite Sage efforts.

Overall though, I think it was a bold move and a smart move on the part of the Sage team.

Right now, the software world is going through a huge shift. We need to be bold to take advantage of this shift.

Are internet leads worth a damn?

With that deal, count me down for 10 hours!

If you follow along with the rest of the class at The ERP Lifestyle Consultant, you might get the impression that web leads are less than worthless. MAS guru, social media maven and fellow Summit Diary blogger, Wayne Schulz paints a pretty bleak picture of the whole situation at times.

Wayne convincingly makes the case that web leads are the sorts that do a lot of shopping around, look for some (or all) free advice and won’t be loyal in the long run.

Considering that he has been leading the way with Internet based marketing and social networking long before the term was invented, I would bet he knows what he’s talking about.

So, on the surface, this news can be cosidered rather depressing.

I am personally just starting to dip my toes in the blogging world so it gives me pause as I stop to consider if the required effort is worth the potential payout.

And, for me at least, it is a considerable amount of effort.

[Sidebar: I'm not sure how Wayne makes it look so easy. My theory is that he discovered the secret of cloning back in the 90's and there are actually two or three Waynes running around. Robert Wood suggests that he has a team of social networking agents much like Willy Wonka had his Oompa Loompas. I'm not sure if we will ever know the real truth on this matter.]

On the flip side, two of my largest Sage CRM accounts found me on the web via a Google search. Prior to reaching out to Azamba, both of these companies had been using their Accpac partner to (unsatisfactorily) help them get up and running with Sage CRM.

Yes – they ran me through the hoops to make sure that my team had the proper skills. Frankly I don’t blame them on that front. When you are going to the trouble of switching, you want to make sure it sticks – particularly if you feel you made a bad choice with your first partner.

My other experiences with web leads hasn’t been so bad either. We’ve had a few other, smaller accounts join the Azamba family and a handful of companies ask for quotes that didn’t lead anywhere.

So … what’s the difference? Why has Schulz Consulting had one set of experiences and Azamba a different set?

I’m not 100% sure. Here’s a few guesses though:

  • Higher volume. As previously stated, Wayne has been on the internet for a lot longer than most of us and has cast a wide and deep net. I’m guessing that he gets more web leads in a week than I see in a month (probably even a quarter).
  • Larger install base size. There are a lot more companies using MAS than Sage CRM in North America. This leads to a larger bell curve with more price sensitive shoppers on the far edge and they are all out there trying to find the best deal.
  • More mature product. Accounting systems like MAS (and Accpac) are more mature than CRM products and feature sets are fairly well known and established. Combine this with an industry of profesionals who routinely price by the hour and customers have a hard time differentiating so they tend to look for the “best deal”.

Where does that leave us? And more importantly … where does that leave *me*? :)

Well – despite the challenges of dealing with unqualified – and sometimes unwanted – leads, Wayne has created a system in which he has built a regular lead flow. Because he has made his presence known and provided valuable content demonstrating his expertise, people are seeking him out.

To compensate for this volume, you will see (if you follow his shared experiences at The ERP Lifestyle Consultant) that Wayne has created mechanisms – forms, protocols, procedures, etc. – to help him effectively and efficiently separate the best-fit prospects from the rest.

So, overall, I would say: don’t lose faith.

Social networking works – particularly when combined with a great qualification process. I plan to take what I’ve learned from Wayne and my own experiences and build a stronger future for my team.

I welcome your thoughts on the matter.

I’m an experienced professional – why should I attend Sage Consulting Academy?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mindaugasdanys/3404247622/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Kicking myself for not attending the Jamaica Academy!

The new certification process required by Sage to ensure consistent, high-quality customer experiences across the channel requires partners to attend the mandatory Sage Consulting Academy. Now this may initially be seen as an unnecessary burden to many firms that have been in the channel satisfactorily serving clients for ten, twenty even thirty plus years.

Yeah … I feel your pain. We can sit around and gripe all day long about the injustices in the world and the foolishness of such a session for individuals as well-established and seasoned as you and I, dear reader.

Or … maybe we can look at this as an opportunity?

An opportunity to revisit our practices, routines, methodologies that we have built over the years (either explicitly or by default) to serve clients. After all, the reseller and professional service firm industry is undergoing huge transformations right now alongside the software publishers (and, frankly, almost every other industry out there as well).

Isn’t now a great time to review these things? Before it’s too late and you find yourself in an untenable position?

It’s good to keep this thought in mind:

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”  General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

You can read about one partner’s experiences here and how she (Susan Cardoza at Sysera) changed her mind after attending. I’m sure others have similar experiences to share.

One apparent hit with the Sage Consulting Academy was recently written up by Wayne Schulz on his channel-focused site, www.erplife.com. Read about here.

In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

What do the new Sage pricing options mean for you?

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

First off, let’s get this out in the open: any pricing options discussed in this post are purely speculative at this point. Sage has announced that there will be new options introduced over the next 12 – 18 months but the details have not been released yet.

