Sage’s Everest: Building Mind and Market Share With A New Generation of SMBs

everestAt last week’s Sage Summit, one of the featured speakers was renowned British explorer, entrepreneur and adventurer Justin Packshaw. Among other achievements, Packshaw spoke about the challenges he and his team of 10 climbers faced to successfully reach—and then descend—the peak of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on the planet.

Watching Sage’s new (as of November 2014) CEO Steven Kelly interview Packshaw, I couldn’t help but think about the uphill battle that Sage has faced in attracting net-new customers to its accounting and ERP software solutions over the past several years. While many rivals were quick to bring innovative cloud, mobile and social capabilities into their solutions, Sage has taken a slower, more conservative approach. As a result, although Sage has done a fairly good job of retaining existing customers, it has struggled to gain mind and market share with new generation of cloud and mobile savvy SMB customers that it needs to fuel substantive growth.

Making the Case for the New Sage

Steven KellyKicking off the event, CEO  Kelly made his case for a newly energized and more engaged Sage. At the 50,000 foot level, Kelly:

  • Pledged Sage’s commitment to “being the best technology company for small businesses,” by providing small businesses with help to run their businesses, give them more control, and help them make the right choices.
  • Positioned Sage at the forefront of the “golden triangle” of accounting, payroll and payments solutions to make small businesses “100% compliant, 100% of the time.”
  • Reiterated that Sage “loves on premises, hybrid and cloud solutions” and will support all of these models to give businesses choice.
  • Vowed that “end of life” is not part of the Sage vocabulary. Sage won’t force existing customers to go to the cloud before they are ready; instead, it will provide pathways and tools that enable customers to control the pace of their migration.
  • Asserted that the term ERP (enterprise resource planning) really means “expense, regret and pain,” and that Sage will also banish this term from its vocabulary (which by the way, got a pretty big round of applause).

All of the above should be welcome news for existing Sage customers, who have stayed the course through numerous changes in Sage strategy, management and products over the past few years. But, it doesn’t offer much in the way of helping Sage attract net-new customers So how will Sage ascent its Everest? 

Sage Live: Poster Child for the New Sage

sageliveKelly’s roadmap for new growth focuses on rapid, global new solution development for next-generation business decision-makers who are already sold on a cloud and mobile first world. Sage One, Sage’s offering for sole proprietors and very small businesses from pen and paper and spreadsheets, is part of this, but Sage Live  (formerly Sage Life) is really the poster child for Sage’s new approach tailored to the “office of the future.” Notably, Sage Live was designed and developed in six months from when Kelly gave the team its marching orders.

Built as a multi-tenant cloud-based accounting solution. Sage Live is aimed  squarely at growing small businesses who need more power than entry-level accounting solutions offer, and want cloud, mobile and collaborative capabilities out-of-the-box. Pricing starts at $30/user/month for full users (such as finance and accounting users) and $15 per user/month pricing for more casual business users. Slated for U.S. release now, and for UK availability at the end of the summer, Sage Live is designed to be a global solution.

The Salesforce1 Shortcut

Sage choose to build Sage Live on Salesforce1, the largest cloud development platform in the world, to gain development and go-to-market efficiencies, including:

  • A rapid development environment and tools to design, build and bring the solution to market.
  • The ability to embed Salesforce1 mobile and collaborative functionality, such as Chatter, directly into the Sage Live solution.
  • An enormous partner ecosystem to add features and functions for specific markets. For example, Kimble PSA announced its integration with Sage Live at the event. With a partner-centric approach from the get-go, Sage Live doesn’t need to become a clunky, monolithic solution.
  • The same look and feel as Salesforce, giving Sage a natural entrée into Salesforce’s 95,000 SMB installed base customers. 

Customer-Centric Design

Salesforce1’s platform also made it easy for Sage to pull in its best small business accounting experts from around the world to collaborate on Sage Live. Sage also involved customers in its early adopter program from the beginning, seeking out non-Sage customers–both owners and those in financial roles—for input.

