Right place, right time

Sage is best known for its accountancy software and absolute dominance of the small to medium business market.

Tags: Sage Group Middle East
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Right place, right time
By  Ben Furfie Published  December 19, 2010

Sage is best known for its accountancy software and absolute dominance of the small to medium business market. So when the recession struck and it found cash strapped enterprises knocking on its door, the company turned it into an opportunity to change its reputation for not being a genuine competitor to its much more expensive rivals.

Recessions are usually seen as the end for many companies. The recent meltdown was no different, claiming countless businesses around the globe. However, not everyone has suffered during the downturn. Software vendor Sage Middle East is one of those companies. It hasn’t just survived the recent recession, it has thrived in it, capturing new business and redefining the financial software landscape, potentially forever.

“We’ve seen on numerous occasions, large enterprises – businesses we would rarely traditionally deal with – coming to us, enquiring about our solutions and wanting to find out what we offer,” reveals Vikram Suri, managing director of Sage’s operations in the Middle East.

“At first, the main reason they were coming to us was due to our pricing. The price points that we have are significantly lower than many of our competitors. That had lead to a situation where some of the larger enterprises out there viewed our solutions as unlikely to meet their needs. Personally, I feel that our products are technically superior to those of our rivals, and I believe our recent customer wins back that view.”

The thing that made larger enterprises sit up and pay attention, according to Suri, wasn’t the lower price however. “What we saw during the recession was that these larger enterprises were looking for simpler solutions, packages that offer just the basic functionality that they required future, instead of buying all the bells and whistles available,” he reveals.

“More often than not, when they started using our solution it was as an interim measure. However, they actually found that it delivers the goods, that it is stable and that it works,” adds Suri. “If I am being honest, there has been a lot more interest than what we had envisaged.”

But does he see the extra demand as a bad thing for Sage’s business? “Haha, what do you think?” he jokes, rocking back in his chair. “We’re looking at a market segment that traditionally had little interest in our product, yet it came to us – it’s a dream come true for any company.”

But how much of this success is down to the Middle East operation? Suri says that while it is a wholly owned subsidiary of its UK-based parent, the company has a large degree of freedom to do what it sees as best for the local market. “It’s not simply a case of removing layers of command and speeding up the decision making process; it’s also a unique region compared to many of Sage’s other markets,” he says. “When you look at the Middle East, you quickly realise that it is a very different geography to many of Sage’s other markets. For example, any software released here needs to be able to deal with two or three different languages. You’re also talking about two different alphabets – Latin and Arabic.

“One thing the Middle East business was quick to do was to localise the core solutions. We offer our key solutions in both English and Arabic.  That approach was also extended to the partner programme,” adds Suri.

“We released development kits to our partners and have actively encouraged them to develop solutions that meet the needs of the local market. For example, one of the differences between the Middle East and the rest of the world is the heavy reliance on post-dated cheques. One of the big issues is how do companies handle that sort of payment in their accounts? Is it a recognised payment, or is it a payment that is pending recognition. The vanilla solution doesn’t allow the user to differentiate easily. That’s where our partners come in. If you look at our CRM products, some of our partners have done some very interesting things with it to make it fit for purpose at some of the Middle East’s largest enterprises.”

While this flexibility gives the company the ability to react to changes in the market quickly, is it possible that because of the differences, customers aren’t getting the true ‘Sage-experience’. “Not at all,” says Suri. “The Sage operation in the Middle East isn’t all that different to how Sage operates around the world. It’s just the way the company is structured allows us to react quicker to changes. It’s all benefits and no negatives for the customer. At the end of the day, we’re the third largest ERP player in the world and the undisputed leader in the SME market.

“If you look at how Sage has grown and progressed since its founding in 1981, it has largely expanded through acquisitions,” says Suri. “Sage’s strategy has always been to be the leader in every market it operates in. So if you look at the markets we operate in – the small to medium business and small to medium sized enterprise – you can see almost everyone, except strategic or top end enterprises are Sage’s customers.”

Even those very top end enterprise customers aren’t out of bounds for the newly invigorated software company. “Just before the recession, Sage acquired French enterprise software vendor Adonix. Now with our new customer wins, we feel the time is right to start being more proactive in the enterprise market and looking to capture some more of the big businesses that in the past we have haven’t hit.

“That doesn’t mean that we’re abandoning our smaller customers though,” stresses Suri, keen to ensure that its customer base doesn’t feel like the vendor is abandoning them for bigger clients. “They’re still at the core of our business.”

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