Sage to push for partner-enabled enterprise growth, collaboration

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Sage is in a period of strategic transition, according to executives speaking at a company conference in Spain, with its partner channel playing a key role.

One of the most crucial of these shifts — and Sage’s reason for holding its Enterprise Management Partner Summit after a few years of its absence — is a focus on enterprise growth.

While Sage president Blair Crump explained that the company is driving double-digit growth in enterprise management, it is “mostly driven by the direct sales force, [which is] not a model we want to use.”

“We want enterprise growth, market growth, driven by partners,” Crump continued, addressing the partners gathered for the summit's opening keynote in Seville on May 2. “To continue to build up that ecosystem to drive your success in enterprise.”

The ecosystem exists in the Sage Business Cloud, the company’s platform of cloud and cloud-connected services, which includes accounting, enterprise management, payments and payroll. Sage Business Cloud put a new name on Sage’s existing suite of cloud solutions, including Sage Live and its pure-cloud Intacct offering, gained after its acquisition of the company last June, as well as its on-premise solutions, connected to the cloud via a Microsoft Office 365 integration. Sage Business Cloud also integrates with a number of other third-party vendors as the company continues to build out new APIs.

Sage hopes this growing network can reconcile gaps like the one Crump described between direct and partner-enabled sales to markets like the enterprise segment. According to Scott Ehman, vice president of partner strategy and sales, Sage has already begun rolling out a customer segmentation model based on revenue, so sales opportunities can be more successfully routed.

As Nick Goode, executive vice president of product, explained: “The ideal scenario is the whole partner ecosystem working together.”

Facilitating this kind of collaboration across the partner channel will require responding to partner feedback, as Jennifer Warawa did from a high level during the keynote.

A great deal of partner concern is related to timing, according to Warawa, who has been working even more closely with these partners and value-added resellers since her promotion to executive vice president of partners, accountants and alliances, last June. Specifically, Warawa reported, partners bemoan the length of time it takes their consultants to be productive, as well as the wait to gain access to Sage marketing materials.

To the first point, Sage has launched boot camps dedicated to mastering enterprise management, in the form of five-week in-person classroom training sessions. In these early sessions, more than 50 percent of participating partners were fully billable right after the boot camp, and 100 percent of them were after three months, according to Sage.

The boot camp model will also be applied to the onboarding of new consultants, as Sage starts rolling out Intacct’s existing model of one-day learning sessions.

For partners concerned about marketing Sage products, Warawa acknowledged that a delay in receiving the right materials can be critical to their success. Sage will not only accelerate delivery, but has introduced a new program to address this issue, along with another concern partners have voiced to the company — the need for customer references.

Sage launched Sage Spotlight, a customer-reference and sales accelerator program for partners and customers, because, as Warawa explained, “We know you can close deals faster with customer references.”

Sage Spotlight is currently focused on enterprise management but will expand to other segments in the coming fiscal year. The program includes a large pool of referenceable customers, written case studies, press releases of customer success stories, and video testimonials, which Sage previewed during the keynote as quick snapshots of businesses and the Sage partners that manage their finances.

Other updates

Sage’s other announcements during the summit were more related to technology updates than product releases. Mark Fairbrother, vice president of engineering, enterprise product, shared an outlook of what Sage is working on, including a tax engine that will be configurable instead of hard-coded, adjusting to legislation around the world, and deeper work in artificial intelligence.

One of Sage’s recent forays into AI, its chatbot Pegg, was mentioned as an example of how customers are using APIs to build out Sage solutions, as partner Explore IT has done with its Pegg extension Axil.

This API-first approach is “absolutely critical to strategy moving forward,” Fairbrother explained, “as we move forward with new technology and new components.”

Sage Business Cloud is still in the process of building out its developer experience, according to Goode, where ISVs and partners can build tests, sell applications to the marketplace, and access API documentation and code samples. While catering to the more innovative partners, Sage Business Cloud is also an environment for legacy customers at multiple points along the cloud-adoption curve. Sage made clear it will still be serving these on-premise and hybrid-cloud customers that are often not able to switch to pure cloud solutions based on constraints in their industry or country.

“Rather than rip and replace, we’re placing the data in the cloud, that customers can access” via the Sage Business Cloud, Goode explained.

Overall, Sage is retaining its many “flavors” of cloud access, as executives described it, to continue the company’s “customer for life” strategy. Currently, Sage’s cloud business is growing at 13 percent, and on-premise at 2 percent, for a total of 7 percent, Crump shared during the keynote.

While the company will push customers toward the cloud, market demand is already making that case, according to Goode, who shared stats from global market intelligence firm IDC. In 2020, 70 percent of business applications will be in the cloud, Goode explained, and in 2025 robots will handle 25 percent of manufacturing in the world. Additionally, 60 percent of business owners believe that AI will be key to their business.

“What does this mean?” Goode asked the crowd. “None of that data says 100 percent. The world is shades of gray, not black and white. Change is not happening [just] like that. We as a company are transforming … we also use desktop and cloud-connected apps just like you do and the customers do. How do we address digital transformation, and the cloud? If I said [your business had to be] online or nothing, that would be disruptive. If I were to say, stay where we are -- we see what happens to companies that do that, the Kodak factor. Sage Business Cloud, from startup to enterprise, is the most complete platform in the market today.”

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