SMB Spotlight: Empowering A Billion Women by 2020 Teams Up With Xero

canstockphoto13589024Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from the SMB Group. Today, I’m talking to Ingrid Vanderveldt, CEO of a new venture called Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 (EBW2020) and with Russ Fujioka, the U.S. President of Xero, which provides cloud-based financial solutions for small businesses.

Ingrid and Russ, I’m really excited to talk to you about how you guys are teaming up on this initiative of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020.

Ingrid, can you just start by telling me a little about what EBW2020 is and why you started it?

Ingrid: Sure, and I’m so glad Russ is here, too, because I cannot imagine doing the venture without Russ and without Xero.

EBW2020 is about actually empowering a billion women on a global basis worldwide over the next few years, by providing them tools, technology, and resources to empower their success as leaders and as entrepreneurs.

To do that we focus on three areas. One is mentorship, because we found that lack of mentorship is the number one reason why women don’t start, grow, or scale their ventures. Financial literacy is number two, and number three is technology support.

These three pieces together are sometimes the most intimidating pieces of starting, growing, and scaling a business. We want to demystify that entire process, make it super easy, and provide support for women globally to tackle these three areas.

xeroIt ties into Xero on the financial side. We want and encourage women to get on the Xero platform. We’ve selected Xero because, frankly, Xero is the easiest, simplest. They call themselves beautiful accounting software, but it truly is a very easy way for any business owner to gain control and clarity and simplicity over their finances.

And when you team women up with that capability along with support, together we can help strategize on how can you use your financial literacy to empower your growth.

Laurie: In addition to Xero, what other components are in EBW2020?

Ingrid: It entails three things. One is the mentor-matching platform, where we team women business owners coming into the EBW2020 platform with a mentor by industry, by revenue numbers. So, for example, we’d team a woman making $50,000 a year with a woman in $150,000-$250,000 a year category. That’s all free.

Then, we start moving them into our business-in-a-box solutions. Step number one here is get on the Xero platform so together we can examine and strategize over their finances.

We also have a $100 million fund that we provide financing to enable women to grow and thrive.

Laurie: So the Xero piece provides financial visibility and automates a lot of manual tasks.

Ingrid: Exactly. I’ll never forget a meeting I had with Russ last summer, when he started showing me some new things that were coming out at Xero a year ago, which are now out. And I was, like, oh my gosh, this is a dream come true.

Laurie: Yes, Russ, can you give us a little background on how you got together with Ingrid on this?

Russ: Ingrid and I met back in our Dell days, over four years ago when she was Dell’s Entrepreneur in Residence. I was coming out of the venture community and we had a lot in common in the companies that we had worked with and were enabling.

When I came to Xero, I called Ingrid to see what she was up to and talk to her about what Xero was doing. And you know, the mission of Xero was very complementary. Xero is also really focused on helping small businesses to thrive and survive.

In particular, I was talking to her about what we call “beyond accounting” capabilities. Because after we had built our robust platform for small business accounting, we started to integrate lots of tools and an insights engine. We call it big data for small business. Our first foray into that is our business performance dashboard.

Xerocon2

L to R: Cristina Garza, Accounting Prose, Russ Fujioka, Ingrid Vanderveldt

I was talking to Ingrid about this, the ability for small businesses and their advisers to look at key indicators so that they can continually monitor their business and help build financial acumen to be successful. That resonated with Ingrid in the sense that it could help women entrepreneurs easily gain financial acumen.

From the beginning, Xero always touted that no small business should be in business without a trusted financial adviser. Our platform is built from the ground up in the cloud to support a two-way view, for the small business and their financial adviser. Or, as we are seeing, also sometimes their funding agents, bringing a lot of transparency into the financials of their business.

So when I first came into Xero, I think Ingrid was pretty psyched about what we were doing, because I think Xero was architected this in with these needs in mind. So it was serendipitous that we had the meeting, and then it resonated really well for what she wanted to enable within her efforts.

Ingrid: Can I add something? Having full transparency is really a big deal. The main reason I went to Dell as Entrepreneur in Residence was to prove out the concept that through technology we could create an instant global platform and, for me personally, pilot that hypothesis towards the goal of empowering a billion women by 2020.

