National Harbor, Md. —During his first keynote address since being named chief executive of Sage North America, Pascal Houillon said that next year, Sage would launch marketing and rebranding initiatives that involve replacing established product brand names such as Accpac, Peachtree and MAS by 2013. The effort is designed to boost Sage's brand awareness domestically, much the way it has become well-known across Europe.
The initiative will likely kick off with the Peachtree line, which reportedly will be rechristened Sage 50 in the U.S.
Houillon spoke before a few thousand Sage channel partners, noting that building a "strong brand" in North America is a priority for him, as well as Sage executives and the channel overall.
"When I first arrived here from Paris, I put my Sage credit card down and I expected them to say, 'Wow, you work for Sage,' but there was nothing," quipped Houillon. "When I went to a bank to open an account and told them I am the CEO for Sage North America, the banker asked me if I would be interested in one of their small-business accounts. I was shocked. Making the brand strong will be difficult. We will drop the use of our brand names such as Accpac, Peachtree and MAS, and by 2013, you will see this start to happen."
Houillon stressed that across Europe, the Sage brand is widely known, and its products all have the Sage brand followed by a number. He is confident about both the strategy and the future of the brand in North America.
PEACHTREE LOYALISTS SOUND OFF
One of the main points of contention among some attendees concerning rebranding was changing the Peachtree brand, which some felt is the most recognizable of all of Sage's brands in the U.S.
Houillon and other Sage executives did not express as much concern about the move. "We are still not the [low-end] market leader here [with Peachtree]; Intuit is. We don't think it's a big risk and the weight of retail on our revenue is not as big as you would think," said Houillon. "If you are a Peachtree customer, you won't be a MAS 90 customer. Up-selling doesn't work as well if it's not the same brand."
Some Sage partners were informed of the rebranding strategy prior to the keynote, and their reactions and questions were videotaped and aired during the address. One of their key concerns over the rebranding was the cost that partners had endured during Sage's largely unsuccessful history of brand adjustments, the most recent of which involved the Sage name being put at the front of every product, as with Sage Peachtree, Sage MAS 90, etc.
Dennis Frahmann, Sage's executive vice president of marketing, addressed those concerns, and agreed that many of the Sage North America brands were "weak."
"It is a very emotional subject, and why we are doing this is to create a strong brand," said Frahmann. "Ask yourself what are the costs we are experiencing as a weak brand. You're paying enormous costs with Sage being a weak brand in North America. You are selling who Sage is and then the product, and there are enormous costs in marketing a weak brand."
Concerns were raised about the changeover of other brands, such as Accpac, which a number of its resellers see as strong and high-profile, particularly in Canada.
"Accpac has significant brand recognition [here] and Sage does not. Selling Sage is often a challenge, especially when up against a universally recognized brand like Microsoft," said Glen Mund, president of Burnaby, B.C.-based Accpac reseller Plus Computer Solutions. "The brand efforts by Sage over the past several years have helped, but they do not go far enough. To continue the same strategy, which has only marginally improved the corporate brand, seems pointless. It is time for the No. 1 accounting software reseller in the mid-market to be recognized in that market."
Like Plus Computer Solutions, many VARs were familiar with Sage's ineffectual rebranding efforts in the past and are simply hoping there aren't any further such moves beyond this most recent announcement.
Tulsa, Okla.-based CS3 Technology, for example, was not entirely opposed to Sage's plans, and president Gary Crouch is more concerned that the new efforts will last longer than the previous ones.
"There are people who used the products in the past and are looking for MAS or Peachtree, so there will be some loss there, but the importance of getting the recognition Sage deserves is even more pressing," said Crouch. "I don't relish going through another brand change, but in the long run it should work well."
Birmingham, Ala.-based L. Kianoff & Associates has been in business over 25 years, selling Sage as well as Microsoft ERP products. The firm realizes that all change is going to be a challenge, but president and co-founder Lisa Kianoff is open to Sage's latest efforts. "The Sage brand is growing here, but the branding efforts will hopefully work, which in turn will make our job easier. I have seen it work on the Microsoft side already," she said. "When we talk to clients, we find out what their business needs are and we recommend the right tool, rather than say we are selling MAS 200 or 500 or Dynamics GP. We say, 'We are your business advisor and here is the right tool for you,' and we'd like to be able to say we are putting in a tool that will be there a long time."
ANOTHER C-SUITE EXIT
Shortly after the conference, Sage North America confirmed yet another high-level departure from its ranks, as executive vice president and general manager of mid-market ERP Laurie Schultz was scheduled to resign at the end of July. She had apparently left for a position as president and chief operating officer at Vancouver-based audit analytics and continuous monitoring software maker ACL Services.
Schultz joined a lengthy list of top Sage executives who have left the company over the past year, a roster that includes Houillon's predecessor, Sue Swenson, chief customer officer Doug Meyer, executive vice president of sales Paul Johnson, and former SBS president Jodi Uecker-Rust.
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