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May 22, 2008

Sage 2010: A CRM Odyssey

Last week I attended Sage Insights - Sage Software's annual partner conference. It was my first time attending the event, and unfortunately for me I only was able to make one day of it. But it was enough time for me to get some insight (pun intended) into Sage's CRM strategy they're rolling out over the next few years. They call it Sage CRM Strategy 2010. For those interested you may want to check out the following:

Whitepaper: www.sagecrmsolutions.com/2010strategy

There was a lot going on while I was there, including new Sage CEO Sue Swenson (try saying that quickly five times) laying out some high level direction the company is taking in hopes of becoming the most trusted software company in the world. Sage partners seemed pretty positive with some of the changes outlined in the partner programs that are aimed at making it easier for them to "engage with Sage". Apparently many felt like all partners were treated the same, regardless of how much business they brought it. Sage wanted to address this in their partner programs, and wanted to make sure incentives were in place to reward partners creating lots of business opportunities. This step shows the importance of the partner channel to Sage with respect to building their brand with small and mid-size businesses. Growing the partner channel will also be important to fight the television advertising moves that Sage competitor Intuit has been dabbling in lately, with their Quickbooks commercials. The feet-on-the-street partners, along with online marketing efforts, are two of the main tools Sage will be depending on to make their presence felt in the SMB communities that everyone seems to be focused on at the moment.

Sage offers a dizzying array of products aimed at companies of all sizes. But of course the bread and butter for me was the analyst briefing on their CRM strategy, and my one on one conversation with David van Toor - GM for CRM Solutions. The analyst briefing was led by , among others:

Joe Bergera - EVP & Global General Manager, Sage CRM Solutions

Larry Ritter - SVP, Product Management and Marketing, Sage CRM Solutions (check out my interview with Larry and Connie Certusi - SVP and GM, Small Business Accounting Solutions)

I was already impressed with Joe, Larry and David, having spoken with them in the past. And the Sage CRM 2010 strategy they laid out has a number of interesting points that are also impressive. Being able to access customer information across Sage CRM products makes a lot of sense in many cases. A company with salespeople happily using ACT! out in the field may want to have the internal marketing team using SalesLogix. Sharing data across CRM apps makes it possible for each group of users to keep their tool of choice, which should positively impact the probability of success. Additionally, Sage CRM products also will share CRM data with Sage's other non-CRM products, which also can improve CRM acceptance throughout the organization, by impacting back office effectiveness.

Sage also has committed to making it as painless as possible to transition from one platform to another. So, according to Sage, if you're currently on ACT! and you want to move to a full blown CRM, you can opt for SageCRM.com or SalesLogix without migrating your data. This will remove a significant barrier to companies staying with a platform no longer suited to their business needs, strictly to avoid the typical headaches inherent in switching platforms.

Anywhere Access is also a big part of the 2010 strategy. Sage says it will allow organizations to access CRM data and functionality at their discretion based on their choice of devices (rich clients, smart phones, etc.) and state (connected or disconnected). What I like about this is that it reminds me of an article I wrote almost two years ago on my hopes for CRM and The Next Generation Network. Where we can access information and services based on who we are, where we are, what device we're using, and what network we're on (or not on). This could be a significant development from a productivity standpoint, but more importantly a move that aligns work lives to more closely resemble personal lives, and not the other way around.

There were other interesting things that also shows Sage is embracing Web 2.0 tools and philosophies. David van Toor demoed ACT! on the iPhone, which gives you access to your customer data via a nice interface. SalesLogix for the BlackBerry goes even further with GPS enabled "Accounts Near Me" - that tells you what customers/prospects are in close proximity to your current location. Then you can view alerts on the customers and get directions leading you to their doorstep with all the relevant information at your disposal. That's pretty sweet. Sage also has embraced enterprise mashup capabilities , such as the Google News Feed they demoed. I will say that Sage did go much further in addressing Web 2.0, social media and its role in CRM much more than Microsoft did at Microsoft Convergence.

From the small business perspective, Sage is making sure they look after the 2.8 million current ACT! users who have invested huge amounts of time building up their customer databases. They announced a partner hosted option for those wanting ACT! "on demand". Partners started applauding on hearing the news, which leads me to believe their customers must have been asking for this. I think this could be very good for all involved. But it will only be good if partners do a good job in providing all the safety nets that we've grown accustomed to in terms of, security, up-time, and application responsiveness. This could be a negative if partners aren't able meet expectations, as Sage and ACT! will be the ones to take the hit. I'm guessing the reason why they aren't taking on hosting responsibilities for ACT! is that they'd rather see customers move over to SageCRM.com for full CRM requirements. With that said, ACT! is still very central to Sage's strategy at the individual and small business level, and it makes sense to make those millions of users comfortable if they choose to stay put, or if they need a broader solution which they can easily grow into. I do question how easy it is for new small business prospects to determine which Sage solution (and delivery method) is best for them. Microsoft has a similar challenge with respect to delivery method, but without the different CRM application codebases.

The other question I have, which is similar to one raised by Paul Greenberg, is why Sage doesn't seem to really be pushing SageCRM.com has heavily as other on-demand CRM players are. It still feels like Sage hasn't jumped full boar on the SaaS bandwagon that everyone else is joyfully riding. SaaS has received so much attention and its due in no small small part to customer relationship management. SageCRM.com has some nice functionality and would probably benefit from the SaaS craze if it were pushed out there more, particularly with the SMB crowd. I'm just guessing here, but I think small businesses still don't think of Sage in the same manner as other major on demand players. And I do believe some confusion is out there with respect to what SageCRM.com has to offer as compared to Hosted ACT! So I think those SMBs taking their first dip into CRM may find it difficult to navigate Sage's product offerings compared to their main competitors.

With all that said, the one thing that is clear to me is that Sage is serious about providing SMBs with solid CRM solutions. This was clearest to me when speaking with David van Toor - whose passion for this came across in everything he did during the conference. It also comes across in his efforts in growing the ACT! community, where he fields a number of questions and engages in many conversations with community members. The community is still early in its development, but van Toor says the feedback he's getting is already being factored into how Sage will provide products and services. As the community grows it will be interesting to see its impact on Sage's products and its service to small businesses. It will also be interesting to see if the messages they receive from partners with respect to customer sentiment, are they same messages coming directly from the community.

Sage is doing some really interesting stuff and have chose a different path than many players in the space, like building a REST-based platform as opposed to SOA-based one. So it's critically important for them to leverage their partners and growing communities to help shape and deliver the message that they are serious about CRM for the SMB community.

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