Going back to what I originally said about our three pillars of mentorship, financial literacy, and technology/scalability, I knew how to solve the mentoring issue. But while I was at Dell, I hadn’t figured out how do we could quickly and easily give women financial confidence.

Back at Dell, I started funding a development team to build out what I call Etch-a-Sketch on top of QuickBooks. When Russ called me and he said, you just have to see what we’re doing at Xero, I got goosebumps, literally I almost started crying because I was so happy. It is dream come true for how easy and simple it makes helping entrepreneurs get confident about their finances.

And to see finances and money not as something to be scared of or intimidated by, but instead, something they can understand and can really fuel success.

This is going to revolutionize small business on a worldwide basis, it’s just that good.

Laurie: Just to clarify one thing. To initially sign up before you start using the business-in-a-box and the Xero component, to just sign up and start getting some of your tips and things like that, Ingrid, that part of it is free. Correct?

Ingrid: Yep, that first level is free, and there are three levels of membership.  The community just went live a couple of months ago, but there are over 8,000 people in it and we’re about to add 2,000 from Iceland. So it’s growing very quickly.

Laurie: Last but not least, the third component, the philanthropic part of EBW2020. What does that involve?

Ingrid: EBW2020 has two arms. One is our for-profit, which is what we’ve talked about. Then there’s the not-for-profit, our EBW foundation, which is focused on the exact same things but it takes it a step further.

For example, a woman in Uganda, if we can give her a working cell phone, get her tapped into the EBW a community, find her a mentor, and start teaching them about financial literacy?

So on the foundation side, we start at a different level than where we start with women who are coming from more developed countries.

Laurie: That’s great to know, and I just want to thank both of you, Ingrid and Russ, for joining me to share this information, which I think a lot of people will find very valuable. Best wishes for meeting your goals, and thanks again.

Unit4 Kicks Off North America Market Focus

unit4_logoUnit4, long-time European ERP leader, is making a concerted push into North America. To that end, it hosted industry analysts at the beautiful 60 State Street Boston venue on June 10. Read my Storify account of the event here.

Intacct Collaborate: Bringing Sales and Finance Together

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m here on the SMB Spotlight at Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2014 Conference.  I’m talking to Aaron Harris, who is the Chief Technology Officer for Intacct.  Aaron, thank you for sharing time with me today.  Can you tell me a little bit about Intacct, who you are, what you do?

Aaron: Sure.  Thanks Laurie.  Intacct is a cloud accounting and finance solution that we have designed for small and medium-sized businesses.  We’ve taken a best in class approach, so all of our resources are targeted at building just what the accounting and finance team needs, the general ledger, payables, receivables.  We’ve got a strong relationship with Salesforce, so if you’re using Salesforce we’ve got a very nice native integration where Intacct and Salesforce synchronize data and processes and it’s a beautiful way to get your front office and your back office working together.

Laurie: So what are you highlighting here?  I know you have an announcement about some new collaboration capabilities with Salesforce.  What’s going on with that?

Aaron:      That’s right.  So at Dreamforce this year we are announcing Intacct Collaborate.  What Intacct Collaborate does it takes Salesforce Chatter and extends it into Intacct so that your sales and your marketing and support people who are using Salesforce today and who are collaborating on Chatter are using now the same network that the accounting team, the finance team, project managers are using on the backend.  So there’s one social network, there’s one collaborative network across the enterprise for the whole organization to work on.

Laurie: Good.  It sounds like that makes it easier for everybody to feed information into the whole financial process.

Aaron: That’s right.  There’s a lot pieces to it.  Obviously there are some great stories, right?  I’m a sales rep, I’ve got a deal that I want to get done, I need to get a 10% discount approved on that deal.  In the old world I’d write an email to the CFO, the CFO doesn’t know anything about what I’m talking about so the CFO has got to go do some research.  She responds to the email, there’s lots of back and forth, none of the communication is captured, right?  So it slows down the sale, it adds frustration, there’s no log to what happened.  So in this world that all happens via chatting and collaborating, and it’s all in real-time, it’s all captured, it’s all part of the record.  We also see this being useful within the accounting and finance team, getting them to collaborate over some of the more tricky business processes.  I was talking to a CFO the other day who said 20% of finance transactions are exceptional, they’re complex.  And we spend 80% of our time on those 20% of the transactions, the exceptions.  We have to find out what’s going on, what do we do?  Having Collaborate allows them to not only more efficiently communicate about these transactions and these exceptions, but it generates a log that you keep the communication around the transaction.

