New CEO’s Sage Advice: Listen

Sage Software owned the CRM vendor conference spotlight this week, with Insights 2008, held in suburban Washington, D.C. Sage updated attendees on its product road map and better acquainted users and partners with the new CEO Sue Swenson.

She is not a software person, writesBeagle Research Managing Principal Denis Pombriant in his blog post Insights on Insights. That doesn’t seem to matter.

“Swenson is from the telco space and is very smart. It is also important to note that she is not a software person, but she has great instincts; I would even say CRM instincts. To her credit, Swenson has not done anything rash. She has refused to make change for the sake of change and instead has embarked on a long-term outreach effort. Her schedule has been full of travel to meet Sage people and, importantly, to listen to what they can teach her about the company, its products and customers.

Instincts in Action

“In my mind, Swenson is just doing what any CRM-oriented person ought to do, and what’s interesting is that she said it was a habit she first got in wireless. At T-Mobile, the executive team she was part of made a religion out of traveling and visiting with the troops on a quarterly basis. The purpose was to listen, not preach, and then to come back to the office and analyze the data before instituting any improvements. That’s what she’s doing at Sage, and one can hope it will have a positive effect on Sage and Sage’s customers.”

About those customers . . . “They are not the kind of people who will run out and buy the latest, most expensive technology,” Pombriant tells CRM Buyer. The nature of Sage’s business has always been to focus narrowly on a defined, specific part of the market where companies are relatively late adopters of new technology.”

Sage has been criticized for not being more leading-edge, Pombriant points out, “but the fact of the matter is their customer base is not leading-edge. So, Sage is smart to offer the right solutions for their customers at the right time.”

Product announcements made at the event include a number of new integration and interoperability initiatives, he noted.

Why it has taken most CRM companies such a long time to finally “get it” was the subject of some after-hours brainstorming between Pombriant and CRM guru Paul Greenberg, who also attended Insights.

“‘It’ being that the customer is in command of the conversation and the nature of the software world,” he writes in his post Sage Gets Wise – 2008 The Year They ‘Got’ It – Mostly.

Mainly, though, the post is about Sage and the solid foothold it has in the CRM space.

“I have to say that while I have a couple of concerns, they have taken a really interesting path,” writes Greenberg. “They are still ‘off’ but this time it might be good ‘off’ because they have a unique strategy — especially given their customer base — and it is one of those that is SO different than the rest of the industry that its hard to tell how well it will succeed.”

Acronyms Abound

For instance, “Sage has an unusual strategy that I have to say follows nothing like any other strategy of any other CRM vendor that I know about,” he continues. “They also are the only CRM vendor that uses REST rather than SOA as their architecture — and that actually is one of the reasons that their strategy veers away (not ‘off’) from the other CRM vendors. Given their target markets, the small and medium business world, their strategy could work but it has its risks. First, REST, for those of you (including me until a few days ago) who don’t know it (as you will see, you DO know it, but you didn’t know it was called REST).

“REST — which stands for Representational State Transfer (which sounds mildly sinister) — is apparently the architecture the web is based on — a WOA (without the H) (a web oriented architecture). It uses web links to take you to dedicated web pages that contain content and XML-based instructions on what to do with that content — in other words a way of presentating instructions on what to do with the content on that particular page. The page itself is just that — a page that carries this information. So it might say, for example ‘get this PDF file.’ It is used in conjunction with standard web protocols like HTTP, SOAP (though interestingly, Sage folks derided SOAP as clumsy and made it seem as if REST doesn’t use it — or need it.”

Travis Campbell, another Insights attendee, video blogged on his way to the conference and while there, asking viewers to post questions to his blog that they would like Sage management to answer.

They were happy to oblige:

Margie: “When will there be a Quickbooks Link available that works with ACT! 2007 and QB 2008. We have QB 2006 with the link, but QuickBooks ends support for QB 2006 on May 31, 2008!”

Steve Christiansen: “Travis, I’ve been disappointed in Sage Software for dropping custom lookup control from ACT! software. ContactList Plus doen’t cut it. I’ve repeatedly [asked] for programming changes without results or even feedback from the guys at Durkin Computing. Please ask these guys from Sage if there’s any interest on their part to program this back into ACT!.”

Reeder Lyons: “For the small one person business — why can’t there be a version whose footprint is smaller consuming LESS resources?

“Why can’t the program be made such that we have email capacity, database capacity and some of the other basics without all the whistles and bells.

“Probably there are a goodly number of small independent contractors whose business could be improved with an ACT such as ACT 6 or something of this nature. I know ACT has ramped up to service the much larger corporations, but [given] the large number of small contractors it is my guess there would be a huge number of people who would like to have something akin to the older version of ACT, that did not take such gargantuan amounts of hard drive and cpu usage. Just my two pennies worth. I’m still using ACT 6 because I don’t need all that is incorporated in the new SAGE version. But would be willing to upgrade if the new basic version were available.”

And Jim Hansbrough: “Travis — I’m concerned about the terrible reviews I continue to read about versions of ACT released after version 6.0 — which is why I have never upgraded. I sync ACT to my Palm and just don’t want to gamble given the poor commentary. – – Not a question, but a comment you can share. – – And of course if you have any feedback to convince me all is OK now, I’d be interested in hearing it.”

‘Let Me Just Send You a New One’

You’ll find an eclectic collection of advice on Howard Lindzon’s blog (“Stocks. venture and civilization” is the cutline at the top).

He hits a little on all three trends in his post “Amazon..The Stock, The Kindle and Customer Service.”

About Amazon’s stock: “I am getting more bullish.”

About its Kindle venture: “I don’t think [it] will hit the numbers Alley Insider is reporting.”

And the civilization part? Lindzon tells of his encounter with Amazon’s customer service operation: “My Kindle experience has been blah at best. Rachel’s broke and we shipped it back. Some time went by and nothing. . . .

“Last week I called all ready to give them a Verizon rant. As I started, the customer service rep said to me, let me just send you a new one today for tomorrow’s delivery. It showed up and [defused the situation]. In ten years, I have still therefore not had a real complaint against this most complicated to pull off retailer.”

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