Keeping pace with evolving customer needs and growth represents the greatest challenge for Sage North America right now, according to the company’s executive vice president of product and marketing strategy, Himanshu Palsule.

In an interview with Accounting Today, the executive explained that while concerns among its reseller channel and rebranding are difficult at the moment for the product maker, Palsule stressed that the bigger issue is “moving at the speed of our customers.”

“When you have 3 million customers as a big part of your revenue, you have to take them with you,” said Palsule. “How do we take all of them in a very defined period into the cloud without losing the bulk of them? That’s a big issue right now. The same customer that loves the Peachtree box product will stay there, but a lot of their business needs to be outside of their four walls, so when they are ready to throw the switch we will be there.”

To that end, at Sleeter Group’s 2011 Accounting Solutions Conference, Sage announced its new Small Business Accounting Hosting Provider program, which enables authorized independent hosting partners to offer small businesses secure access to Sage Peachtree and Sage Simply Accounting as a managed hosted service. Through the program, small businesses will be able to access their data securely anytime via the platform of their choice (Mac or PC), and collaborate with their accountant while working in the same environment.

Palsule stressed that the hosted model is one that will likely work best for a company like Sage and its customers for at least the next five to seven years, although he noted the company has plans to release a SaaS-based, entry-level product “complementary to Peachtree” in North America in the next six months. He noted it will be similar to Sage One, which has been released in the U.K.

As for Sage’s rebranding efforts, Palsule recognized it is “disruptive” for some of the company’s channel partners, but it is a big part of the company’s direction. He is confident most will embrace the large changes that are to come (see Sage Details Rebranding Roadmap and Partner Marketing Plan).

“I would say right now about a third of our partners are thrilled and fully embraced [the rebranding plan], another third understand it, but are still skeptical, and the remainder are saying, ‘What is it going to do for me? All I’ve been doing are these one or two products, and it’s hard for me because you are calling it something else,’” said Palsule. “We are still a partner company in a world with diminishing partner companies, and we are saying, ‘If you used to make a livelihood at a certain end of the value chain, you may need to change that. Go help clients with your advice and expertise and don’t worry about the next upgrade.’ I hope all partners can make the leap.”

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