Laurie: I know Intacct is really aimed at small and medium businesses, but that’s a very diverse audience, so what segments of the SNB market are really the sweet spot for Intacct?

Aaron: Sure, so there’s really two categories of customers who are choosing Intacct.  The first is companies who have outgrown their first accounting product, usually it’s QuickBooks.  They’ll outgrow it when they need to automate processes that are manual.  Perhaps they’re now a multi-location business and it’s just too difficult to aggregate or consolidate data across the locations.  It might be that the reporting tools available in QuickBooks don’t give them kind of insight that they need, which product lines are the most profitable, which of my professional services engagements are losing money and which are making money?  This kind of insight is just not possible in some of the low-end products.  Or it may just be that this is a growing company that expects to go public, they need to have proper controls in place, they need to have a certain way they’re going to get through their Sarbanes–Oxley audits, so they need a product that will help them…

Laurie: Even if you’re preparing to be acquired or something like that.  If you sell the business you would need that.

Aaron: Exactly.  You need a product that cannot just assure external auditors that you’re following these controls, but that allows you to provide the evidence that you’re doing it.

Laurie: And that’s about half of your customers are coming from that.

Aaron: About half.  So the other half are people who have embraced the cloud.  They love Salesforce, they love some of the other cloud products.  They can see that with Salesforce they’re getting constant innovation, it embraces mobile technology.  You know what I’m talking about.

Laurie: Yeah, they just want to be able to do things on the fly, they way they want, on the device of choice.

Aaron: And no more headaches about hosting the infrastructure, that’s security, right?

Laurie: No, they don’t want to mess with that.

Aaron: So they want to take their accounting and finance processes and modernize them to the same extent as they already have sales and marketing.  So they’re choosing Intacct not just because it’s cloud and it gives them the same advantages they’re getting through Salesforce, they’re also choosing it because it’s fully integrated with Salesforce.  They’ve got the full front office/back office integration, data synchronization, process integration.

Laurie: It takes the integration headache away too.

Aaron: That’s right.  No more disconnect in the process.

Laurie: So how can a potential customer or prospect learn a little bit more or better evaluate whether this might be a good fit for them?

Aaron: The easiest way is to go to our website, go to www.intacct.com.  There’s a number of things you can do there, but maybe the easiest is just to get a trial.

Laurie: So you do still offer a free trial?  I think a lot of them don’t anymore

Aaron: We do.  We’re very proud of our product, we think it’s very easy to use, so get a trial.  We actually walk you through how to learn more.  It’s actually a really nice way to learn about Intacct.

Laurie: That’s great.  Well Aaron, thank you again for sharing that information with me about Intacct.  I think it will be really valuable for a lot of small and medium businesses out there.  Have a great rest of Dreamforce.

Aaron: Thanks Laurie.

Laurie: Thank you.

Six Technology Resolutions for a Happier and Healthier SMB New Year

Happy New Year! While we often make personal New Year’s resolutions, I don’t think too many businesses make them. But you can start to change that in 2014 by resolving to make better use of technology to power your business, and create a more sustainable, competitive business.

With that in mind, here are a few resolutions that can help you work smarter, not harder, and enjoy a happier, healthier business in 2014.

iphone1. Manage your mobile investment. SMB Group research indicates 67% of SMBs view mobile solutions and services as “critical” to their businesses. SMBs are using mobile apps and solutions to help employees work more productively and efficiently, and to boost customer engagement and transactions. But while mobile apps are often easy to use, you also need to provision, support, and track and manage them on the back-end. Unfortunately, many SMBs are not yet using solutions to manage mobile devices and applications, and to protect valuable data from being lost or stolen. The good news is that vendors have taken notice and are offering cloud-based mobile management solutions specifically tailored to SMB requirements and constraints. Just a few to check out include: AirWatch Professional, Mobile Iron, Tangoe, and Dell Cloud Client Manager.