So as long as we know we are playing the speculation game, let’s begin…

The prevailing speculation is that pricing will be aligned with subscription models and represent a monthly or annual fee model that allows the user to have access to their desired Sage software solution as long as the fees are kept up. This pricing model is in line with the majority of (maybe that should read “all”?) new internet-based software publishers these days – you pay an “as you go” price.

As a software publisher, this makes a ton of sense as it provides an even, smooth, predictable revenue stream that allows the organization to maintain consistent operations and budget activities such as marketing, sales, research and development, operations, capital expenditures, etc. This model is far preferred to the current model of a large initial expenditure by a customer and then they may or may not stay current on the annual support (which entitles customers to current software versions and some level of support).

From the customer perspective, this makes a ton of sense too and it’s one of the reasons that SaaS (Software as a Service) is becoming more popular. Just as this model provides the predictable financial model for the software publishers, the customers also has the same benefit of smooth expenditures vs a large initial implementation cost of services and software.

Ultimately, customers will typically pay more for the software with this model over their total usage as it works much like renting vs owning property.

The interesting thing is that this model works whether the software is in “the cloud” or installed at the customer’s website. Sage is making a push to providing off premise options (I’m not getting into the “what is the cloud” debate here) to give customers the freedom of choice and the theoretical pricing model will work for all options with, of course, some variation in pricing depending on the selection.

For Sage and their customers and prospective customers, the new model is a very good thing. Sage wants to provide options that customers are asking for these days and give the customers the flexibility to do business the way they want. It makes a lot of sense from this angle.

Customers are spending a lot more time on their own these days researching options and making their choices without the assistance of VARs (Value Added Resellers / Sage partners). When they are ready to buy, should Sage say “Whoa … hold up there, chief. You need to talk to one of our partners.” before committing the sale?

For their sake, I hope they wouldn’t do that. Customers have choices and are going to want to do business with vendors that make it easy to do business. Every last one of us follows this rule in life.

So for Sage resellers … what does that mean? Well – Sage historically has a great track record as a partner-centric organization. This might change but I don’t think it will in the near-term.

On the Accpac side of the business, there is a good track record of customers signing up with Accpac Online, the Sage-hosted version of Accpac and being assigned to local resellers to assist them with configuration, training and ongoing assistance. With the current launch of the MAS Online, from what I’ve heard the same model is being used. It’s a rare customer that can configure and setup their accounting or CRM system without some expert guidance.

For the short-term anyway, it seems that margins and end-user relationships are still safe with the channel.

That being said … I think if resellers keep doing business as usual they are going to find themselves in the soup in the coming decade. I encourage every partner in the channel to sharpen their saws and shake things up. Attend the Firm of the Future sessions. Think through how to take your services to the next level. Figure out a niche. Do something – anything – because the status quo is gone for good.

I occasionally hear partners speak as if Sage is somehow unique in facing these dilemmas and decisions and maybe the grass is greener with other publishers. This is not the case at all.

It’s every last publisher. Think about it: all new software companies are starting off going direct as internet based, cloud, subscription models. Sage, Microsoft, SAP are actually operating at a disadvantage with decades of inertia keeping them from changing course overnight. But it’s coming.

Again – the above is 100% speculation but if I look into my crystal ball, it sure seems like a winning play for Sage and Sage customers.

Today’s forecast: Cloud-y

I asked fellow Sage business partner and all-around great guy, Gary Feldman of I-Business Network, to speak a bit about the Cloud. Gary has a well-established practice focused on helping Sage partners and customers move their MAS implementations in to the cloud.

He had a very well-attended session today (nearly 150 customers and over 25 Sage partners!) on the topic of What is the Cloud and Should I Use It? According to Gary: the Cloud is coming!

Read on to hear his thoughts:

Cloud deployment is a form of technology outsourcing where customers pay for technology services based upon the amount of service required.  In the traditional on-premise deployment, customers would purchase a fixed capacity of hardware and software and typically buy more than they initially need (minimum requirements) and have to maintain operating systems, databases and backups internally.  With cloud deployment customers can subscribe to a service and access their Sage software over the internet anytime, from anywhere, from any device!

For Sage customers and partners there is a silver lining in the clouds.  Sage is the only leading vendor to provide a full line of applications available both on-premise and in the cloud where customers can seamlessly migrate in either direction.  CRM, ERP, Fundraising, bill pay, sales tax and more connected services provide customers complete choice of options for their ERP deployment.  Small businesses will really benefit from the power and functionality of SAGE ERP MAS 90 Online available on a subscription basis in the fourth quarter of this year.  As these customers grow, they can add users in hours per Jamie Kandola the Sage Product Manager leading the online charge.  If customers need third party add-ons the customer can migrate on-premise or to a partner supported cloud.

But the Cloud is more than technology outsourcing.  The cloud is a way to provide remote access to company information to improve customer service and satisfaction. 

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Great information for us all. Thanks to Gary for his time. I will leave you with one final statement concerning the cloud by Gary:

“It is about getting information to people when they need it, where they need it. Just like Sage Sales Tax powered by Avalara gets the accounting department up to date tax rates and calculations to your ERP, cloud services can provide service and prospect information to representatives in the field on an iPad or virtually any device.”

Sage Summit 2011 is certainly in the Cloud!

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