Friday, March 23, 2012

Goodbye SageLive, Hello Same Old Sage

So what was the last post all about? Why bring up an old subject like SageLive? I mean, that's old news right? Everyone knows that it was an almighty cock-up! But that's ancient history and anyhow, surely it's been superseded by the 'robust' SageOne hasn't it? So all is hunky-dory now, surely? Sage know what they're doing now; lesson learnt and all that? 

Or not! The SageLive saga is just a case in point.

With all the romantic reminiscing of the previous post (which proved quite popular with the readership;), it would be easy to miss the theme of over-reaction and obsessiveness by Sagees with a perceived competitor. 

On its own it may have meant very little. But it's a trait I saw repeated a-plenty, every time I encountered Sage employees. And not just I; others noticed it too!

Totally Out Of Perspective

To be clear. At that time (late 2008), KashFlow had circa 2000 users paying no more than £15.99 a month. Sage had hundreds of thousands of customers, equating to a much greater ARPU (average revenue per user). Competition was perceived, not real. The only threat was what they represented - in short (very short) the future!

Yet (among other things) commercial threats (perceived or real) are purely for the upper echelons of a multi-billion pound/multi-thousand employee organisation to be aware of and to deal with. Not the 'rank or file' to worry about. 

Yet the only significant senior management tale I have is from an ex-Sagee who I respect. When he called the appropriate Director to make him aware of the post exposing the serious security flaws in SageLive, he was on his way home on a Friday evening. His response amounted to - it can't be that important that it can't wait until Monday! The rest, as they say, is history!

Poking Fun at Elephants With Sharp Sticks

OK, some fun was had at Sage's expense. Though it's possible that it might have fed a pathological urge, the handful of well-aimed blows were purely to serve a purpose. A business purpose. 

Yes, we giggled like schoolgirls as me and Duane Jackson dodged patrol cars in 'riot-torn' Pitsea while setting light to a Sage software box and then videoed the proceedings. The whole office laughed riotously upon receiving notice from Trading Standards of a complaint by Sage against KashFlow.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The interweb has more if you're interested. Piggybacking other brands is a well known guerilla marketing strategy. All the more (cost) effective in the internet age. 

Despite naive and surprising protests from some quarters that such baiting doesn't work (try telling the likes of Richard Branson and Michelle Mone that) and is doomed to fail. It did and it wasn't. 

An Organisation Gripped By Fear and Paranoia 

Time and again, Sage employees at various events shared their fear and awe of KashFlow with me and others. A very reliable source even shared with me the tendency of Sage North America reps to bring the 'KashFlow latest' to meetings over a period exceeding 12 months!

Incredibly, all seemed convinced that KashFlow existed purely to annihilate Sage. Like a seventies era anarcho-terrorist cell. On more than one occasion I even pleaded that KashFlow staff did not spend every waking hour plotting the downfall of Sage; they did not spend their waking hours muttering their hate and loathing like possessed madmen, complete with wide-eyes and salivating like devil-dogs! But each time it just would not be believed! This paranoia had spread and had gripped the organisation. 

Why was an entire organisation of such magnitude allowed to be gripped by such terror? Why (and how) are thousands of employees of a multi-billion pound organisation all obsessed with one guy and his tiny company. I repeat, why? WTF??! This company claim to be the world's 3rd largest ERP vendor, amongst many other things. They have fingers in plenty of pies. Why oh why?

It Wouldn't Happen at a SaaS Company

Every single SaaS vendor with any measure of success cares little for what others are up to. Even the closest of competitors. This is a time of fundamental change in the delivery of IT services. The potential market is massive, whatever the niche. They just want to get their share and then some! There's no time to waste worrying about others.

There's plenty of land for everyone. Of course, common-sense means be aware of what the others are doing, but it doesn't distract from the total confidence that is all-pervasive in a real SaaS org. Their culture is more concerned by there only being 24 hours in the day!

I mean, can you imagine the entire workforce of Dropbox seeking counselling because Google announce GDrive? Or Zuckerberg going on a month long bender because of Google+? Does the latest play by Amazon leave Rackspace crying in their milk? I could give thousands of examples. The point is, those that are serious about what they do just double down and focus on the mission. They differentiate; pimp their USP; provide the best UX. 

Single-mindedness, focus and confidence in the mission - all traits common to successful SaaS vendors. A singular belief in what all involved are doing as a team - as a collective - is what drives those that thrive. Disrupting the old ways of doing things, yeah, but more so improving the customers lot and gaining commercial success as a by-product. 


When you're an incumbent, you're a sitting target. You've gotta expect others to take aim at you. Especially in tech. You don't take it personally. It's a compliment! At worst it's a wee kick up the butt. You deal with it by putting together a winning strategy that plays to the strengths of your organisation, (not somebody else's) and a single-minded dedication to what you believe in; to what you do well. Not blind panic and an all-pervasive nihilism.

Don't blatantly imitate others, without knowing why it works for them. If you did understand that, you'd know it won't work for you! The reason that SaaS accounting has room for FreeAgent, Xero and Clear Books and others is that each plays to their strengths and ploughs their own furrow.

If you're not sure how to achieve success when it seems like you have everything, bring in someone from outside the organisation to conduct an entirely objective, root-and-branch review of your organisation and its solutions. They will identify your strengths and weaknesses in the new SaaS landscape and from there, produce a compelling roadmap and a winning strategy! If there is someone at Sage with the clout to make an autonomous decision to drag them back from the brink, you can contact me via Twitter @SaaSitUK !

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