Social Business People Network  inside Speech Bubble2. Tune up your content marketing strategy. Many SMBs feel overwhelmed by the care and feeding that marketing requires these days. Back in the day, when marketing was a one-way street, businesses could get by with creating a marketing campaign and collateral that would see them through a quarter or even the year. But in the digital age, businesses are under pressure to create new content every week or even every day to keep customers coming back. If you don’t have one, put a plan in place for creating and scheduling content to keep everyone on track. When you create fresh content, think upfront about ways to recycle and reuse it. For instance, if you create a YouTube video, write a blog post about some aspect of it, and tweet out bite-size tidbits from the post. In addition, put a system in place to measure what networks and content click for your target customers. Depending on your business, free or low-cost tools such as HootSuite, SocialMention, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Google Analytics, Bit.ly and/or Buffer may fit the bill. Or, you may want to investigate marketing automation solutions, such as Infusionsoft and Hubspot, that integrate social more tightly with sales, marketing and content management applications to make your content investments more actionable.

men with puzzle pieces3. Integrate key workflows to get more bang for your software buck. The cloud has made it easy for businesses to add applications to address pain points on a piecemeal basis. But integration is often an afterthought. As a result, many SMBs end up with a hodge-podge of disconnected applications and workflows. People end up wasting time and making mistakes manually re-entering data into different systems, and getting accurate reports for decision-making can become a Herculean task. Things start falling through the cracks because the different applications and processes “don’t talk to each other.” This could be the year you do something about it! If you’re looking to upgrade core business apps, such as accounting, HR or CRM, consider pre-integrated suites from vendors with open application programming interfaces (APIs) and marketplaces. This makes it easier to snap in new, integrated functionality as needed. If moving to an integrated suite isn’t feasible, you can still get plenty of value just from the most repetitive workflows in your business. Many vendors (Informatica, Scribe, Actian (formerly Pervasive), Dell Boomi, Jitterbit and Mulesoft, just to name a few) offer integration solutions that enable you to connect, map fields, and integrate business processes between different applications.

Slide14. Go green to save green. You don’t need to be a tree hugger to get value from green technology. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but also money and time as well. Often, these resources could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees.But its easy to be green. For instance, when you buy new products, look for vendors with green certifications from ENERGY STAR or EPEAT; use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste; and use recycled plastics in their products. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device, and recycle old equipment so component materials don’t end up leaching into landfills. Moving up green curve, consider making the switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing, etc. Replace some of your travel with web conferencing and consider creating a telecommuting program (cloud-based collaboration solutions such as Google Apps for Business, Microsoft Office 365 and IBM Smart Cloud make this easier than ever) if you haven’t already done so. Finally, if your business suffers from server and storage sprawl, virtualized server and storage resources, consider solutions such as Dell PowerEdge VRTX, which take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance.

baroquon_Add_Money5. Upgrade and integrate payments with accounting and financials. SMB Group research shows that many SMBs still spend a lot of time manually re-entering and reconciling payments back to their accounting and financial systems. This not only saps productivity, but also results in errors that end up taking even more time to correct. If you’re still doing this manually, its time to look at solutions that automatically integrate payments with accounting, cutting time and errors out of payment processing, such as those offered by Intuit and Sage. While you’re at it, investigate whether your business would benefit from being able to accept new payment methods. Chances are, you already take checks and credit cards, but getting set up to accept ACH, mobile payments, gift cards or PayPal may be able to help you attract more customers, gain new business, and enter new markets–or just get paid faster.

cloud6. Take to the cloud–but proceed with due diligence.  Cloud computing promises organizations a faster, easier and cheaper route to get the IT solutions they need to create and run their businesses. So it’s no wonder that SMBs are moving to the cloud. However, not all cloud vendors are created equal–and some have backtracked on the original cloud pledge. They have replaced monthly subscription pricing with annual contracts, tacked on fees for all but the most basic support, and created pricing and contracts that are about as clear as mud. Others fall short when it comes to taking security and privacy precautions. Seek out vendors that stay true to the original cloud promise as evidenced with transparent pricing, clear and flexible contracts, free trials and clearly documented virtual and physical (data center) security measures.

Sage Summit 2013: That Was Then, This Is Now

logoI’m a bit behind in getting my wrap up and thoughts on Sage Summit–Sage’s annual event for business partners and customers–together. But better late than never! As you can see in the related links at the end of this post, I’ve attended these events for many years. During this time, Sage North America has gone through many significant changes to bring sharper focus to its mission and more value to its customers. At this year’s event, I saw promising signs that these efforts are beginning to pay off.

