After spending the past five months in the U.S. and five weeks officially at the helm of Sage North America, chief executive Pascal Houillon realizes he has his work cut out for him when it comes to brand recognition and growth of the channel, accountants in particular.

Formerly CEO of Sage France, Houillon came to Sage North America in January to ultimately replace Sue Swenson, who officially departed the company at the end of March and entered retirement.

In an exclusive interview with Accounting Today, Houillon took the time to expand on his views of the company he now leads, as well as the challenges faced by the brand, products and channel as a whole.

Houillon explained that he has spent his time familiarizing himself with key channel players and how the product line and brand in North America are perceived. What stood out most, he said, was the stark difference in how Sage is recognized in the U.S. as opposed to Europe. As such, one of Houillon’s first orders of business will be to focus on increasing brand awareness and Sage’s overall “value proposition.”

‘In Europe, Sage is a very well known brand and they are a market leader, said Houillon. “I realized after a few weeks here we are known more by the product names rather than the brand. Even if we have done some work, they are still focusing on the product name here, and Sage brand awareness is low. I am not sure people here understand what the brand really means.”

Houillon did not expand on any specific plans to aid brand awareness, though he did note that it will take time, and some details will be revealed at the upcoming Sage Summit 2011 user and partner conference this July in Washington, D.C.

Another task for Houillon and Sage, he said, would be to increase the company’s connection to the CPA community. He claims that outside of the U.S., Sage is “much more connected” to accountants and CPAs, as that business sector contributes more to the company’s bottom line than here.

“We definitely need to invest more [in CPAs] over here. I know some people in our business have invested time and we can see already some attention from the CPA channel, but we have not yet leveraged it,” said Houillon. “It’s a full strategy we have to elaborate on and so critical to our future.”

The new CEO also explained that he realizes the partner channel is vital to the company’s growth and success, and that in North America as well as other markets, the channel has been shrinking. While this is of concern, Houillon is confident a change in planning and focus for channel partners will lead to better times.

“We have to ask [partners] to move to the new market,” said Houillon. “Connected services and SaaS are the future, and it will be hard for them to sustain the way they work if they do not. We all have to change the way we think. For the past few years we and our partners had been looking at the bottom line and now we have to look at the top line. Change management will be difficult. We have to go back and get some market share and be more connected to the market.”

Houillon did see some upside in Sage North America after a comparatively positive first half. And with product investments, particularly in its ERP line, he believes Sage is primed for growth.

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