What Sage heard is that they are spending too much time juggling too many spreadsheets. As their businesses grow, they need better tools to budget and forecast, the ability to look at their business through different lenses, and more collaborative capabilities. They want a “one-office approach” with easy cloud and mobile access to real-time information for all users.

In response, Sage Live’s multi-dimensional accounting engine allows users tag records with geographical, product or other information. Users can then easily pull up different views and reports based on the tags. The solution can also be configured for different role-based views or “scoreboards” giving users just the information most relevant to them.

iwatchEmbedded Salesforce1 real-time social and mobile capabilities make it easy for users to collaborate and share information, ala the “business in the moment” example of Sage Live notifications on Apple iWatch.

Perspective

New and fast-growth SMBs are increasingly gravitating to the cloud for accounting and ERP. SMB Group’s 2015 SMB Routes to Market Study reveals that 29% of SMBs planning to purchase new accounting/ERP solutions are leaning toward cloud deployments. Sage Live provides Sage with a much-needed solution to tap into this market, and meet it’s elusive (to date) challenge of attracting net-new business. 

While some have questioned the wisdom of building on Salesforce1, I believe that this was a good choice for Sage. Salesforce1 has enabled Sage to skip the plumbing work and to build Sage Live much more quickly than it could have from scratch. Furthermore, Sage gains exposure to Salesforce’s large SMB customer base, and an entrée to Salesforce’s extensive developer ecosystem.

In addition, while Salesforce customers have many choices when it comes to accounting solutions, Sage Live is the only small business accounting solution native to the Salesforce1 platform (FinancialForce is native as well, but aimed more at the midmarket).

Finally, armed with a true “net-native” cloud solution, Sage can apply its extensive expertise as a volume SMB marketer to the cloud and mobile first SMB segment. Sage is even opening a new Customer Business Center, exclusively dedicated to digital marketing and sales for the Sage Live solution.

However, this is not enough to ensure success. I see a few areas in which Sage will need to double down, including:

  • Creating a clear, constant drumbeat to articulate why Sage Live is different from other Sage and its competitors’ offerings. Getting on SMB radar is hard in a market where so many vendors are vying for customers that have outgrown QuickBooks and other entry-level accounting solutions. And, since SMBs rank “Figuring out how different technology solutions can help my business” as one of their top three technology challenges in SMB Group’s SMB Routes to Market surveys. Sage will also need to provide in-depth education to make it to SMB short lists.
  • Persuade Salesforce to more actively promote Sage Live. From what I gathered at Sage Summit, Salesforce sales reps will refer customers to Sage Live if they want to integrate accounting and CRM. This is a start, but fairly passive. Sage Live needs Salesforce to play a more active role to kick-start consideration and adoption. Sage will be a Platinum sponsor at Dreamforce, and it will be interesting to see how Salesforce reciprocates.
  • Prove that it can expand traction with developer partners. To further validate its cloud direction and ambitions, and to fill in key gaps for critical customer segments, Sage must quickly recruit high-profile Salesforce developers to the Sage Live fold.

Prior to Kelly’s appointment, Sage had been investing in new technologies to modernize its existing accounting payroll and payments solutions for quite some time. But progress seemed to be slow, and it was clear that simply moving existing solutions would not be enough to fuel significant  growth. With Sage Live, Steven Kelly is already operating at a bolder, faster and more aggressive pace than his predecessors to pursue this growth. Now, having proved it can get on the fast track with product development, Sage’s next—and bigger challenge—is to get on the fast track with marketing and sales.

One Response

  1. I like the buzz surrounding Sage Live, but I’m still a little skeptical about Sage’s ability to develop new products from scratch rather than acquire acquire existing ones. Maybe the Salesforce platform allows them to turn the corner? I’m also skeptical about Sage adding yet another product to a product portfolio that already has too many products. But Stephen Kelly seems to be making an impact for sure. It will be interesting to watch things unfold over the next few years.

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