That Was Then

Sage North America has been on a transformational journey since 2009, when Sue Swenson took over as CEO, made some tough choices, and began setting the wheels in motion to change the company’s downward trajectory. In the four years since, the company hired another new CEO, Pascal Houillon, in 2011. Under his leadership, Sage made some controversial (at the time) moves to unify the Sage brand and product names and divest Sage of seven non-core businesses, including ACT! and SalesLogix, which had large installed bases. To help streamline the company’s focus on its core business and on improving customers’ experience with Sage, Houillon also brought some fresh talent into the executive ranks.

This Is Now

The result of all this is a more focused, purposeful Sage. Gone are the days of trying (unsuccessfully) to rationalize an unfathomable number of overlapping products. On Houillon’s watch, it is unacceptable for Sage executives to position the Sage portfolio in different ways. At Sage Summit 2013, the executive team was singing from the same hymnal regarding Sage’s core positioning and messages:

  • Continue to focus on its core businesses (accounting, payroll, payment processing, ERP, etc) for very small businesses, SMBs and the midmarketSlide1. Key to executing on this is the company’s move to centralize R&D Centers of Excellence for cloud, mobility, customer experience. In the past, each individual product brand would undertake separate development efforts for new functionality. Now, Sage R&D develops new features, extensions and add-ons once (for mobility or analytics, for instance) that individual product groups can replicate across their solutions. Sage is also in the process (though not yet there) of standardizing service and support offerings. It launched Sage City, a new centralized online community for customers, business partners and employees, last month. And, Sage will make new acquisitions when needed to supplement its core solution focus.
  • Expand its connected services strategy and offerings. Sage is building more cloud services, such as SageExchange.com, Sage Mobile Sales, and Sage CRM, that connect to core financials and ERP solutions, as well as for partners to build and sell add-on connected services. The company’s big picture vision is to “liberate” data and services that had been locked into ERP so that customers can use them in the cloud, anywhere, anytime, and from any device. Sage is building a data cloud on Microsoft’s Azure platform with common connectors, bi-directional synch, multi-tenant storage and disaster recovery. This means that Sage connected services will work the same way regardless of the backend ERP/financials Sage customers use. This will all come together in the Sage Marketplace, slated to launch in FY14.
  • Going all-in on the subscription pricing and the cloud. Sage now offers subscription-based pricing for all of its solutions, and comps partners on a percentage of subscription sales over the life of a contract. It has also committed to developing cloud versions for its solutions, including a cloud version of Sage ERP X3, which will feature a user pure web experience when available in 2014.

Taking the Marketing Road Less Travelled

sage lisltensThe Sage commitment to putting customer experience first underpins these initiatives. Sage has several initiatives underway to up its listening game, such as the Sage Listens RV Relay, which is allowing Sage to also kick off a “Shop Local” campaign to encourage people to shop with local businesses.

In contrast to the “build it and they will come” tack that most tech companies take, Sage is taking its cue from the Proctors and Gambles of the world. It is getting customer input upfront before developing new products and functionality. Sage is hearing that customers want easy to use, flexible solutions, mobile capabilities and a low-cost of entry, and is concentrating resources on these areas. In fact, in one of the breakouts, when an analyst asked a Sage executive about social and big data plans, the exec said that customers are not calling these out as priorities. He added that while Sage isn’t ignoring these areas, it is prioritizing development and marketing based on customer input.

For instance, Sage recently launched Sage Healthcare Advisory Services , which includes a new “My Workforce Analyzer” tool to help SMBs understand plan for the Affordable Care Act. Analytics are under the covers, of course, to help SMBs develop what-if scenarios and optimize planning. But Sage isn’t calling it a big data solution.

Sage has often been knocked about for not keeping pace with the generational shift in the North American workforce. But it is now facing the facts–specifically that people born before 1968 will comprise less than 20% of the workforce by 2015. Sage is recalibrating its strategy to align more closely with different generational expectations. As Brad Smith, EVP of Customer Experience stated in his keynote, “We have to over-service the pre-PC guys but we also have to find ways to reach the ‘digital natives.’”

To that end, Sage demoed a voice-to-text initiative in which users can use voice-activated mobile technology to interface with ERP systems on mobile devices. It’s sort of like Siri, but within the context of the business and business workflows, so it appears to do a better job of handling user queries and requests. While the voice command initiative is in its infancy, it could be a key differentiator in the future.

