Superstah! Sage Software - Customer Relationship Management

I’ve known Sage Software through countless incarnations, starting back in 1997 when it was not Sage per se but the standalone CRM on-premises application, SalesLogix. But they were bought by Best Software, which was swallowed up by Sage Software, a U.K.-based enterprise applications vendor that not only had the back office accounting packages but even their own CRM application—SageCRM—which to some extent actually competed with SalesLogix, owned through the varying rollups by . . . ta-da . . . Sage Software.

Oddly, even with their acquisition strategy, which is daunting, they’ve done just fine, thank you, with more than 56,000 customers for their CRM applications and more than 5 million customers in total. The vast majority are small companies and the lower end of midmarket businesses who appreciate the simplicity of Sage’s offerings and easy to use interfaces.

Sage wins this category hands down. Not just because they use REST architecture, because others do that. But because they use it well. They understand the market they attack—small and lower-end midsized business—and they understand the value of REST to that market. They innovate using REST in ways that show the power of the architecture for the market they address. You just can’t get much better than that.

SageCRM and SalesLogix:RESTful 2010
Sage has moved its focus to a more contemporary CRM model than they have had in the past, largely due to the visionary influence of Dave Van Toor, former general manager of Sage’s CRM practice, now responsible for the companywide customer experience. Van Toor, in combination with some sound thinking from senior staff and serious investment in overhauling a model that in the past was often a halfstep behind, has created a highly competitive, smart product.

The three pillars they are setting the building on are all based on REST:

  • Interoperability and migration
  • Anywhere workforce experience
  • Connected front and back office

Interoperability and Migration
This sounds buzz-ridden but actually isn’t. There is a pretty smart, very user-friendly strategy behind this. Sage has two CRM and one contact management—CRMish—product. These are SageCRM, SalesLogix, and ACT! (though I wish they’d get rid of the exclamation point). ACT! has 2.8 million users scattered across 43, 000 companies.

The key here is that companies grow. ACT! runs into its limitations when small companies get larger and even go to midsized. So how do you deal with that and keep the ACT!-using companies in the stable? Make SageCRM, SalesLogix, and ACT! interoperable by using the same data store and the same architecture—that would be REST for those of you who miraculously skipped to this part of the chapter without reading what came before.

This creates endless possibilities. A company can use ACT! in some departments and one of the CRM applications in other places without worrying about them reading each other.

This is a change from Sage’s (pre-Sage, actually) somewhat checkered past when ACT! databases and SalesLogix databases were not the same at all. What this does is increase the likelihood of successful user adoption.

Is it as seamless as claimed? Never. There are technical issues that will crop up and cultural issues that will interfere. But it’s an improvement by orders of magnitude.

Anywhere Workforce Experience
This is the sexiest Social CRM part of their strategy. It starts from the standpoint of the anywhere, anytime, any way workforce experience that has been popularized—to the extent it has any popularity—by analyst firm Yankee Group’s Anywhere Enterprise. Declan Lonergan, vice president of the Yankee Group’s Anywhere practice, found in early 2009 that by 2012, the combination of consumer broadband wired and consumer mobile—the two rocks of the Anywhere Network—would amount to a $962, 000, 000 business. That may be an exaggeration, but who knows? What is important is that the Anywhere Enterprise is becoming something that has both meaning and value.

This is where Sage differentiates themselves from the pack for now. The core offering is “customer choice.” First, the customer gets a choice of on-premises or on-demand (their SageCRM product has a hosted version, Then the customer gets the choice of additional functionality that can be plugged into the out-of-the-box capabilities. The range is wide. The customer can choose a hybrid delivery model (on-premises mixed with on-demand) and can pick from connected, disconnected, or mobile.

But that’s just the selection of models. Context Aware Services, which provide device awareness, user awareness, and network awareness, are something that Sage proudly presents as a critical differentiator, though they are not the only company providing it with their applications. SalesLogix 7.5 is the flagship here. For example, the UI for their web client is very, very good. It is the second best one I’ve seen in current generation CRM products (after SAP’s CRM 7.0 user interface), which makes it the best in the SMB world. Additionally, like many other vendors (notably, SAP, Oracle, and, they have integrated enterprise mashups and useful ones at that. For example, SalesLogix 7.5 provides a scrolling Google newsfeed that was created through specific search criteria and RESTful calls. The unstructured data can be captured from the newsfeed (RSS enabled) and downloaded.

Another area that has a good deal of promise, though I still think is not being used to the fullest potential, is their addition of Timeline Visualization. This is a timeline of all account-specific or opportunityspecific activity, coupled with external data such as market conditions, which is organized around a strong, though not particularly pretty, visual timeline. It can give you a comprehensive view of what account activity occurred when. You can drill all the way into the single activity or event if you care to. By having the data from the newsfeeds populating the timeline, you can see what happened to the company/account on the day that you lost or won the deal and if there was any reason for the result that was external to your actions. What is missing so far is the ability to use the workflow to provide a color-coded result of good or bad. For example, if there was a setback you could see part of the timeline being red at the point of the setback while the good stuff was blue and the okay stuff was brown (or green, fuchsia, teal, whatever). Right now you can color code each line separately but not line segments. I hope that it shows up in the 7.6 release (hint, hint). But even without that, this is a valuable differentiator for Sage that accounts for how people use applications and how they navigate through them.

Mobile Is Part of Any Way and Anywhere
Since I’m not really covering ACT!, suffice it to say that there is an ACT! for the iPhone under development.

However, what is germane is SalesLogix Mobile for the BlackBerry. Their most interesting capability is the SalesLogix Mobile context awareness via location awareness for mobile devices with GPS. Aside from access to SalesLogix data from a very simple interface, it finds “Accounts Near Me.” This directly ties BlackBerry’s embedded GPS and voice recognition systems. If you hit the Accounts Near Me button, the following occurs:

  1. The system locates you.
  2. It accesses your customer list (based on your preferences) and finds the customers nearest you.
  3. It speaks to you with a message like this: “You have eight customers within five miles. Three [of the five] have alerts.”
  4. You can view the alerts or call a customer.
  5. You can use the BlackBerry GPS service (currently TelNav) and get directions to the customer’s site.

Cool and useful—especially in the less likely event that the customer is willing to take an ad hoc meeting.

Connected Front and Back Office
Sage has done well with this one, probably as much for self-interested reasons as for the customer—which, if you think about it, is actually something that should be pretty much symbiotic.

They have products for both the front and back office. For example, Sage is the proud owner of the Accpac accounting product and the MAS90 ERP product, and vertically specific products such as Community Banking and HealthPro XL, as well as their flagship CRM products. Integrating them all is a naturally smart thing to do. Better than selling a product to a customer is selling products continuously to a customer. When products integrate, they benefit both the customer and the company. For the company, the benefits are opportunities for upselling and cross-selling and increased customer retention. For the customer, it’s a better user experience with cost simplification and reduction. It pays to have common components, common and open standards, suite integration, and common inter- faces. Plus the internal user impact on the front and back offices along with the customer impact on the two “offices” become preeminent features of the overall business experience in the new environment. End of story.

Okay, time to move ahead, now that you’ve become the SOA and REST maven you’ve always wanted to be. These are architectures that matter to your business and to your customers. So spend the time and the dime, and the result will be worth it.

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