[IMGCAP(1)]Sage’s 2015 Summit crystallized a new mission for the company, sparked with the hiring of Stephen Kelly as the accounting and payroll software provider’s CEO last November and continued with the rollout of a flurry of new cloud-based solutions in the spring.
Kelly got to the crux of this new direction during his opening keynote, telling the 7,000-plus attendees Sage wanted “customers for life.” To serve this wide swath of small and medium-sized businesses, the company will continue to introduce new cloud offerings while appeasing legacy customers by not sunsetting any desktop solutions.
Sage executives continue to have a shorter lifecycle with the company, however, as just weeks before the conference Brad Smith, global EVP of customer experience, departed the company. Smith joined Sage in July 2012 as EVP of customer service and moved into the international role five months ago when the company globalized and expanded a number of executive titles.
His departure was the most recent in a host of company exits, including that of Sage North America CEO Pascal Houillon last November. That executive shift kicked off Kelly’s tenure and brought back previous company president Jodi Ueker, who returned in June to assume the Sage North American president role on an interim basis.
With Summit marking Kelly’s big debut to Sage customers, partners and ISVs, the reaction was mainly favorable, and he kept the good vibes going with a charismatic keynote and offer to dine (and snap social media-friendly photos) with him at an off-site “Beignets with the Boss” breakfast. Kelly also maintained a consistent presence on the expo hall floor, hosting customer Q & As and circulating around the booths and press center.
When Kelly wasn’t busy leading the conversation, he was clarifying company strategy, which will rely on the global acquisition of customers poised for the cloud, while updating on-premise solutions for some of its existing base (with the release of Sage 100c and 300c). In a press briefing, Kelly also answered to the burden of performance, claiming he didn’t look at stock prices in favor of delighting investors. Sage did announce that organic revenue increased 7.5 percent in Q3, with organic recurring revenue growing 9.7 percent.
During that trading update, Sage CFO Steve Hare stated: “As we continue to transition the business towards higher quality revenue growth, through Sage's Customer for Life strategy we anticipate that some quarters will be stronger than others and we are committed to sustainable, profitable growth generating consistent operating margins, yielding strong free cash flow and progressive dividends.”
Kelly’s strong messaging is welcome in a time of leadership change and channel partners feeling neglected and unclear on the status of their relationship. Many of these resellers had craved actionable communication and a true partnership that would energize their Sage business, and they might find it in Kelly’s optimistic outlook.
They could also seek it in Sage’s new agile development strategy, which will shorten the usual annual product release to a four-month cycle. The company has a “platform-agnostic” strategy for this rapid deployment, according to CTO Himanshu Palsule, which will include hosting on Amazon Web Services for X3, Salesforce1 for the recently rebranded Sage Live, and Microsoft Azure for ERP solutions. (Though don’t call them ERP—the company has committed to erasing that acronym from its vocabulary.)
Sage Live joins customizable business hub Sage Impact and KPI insight dashboard Sage View as the company’s more progressive offerings, and examples of Sage’s rapid go-to market strategy.
Both Sage impact and Sage View are geared to accountants—and built from their feedback— though Sage acknowledges they are not for everyone.
The difference between cloud-adopting CPAs and those with “technology disruption anxiety,” as Kelly termed it, is analogous to vegetarians and carnivores, according to Jennifer Warawa, Sage’s global vice president of product marketing for accountants. While the company might not convert some to Sage Live, “there are a ton of people that want to work that way.”
It’s a progressive way of working pushed both by the profession and Sage, worried about the relevancy of accountants and bookkeepers who can’t become the real-time, value-added advisor their customers need and expect.
In the meantime, though, Sage has left open the buffet. By keeping its full range of solutions, which sit on various points of the tech adoption curve, the company serves vegetarians and meat eaters alike. By being all things to all customers (customer-agnostic, if you will), Sage could satiate many—or discourage those with a refined palate.
Though, after one particularly energized Summit, the company appears to be satisfying most.
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