Finally, Sage is putting its money where its mouth is, by tying Sage metrics and compensation for all Sage execs to Sage Net Promoter scores (NPS). The company’s previously shrinking North America business has grown 4% year-over-year.

Channeling The Channel

6a00d8345177fc69e20192ac233035970dSMB Group research shows that accountants/CPAs and technology business partners represent 2 of the top 3 influencer channels for SMBs selecting financials and related business solutions, with peers in other businesses rounding out the list. Sage has a large channel in both areas–with over 25,000 accountants in North America and more than 26,000 technology reseller partners worldwide. But over the past few years, cloud competitors have been trying to poach these very valuable resources.

Accordingly, Sage has several new initiatives underway to re-focus partners back on Sage. In addition to committing to provide cloud-based offerings across the portfolio to give partners a Sage cloud offering, Sage is:

  • Partnering with the Business Learning Institute to develop a curriculum for accountants to help them provide more competitive services to their SMB clients.
  • Planning to launch a new certification program for accountants focused on startup market, with a collaborative version of Sage One, Sage’s solution for very small businesses, to make it easier for them to automate tasks and take care of clients.
  • Introducing the Sage Advisor Partner Dashboard, which uses current customer data to help Sage reseller and accountant partners more readily identify new opportunities in the installed base, and provide a more personalized, consultative sales experience.

Sage is also recruiting new partners for midmarket Sage ERP X3, and new accountant partners to help it build traction among very small businesses for the Sage One solution.

Summary and Perspective

Minus ACT! and SalesLogix customers and partners, this year’s Sage Summit was smaller than in 2012. But, the energy level was much higher. Sage executives were more confident and relaxed, and the messages they delivered were consistent and crisp. Sage demos were more engaging, and even at times, entertaining.

Key metrics, including rising NPS scores, modest growth in its North America business, and a stock price that recently reached its highest point in 13 years are also good signs for Sage. As important, conversations with customers at the event led me to conclude that “Sage Listens” has moved beyond a slogan to put the programs in place to proactively engage customers.

However, there are a few areas in which I believe Sage needs to double down:

  • Sage One marketing. Worldwide, Sage has about 10,000 customers using this very small business management solution today. But most of the millions of very small businesses have never heard of it. Sage needs to significantly enhance awareness and demand gen campaigns to become more than a blip on the radar.
  • Third-party connected services . Sage has a big installed base, which should make it an attractive partner for third-party developers–especially now that developers can write just one connector and reuse it for all of Sage’s core products. But Sage has only about 20 endorsed connected partner services today. Again, many developers don’t know about this opportunity. Sage must raise its overall visibility in the developer community and launch a targeted recruitment program to get developers to build the apps that its customers need.
  • Clarity around CRM. After divesting ACT! and SalesLogix, the company’s sole solution here is Sage CRM. But other than discussing integration and a cloud version of Sage CRM that is in the works, CRM was very low profile at the event. Given Sage’s focus on core financials/ERP it leads me to wonder how committed is Sage to Sage CRM, and if will make the investments required to provide a truly first-rate CRM solution.
  • Innovation. Sage made a good case for its direction in the cloud, mobile and integration areas. However, analysts and press did and will continue to hound it on social and big data/analytics. While Sage customers may not have put these areas at the top of their priority lists yet, it’s only a matter of time before they do. Sage needs to get out in front in these areas.

That said, it’s challenging to do everything at once. The Sage leadership team has made the decision to move forward instead of standing still. All in all, I get the impression that Sage as a company has a better sense of who it is, where it’s going and how it will serve SMBs.

Related posts:

Sage Streamlining Takes a Major Turn With the Sale of ACT! and SalesLogix

Sage Turns a New Leaf: Top Takeaways from Sage Summit 2012

Sage’s Rebranding: More than a Name Change

Sage Summit 2011: Tackling the Sage NA Branding Challenge

Impressions from Sage Insights 2009

Sage Streamlining Takes a Major Turn With the Sale of ACT! and SalesLogix

sage imagesLast week, The Sage Group announced that it is selling its Sage Act! contact manager and SalesLogix CRM to Swiftpage. Swiftpage is a U.S. based digital marketing software vendor and has been a Sage partner supplying Sage E-Marketing as a connected service for three-plus years. The move is part of Sage’s strategy to streamline its business software portfolio and focus on its core application areas, accounting, ERP and payroll. Sage is also selling Sage Nonprofit Solutions to Accel-KKR, a private equity firm.

