Sage gears up for major Business Partner program redo

Mistakes were made in the last five years in terms of channel strategy, Sage admits. The vendor says it has learned from those mistakes, is now led by senior executives committed to a partner-driven strategy, and that VARs and consultants will soon see this by their deeds, not just by their words.

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Rich Spring, Sage’s EVP and Chief Revenue Officer

NEW ORLEANS — Sage admits that in recent years, its channel strategy has fallen far short of what it had been in the past, and has failed to meet partner expectations. The company says those days are behind them however, that it has a fresh commitment to partners, that this will be demonstrated in execution, and that it will be embodied in a new program for VAR and consultant partners that will be announced this fall.

“Sage once had a partner ecosystem that was the envy of the industry,” said Rich Spring, Sage’s EVP and Chief Revenue Officer. This wasn’t ancient history either he said, only a matter of four to five years.

“The changes made were relatively recent, and we strayed from our partners,” he said. “We are back, and we mean it.”

Spring stressed that the new philosophy is directly attributable to the appointment of Stephen Kelly as CEO in November 2014, and the new team he brought in. Many of the senior people are new. Spring, who was a Senior VP at Symantec for almost two decades, has been with Sage for four months. Compared to Jodi Uecker, Interim President of North America, he is a grizzled veteran While Uecker was a senior executive at Sage in the last decade, she has been back at Sage in her new role for only two months.

“There is such a different mindset now, from Kelly to Uecker to myself,” Spring said. “There is a very different thought process. Our first priority is to be customer focused, but our second is to be partner-driven. That was not the previous mindset at Sage.”

Several analysts who closely follow Sage and who were very familiar with the deterioration of their channel in the last five years weren’t shy at expressing skepticism at Sage Summit that things had truly changed, or that the company would be able to counter its recent reversal of channel fortune.

“You should be skeptical,” Spring told them. “It’s important to understand what has happened in the last few years. There are partners who have looked to other solutions in the competitive landscape. Some have left Sage. On the other hand, some have added to their portfolio. Some partners are also coming back and recommitting to Sage. We still have work to do but we are going to take back more partners and take more share from our competition.”

Spring said that at this point, they are still working on getting partner buy-in.

“At this state, we are validating the things we will be doing with partners,” he said. We have been fairly criticized for not sharing the directions we take with them.”

While there is a partner program in place now, Spring said part of the problem is that there are a multitude of them.

“We are trying to create a consolidated program, and while some things will be different in different geos, we want to have a global framework for consistency,” he said. “Consistency comes from commitment. We want to build a sustained level of success with a vibrant partner ecosystem. We are putting in place these these programs, investing from our side in the solutions and the ecosystem.”

Spring said that Sage’s new ISV is firmly scheduled to roll out in October, and that they are pushing very hard to get the Business Partner program out by October as well. He also indicated that some elements of it would be rolled out before then.

Obtaining details about the program was more difficult, as Spring was closed-mouth on the subject, although it is likely that much of it is still a work in progress. He indicated that there would be significant improvements in certification and training, and while he conceded partners tend to view these things as table stakes in a program, he also said that there really are varying levels of effectiveness.

“We are setting the bar much higher across the board,” he said. “It’s about delighting customers together, and being as effective as we can possibly be.”

Spring said that a goal of the new program will not be a broad increase in the number of VAR and consultant business partners.

“Quality is the first perspective we are focused on, as well as on who will work with us closely,” he said. “Our aspiration isn’t a huge increase in the partner system. We will add some resellers, but that’s not the main focus. We want to help the ones who have stayed with us be more and more successful. We also want to increase the number of ‘born in the cloud’ partners, leverage our ISV partners, and develop new service provider partners and strategic partnerships.”

Better enabling channel partners is also a top priority.

“Cloud products weren’t there previously, and they are now, and we are continuing to bring more partners into those conversations,” Spring said. Sage also wants to get partners to dive deeper into what Kelly called the ‘golden triangle’ of accounting, payroll and payments and deepen their practices.

“The opportunity is huge to offer payments as well as accounting and payroll, which they haven’t done much of before, said Paul Bridgewater, CEO Sage Payments Solutions.

Spring said that partners who have spoken with him are highly pleased with all the changes.

“I have met with a lot of partners over the last three months, and they have been resoundingly positive,” he said. “Many long-time partners have lived through some times with Sage they haven’t enjoyed quite as much.”

Bridgewater also said much the same thing.

“They have said thank you for re-engaging,” he said. “They say they want to do more with us, and now they can.”

Several partners at the event expressed particular pleasure that Uecker has returned to Sage, seeing her as a strong channel advocate, and her departure in 2010 coinciding with a deterioration in the channel’s importance.

Other partners who attended the Partner Summit on the first day of Sage Summit said they were pleased with what they heard. Marion Majkot, a Sage 50 Platinum Consultant from Bracebridge Ontario, said she was satisfied.

“They really listened to our concerns, and they said all the right things,” she said. “I’m optimistic about the direction things are going.”