Sage Channel Chief: Microsoft Lost Touch With Partners

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Tom Miller, Sage's vice president of channel management, who oversees all channel programs, operations and channel marketing for the $2.55 billion applications software vendor, spoke Thursday with's Steven Burke and Rick Whiting about partner enablement, channel changes in the wake of the failure of Sage's largest partner, MIS Group, and how the Sage partner philosophy compares with rival Microsoft. Miller, who has 28 years of channel experience, joined Sage in June after eight years with Microsoft.

You were at Microsoft for eight years. Talk about the difference between Sage and Microsoft.

The reason I came to Sage is I started in this business in 1981 as a Great Plains reseller. My company was the first one authorized outside the state of North Dakota. So from 1981 to 1987 I grew up with that company essentially. Of course they epitomized customer service and partner service. And so when I had an opportunity to sell my business in 1987, (former Great Plains Chairman and CEO) Doug Burgum had decided to put a field sales force out as a differentiator in the marketplace.

So I came on board as the regional general manager for the Northeast. I had a team of eight people that had regional territories that worked with partners. A couple of philosophies that we internalized [involved] the importance of the partner as a customer. So in our meetings we'd sit at tables thinking about programs and what partners need to be more successful. Anytime we had a major strategic change on pricing or product strategy or whatever the case might be, we always asked what the impact was going to be on our channel.

If you really look at Great Plains, we didn't always do everything right but we did develop trust because we were always, always honest, and if we made a mistake we admitted it and corrected it. And we had that relationship built. Many of the partners we recruited during that period of time are still there and still totally committed. However, that philosophy is gone from Microsoft. It is no more a personal touch.

Jodi Uecker-Rust, now president of the Sage Business Solutions division and previously a vice president at Microsoft, comes from the same environment that I came from. We understand how important that is. If you don't have a trusting relationship with your partners you are not going to be successful. You just aren't. That is missing at Microsoft. That is not missing here. That is what we are here to do.

What moves you are making to change some of the channel dynamics in the wake of the failure of MIS Group, Sage's largest revenue producer for the last fiscal year?

Historically the recognition at the highest level [for our channel partners] has been on revenue production and customer adds -- and not that that isn't important, [because] I think that is critical to the lifeblood of the organization -- but there are other measurements where we can recognize a broader set of channel partners who make just as important a contribution both on revenue and customer adds, maybe not at the same level, but just as important.

In addition to that, we are going to recognize two new [award] categories: a community service category, because [among our] nearly 5,000 [channel partners] in North America, there are incredible examples of partner organizations that have done just wonderful things for their community either in the form of donations or community service, volunteer work and supporting lots and lots of causes. We want to recognize that. We think it is important that as you build out community, this aspect is recognized.

Secondly, we are going to recognize partners that are viewed as Champions of Sage. By that we will give a "Sage Spirit" award. That will be given to partners. They can nominate themselves. Their peers can nominate them. Really those are partners that exemplify the Sage spirit and the Sage principles: agility, simplicity, innovation, trust and integrity.

We already give recognition to four partners each year for exceptional customer experience. We will recognize those four along with the new awards at our President's Circle event, which will be a retreat for all of those award recipients [and] which will number about 71 partner organizations this year. That retreat this year will be at The Arizona Biltmore in January. That event is intended to celebrate their achievements.

What compensation changes have you have made for the new fiscal year, which started October 1?

We did have a change as far as our tier structure is concerned. What we did with the tier is reward partners who performed in terms of new customer acquisition. So we actually increased the tier margins for them, and we built into the tier qualification process different plateaus in terms of new license revenue. And we will continue to review our tier to make sure it aligns with the results we are trying to produce.


NEXT: A New Tool That Helps Sage Partners Increase Sales

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