In addition, Sage is unloading four solutions sold in Europe. Combined, these sales amount to about $145 million, and result in a loss to Sage. Accel-KKR and Sage provided Swiftpage with significant capital to help finance Swiftpage’s SalesLogix and ACT! purchases. Sage will retain 16.1% ownership in this deal.

The sale affects about 1,000 of Sage’s 13,000 employees, with about 250 people from Sage ACT! and SalesLogix moving to Swiftpage. In my conversation with Himanshu Palsule, Sage’s North American support group is working with Swiftpage to put an escalation process in place for customers.

Sage isn’t exiting the CRM market, however. It is retaining Sage CRM (which it acquired as part of its purchase of ACCPAC several years ago) as its core CRM product.

Following Through On a Strategy to Streamline

Sage’s announcement doesn’t come as a big surprise. At Sage Summit 2012 last August, Sage North America management revealed its strategy to concentrate development on what Sage termed core solutions areas–namely financials, ERP, and payroll, as discussed in my post, Sage Turns a New Leaf: Top Takeaways from Sage Summit 2012.

At the event, Sage North America CEO Pascal Houillon set forth Sage’s strategy to move from a heavily decentralized product management and marketing approach to one that is more centralized and focused—and to put the company on a stronger growth trajectory. By streamlining its offerings, Sage intends to provide customers and partners with a more integrated experience and more flexibility to take advantage of new cloud-based connected services.

Shedding CRM Solutions That Weren’t Keeping Pace with Market Trends

Over the years, Sage has been very acquisitive. But many of its acquisitions haven’t really paid off. This has been particularly true for Sage ACT! and SalesLogix, both of which Sage acquired in 2001 when it bought Interact Commerce. Sage bought these products when desktop and client-server computing were at their peak–but about to wane. Since then, of course, the likes of Salesforce.com, Zoho CRM, Nimble and many other CRM cloud offerings have come to the forefront. Meanwhile, Sage has struggled to make the cloud transition with its CRM products. In addition, Sage hasn’t been able to keep pace with developing the new social capabilities that customers want in CRM solutions. These limitations have made it difficult to sell these products to new customers.

While Sage did develop integrations for ACT! and SalesLogix with its financials solutions, its attempts to cross-sell CRM to its installed base of financials and ERP customers met with limited success. The partner channel and end-user decision-makers for CRM and financials solutions are very different, and Sage was unable to develop an effective method to bridge the gap. As a result, there is very little customer overlap between the two.

With ACT! and SalesLogix off the plate, Sage intends to increase its focus on its core financials and ERP products, including Sage 50 (formerly Peachtree), Sage 1oo ERP (formerly Sage ERP MAS 90 & 200), Sage 300 ERP (formerly ACCPAC), and Sage ERP X3, and provide a richer set of connected services for these solutions.

Moving Forward

For a very long time, Sage has looked to acquisitions as a way to fuel growth, acquiring scores of business software products over the years. Sage has had a hard time rationalizing its strategy, sparking much criticism for having a cluttered portfolio, too many products and not enough focus.

Now, Sage is taking a 180-degree turn to sell off surplus solutions, freeing up development and marketing resources to create cleaner, more integrated solutions and messaging. While it’s too early to tell if this new strategy will result in the growth Sage is looking for, the move does give the company more bandwidth to concentrate on its core financial solutions, and give its remaining Sage CRM product the types of cloud, social  and mobile capabilities that it needs to be competitive. In addition, Sage no longer has to contend with the politics of competing product lines and partner channels.

While the move may be a bit emotionally jarring for current ACT!  and SalesLogix customers, they shouldn’t experience too much change in the short term. Over time, they may in fact see an upside, if Swiftpage, which has a strong focus in the digital marketing space,  can infuse the former Sage solutions with the updated cloud, social and mobile capabilities that they will need to attract new customers.

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: What’s Behind Xero’s Online Accounting Discount for Non-Profits

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak with Jamie Sutherland, U.S. President of Operations for Xero, which provides an online accounting solution for small businesses. Jamie discussed what makes non-profits tick, Xero’s latest announcement, which is a 25% discount for non-profits, and other Xero news.

