Sage Partners Seek Technology Road Map, Channel Reassurance At Next Week's Summit

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Next week's Sage Summit 2012 conference in Nashville could be pivotal for the software company's long-term relationships with its North American channel partners.

Sage North America, a part of the U.K.-based Sage Group plc, has taken several steps this year -- including renaming some of the company's ERP and accounting products and instituting a subscription pricing plan -- that have angered some of the company’s biggest resellers.

Some partners say Sage isn't investing enough to update its aging products or to develop a comprehensive cloud software strategy. Others go so far as to question the company's overall commitment to the channel. One points out that this year's planned, Sage-paid trip to Miami Beach in January for the company's "President's Circle" 60 biggest revenue producing partners was cancelled, replaced by an awards ceremony at next week's conference.

[Related: 2012 Partner Programs Guide: 5-Star Software Vendors]

"There's a sense they can do it without the channel," said one longtime partner who, like many solution providers interviewed for this story, asked that they not be identified for fear of jeopardizing their relationship with Sage North America. "It just doesn't feel like a two-way street."

"I think there's a lot of strained relationships between Sage and its partners at this point," said another partner.

Sage executives acknowledge the vendor's strategic shifts in the last year have made some partners uneasy. Take the rebranding, for example. "I think when we announced it a year ago there was a lot of concern," said Joe Langner, executive vice president of midmarket and CRM solutions, in an interview this week. "Brand changes take time."

But, Langer and other Sage managers say the company's commitment to the channel remains as strong as ever. Langer notes that "the vast majority" of the company's sales are made through channel partners, including about 85 percent of the company's core ERP application products. And, Langer notes that more than 1,500 solution providers are registered to attend Sage Summit next week.

Some partners say they understand why Sage is moving in new directions. "I think that for years Sage wasn't aggressive enough," said Peter Wolf, president of Azamba Consulting, a Chicago-based Sage partner. He describes himself as being in the "pro-Sage camp" when discussing the split amongst the vendor's partners over the company's moves.

Many of the changes at Sage North America have been implemented under Pascal Houillon, who took over as Sage North America CEO a little more than a year ago after the retirement of Sue Swenson. Houillon, previously CEO of Sage France, has been tasked with boosting Sage North America's revenue growth, which declined 4 percent in fiscal 2010, ended Sept. 30, and increased 3 percent in fiscal 2011.

Several channel partners said Houillon seems to be pursuing a course that more closely follows the strategies used by Sage North America's European parent, including promoting the Sage brand rather than the names of acquired products and possibly even putting more emphasis on direct sales.

"Looking at their strategy, it's all about short-term gain," said one Sage partner.

NEXT: Product Rebranding, Subscription Pricing Plans Roil Some Partners

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