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Sage Steps Forward

Sage Steps Forward

Sage is not simply keeping up with the Joneses. At this week's event, I saw a compelling demo of someone querying an inventory database over a handheld device, Siri-style. The building's demo demons managed to provide some humorous WiFi moments, thanks to CTO Himanshu Palsule, but the Sage product worked flawlessly. The system handled multiple queries down to the penny.

By Denis Pombriant
07/23/13 5:00 AM PT

Sage Summit, held in Washington, D.C., this week, was a more upbeat event than it has been over the last two years. During that interval, the company has had the thankless task of telling its customers and partners that it was making big changes and that things would be better. The news was not always welcomed for all the reasons you can imagine.

This year, with so much of the change behind it -- including products in the market, a reorganized company, and a leaner product line -- everyone seemed to be breathing a little easier.

Focus on Partners

Among other things, Sage undertook an effort to promote the Sage brand over individual ERP products like Timberline. Sage had grown by acquisition, and all of its products had prior histories and individual identities. The lack of a corporate brand, leadership felt, was resulting in money being left on the table -- for instance, when an ERP customer went to the market for CRM.

A few months ago, Sage sold Saleslogix and Act! and is now offering only its Sage.com on-demand CRM solution. Indeed, the company has always struggled with making itself appear to be more than the sum of its acquired parts, so the rebranding and divestitures should now make it more cohesive.

Along with these changes, many old hands were missing while Sage brought in many people with new skills to contribute toward managing issues like customer experience, social media, cloud computing and more -- all of which it needs.

Judging by everything I saw and heard, Sage has more to do, but it has succeeded in the biggest task. The company chose to address partner relationship issues with a high-touch, multipronged outreach focusing on customer experience, and in the process it has opened a discussion with its partners about the customer experiences they provide.

One of the prongs involves an ongoing 6,000 mile road trip around the United Sates in an RV. Another involves a private community it formed, called "Sage Listens." The company is conspicuously relying on the Net Promoter Score, which it says has improved over the last couple of years from 11 to 24.

Keeping Up and Thensome

The comparison between Sage today and the company a few years ago is amazing. It hasn't been long since Sage looked like a company mired in a mudhole without an idea of how to get out -- or even much interest. The vibe was of a company catering to a partner base stuck in the same mud.

If you asked about cloud computing, for example, you got answers that basically said "the partners won't do it." While I understand the idea of catering to your customers, a company like Sage also has its customers' customers to consider, but that didn't seem to penetrate.

Beginning two years ago, a new CEO, Pascal Houillon, started streamlining the product line, bringing in new people and embracing the future. One of the benefits of being a later adopter of today's major trends like cloud, social, mobile and analytics, as opposed to being a fast follower, is that by the time you get around to changing, the issues that went back and forth have largely been settled.

So you see Sage with its crisp understanding of hybrid cloud architectures, platform, customer experience and other things that others have been wrestling with -- in some cases for a decade.

The company is not simply keeping up with the Joneses. I saw a compelling demo of someone querying an inventory database over a handheld device, Siri-style. The building's demo demons managed to provide some humorous WiFi moments, thanks to CTO Himanshu Palsule, but the Sage product worked flawlessly. The system handled multiple queries down to the penny.

Ingredients Assembled

More to the point, I also like the company's approach to customer experience -- first, because it has one at all; and second, because its approach shows Sage eating its own dog food. In one of the most innovative customer approaches I have seen in a long time, Sage has started a six-week tour of the United States to promote its customer orientation and small business.

What's cool about this is the very graphical promotion of the event. First, it's got an RV painted like a Sage billboard with the words "Sage Listens." Next, it plans to stop at Sage customers all along the route to thank them for their business, as well as to meet with them and learn about their challenges.

Brad Smith, EVP of customer experience, told me that Sage is also promoting small business as part of the tour by encouraging people to shop local. While promoting small business might be the least beneficial in a direct way to the company, it is the right note to strike in these economic times to stoke demand.

I came away from Sage Summit with a renewed respect for this company. There's more work to do, but after a long wait, it appears it's got the team in place, the products, and the strategy to get the job done.


Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.


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