Laurie: Jamie, can you start by giving us a little bit of background about what Xero is and what it does?

Jamie: Definitely! Xero is beautiful online accounting software designed specifically for small businesses. At the very outset, when we built the application, we went around to a number of small businesses around the world, and uncovered their workflows and the way they do business. We set out to solve key processes for them in an easy to use fashion. What was born was Xero as an application. Ever since we’ve been expanding rapidly with customers in over 100 countries now, and doubling our customer base and revenue every year. So it’s quite exciting.

Laurie: How do you define small businesses?

Jamie: Our definition is between 0 and 100 employee businesses, with a specific effort around the lower end of that spectrum. Now businesses take many shapes and sizes, and one distinction is around services-based businesses versus those that carry inventory or are involved with manufacturing or wholesale. So we’re more focused on the services-based businesses.

Laurie: So Xero announced this week that it is offering 25% off to all nonprofits?

Jamie: Yes. We know that non-profits are essentially small businesses, and are experiencing the same types of challenges other small businesses have. With the slow rebound of the economy, non-profits also have challenges around fund-raising and managing their finances. We did a panel and discussed this with a number of non-profits. We learned that managing their funds is one of their biggest challenges. So we want to make it easier for them to manage their finances.

But what we also know is that not every non-profit has an accountant or bookkeeper on staff—they typically use a volunteer to staff this position. The volunteer may not be as adept as an accredited accountant or bookkeeper. So we want to make it very, very easy for non-profits to do finances. Again, Xero is built in a very user-friendly fashion, which is helpful for the non-profit sector.

Laurie: So how does the 25% discount for non-profits work?

Jamie: Xero has 3 pricing plans. We have a $19/month, a $29/month, and a $39/month plan. All three plans include unlimited users. So no matter how many people are working in the business or non-profit, this one monthly fee covers everything, there are no additional charges. That’s unlike many of our competitors. That 25% discount is right off the monthly plan price.

Laurie: What are the differences between the three plans?

Jamie: The $19/month plan is our entry-level plan, which allows you to send up to 5 invoices a month and a certain number of bank reconciliations. For $29/month, you get the full feature set of Xero minus the multi-currency capability. The $39/month plan includes multi-currency. The majority of our customers are on the $29/month plan.

Laurie: When we do our SMB surveys, we always include non-profits, because we also see a lot of similarities with small businesses. So I’m just wondering, in what ways did you find that non-profit needs differ from those of commercial small businesses?

Jamie: We did research across the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. We found that non-profits’ needs don’t differ that much from small businesses. They focus on cash flow to make sure that cash coming in can cover expenses. Like small businesses, they have issues with employee turnover, complying with rules and regulations, etc.

But non-profits are unique in that they typically have a volunteer workforce. Whether small or large, this is very different from the typical small business.  The other big difference is that people running non-profits tend to understand finances less than the average small business owner. So something like Xero accounting, which makes it really easy to understand your finances, can help out.

Laurie: Are there some tips or best practices that came out of the panel that you can share?

Jamie: Budgeting is a big thing. There’s a budgeting tool in Xero to budget and forecast. It’s important to any business. You can import and export from Excel, and track what’s going on. So if you have a lot of volunteer turnover for accounting or bookkeeper roles, you can still have consistency around your financial and monthly reporting. With an online solution like Xero, you have real-time access to info anytime, anywhere in the world. This is helpful to anyone doing accounting or bookkeeping.

Laurie: Before we wrap up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask if there is anything else on tap for Xero that you can fill me in on?

Jamie: Yes. It’s been a busy 6 weeks or so. We recently announced 100,000 paying customers across the globe. It took us 5 years to get to 50,000 and then we added the next 50,000 in 10 months. So we’re starting to see much more rapid growth and adoption.

We also announced  payroll integration with ADP, the world’s leading provider of HR and outsourced solutions. The payroll integration we developed with them lets you do your payroll online with ADP and seamlessly sync with Xero. This alleviates the need for duplicate entry between the two applications, which is also exciting.

We’ve also put together a partner advisory council in the U.S., the Xero Partner Advisory Council. The council will look at the things we’re doing in the market, the products and our strategy and help us really try to cater to the needs of small businesses and make everybody better off.

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