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Steve Kelly Keynote Sage Summit 2017
Sage North America

Apologies and Brand Commitment Rule Sage Keynote

May 9th 2017
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Sage CEO Stephen Kelly opened 2017 Sage Summit US in Atlanta as a Bowie-esque rockstar striding on to the stage to dramatic music as the confident chief executive with a plan. What followed was an ambitious commitment, some mea culpa moments, and promises of big things to come.

“The giant has woken up!” said Kelly, after admitting that Sage has been accused of flip-flopping between going directly to market and not supporting its channel, of not listening to clients and partners, and of cloud denial.  

Sage has been contrite in the past. Several technology SNAFU’s over the years have been handled well by the product and marketing teams, but this isn’t just a poorly launched, glitchy product; it’s an admission of the cardinal sin of taking customers for granted.

In his words: “When I first got to Sage, I heard a lot of criticism that we ignored partners and customers [accountants and bookkeepers included] and the brand in the US is not recognized,” said Kelly. “We will be launching a big initiative to show customer stories on how we champion business. If your clients really desire us, you as partners will flourish.”

On the brand side, Kelly admitted that Sage wasn’t known or valued enough in the US. Sage has struggled to present a coherent message in recent years and it’s easy to see why businesses or accountants might struggle to understand what they’re likely to get from a relationship with them.

So look forward to a sustained campaign aimed at winning the hearts as much as the minds of your clients, likely featuring footage of production lines with happy staff and concentrating CFOs pointing at charts showing positive looking graphs.

To be fair, this is not the first time Sage has admitted it is not a strongly recognized brand, particularly in North America, and would make efforts to raise the awareness and meaning of what Sage stood for. 

Back in 2011, with only a few months on the job, then-Sage North America CEO Pascal Houillon stated: “In Europe, Sage is a very well-known brand and they are a market leader. I realized after a few weeks here we are known more by the product names rather than the brand. Even if we have done some work, they are still focusing on the product name here, and Sage brand awareness is low. I am not sure people here understand what the brand really means.”

Sage has indeed made notable brand changes since then and are clearly intent on putting all of that behind them. What followed laid out an ambitious “NEW Sage” with innovation and investment at its heart, backed up by a louder voice directed toward winning the hearts of US businesses.

AI and Bots form the bedrock of the agenda at the show this week and the commitment from the stage is to “make admin invisible,” said Kelly, signaling a major focus on automation and integration to come.

Startlingly, we’re promised no less than 52 new product launches in the coming year, 30 of which will be in the cloud. It wasn’t clear how many will be in North America or whether these will be add-ons or completely new products, but it was a bold statement of intent in anybody’s book.

Look for more product-specific updates and information in the next Sage Summit writeup. 

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