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Sage's 3-year marketing plan

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Sage, which provides accounting, enterprise resource planning and CRM software to small and midsize businesses around the world, shifted its focus from acquisitions to organic growth last year, moving to streamline its offerings and develop a brand-first marketing strategy. “The company is changing from a house of brands to more of a branded house under one 'Sage' name,” said Cleve Bellar, VP-marketing. The strategy is particularly relevant in the North American market, where about half of Sage's customers are based and where individual product names such as Peachtree and Timberline often overshadowed the overall Sage brand, Bellar said. The company stripped those names from the latest versions of its software, putting the Sage name front and center as the company moves to open up cross-selling opportunities. “We're simplifying all of our products and trying to become one Sage across America,” Bellar said. At the same time, the company is working to develop a marketing program that uses data and analytics, not only to link initiatives more closely to sales but also to deliver individualized marketing programs to customers. Debbie Qaqish, chief strategy officer at marketing agency Pedowitz Group, is working with Sage and also researching a book about marketers that have undertaken similar transformations. It's a less common undertaking than the current Big Data buzz would have you think, she said: “We've seen a focus on the [automation] technology, but not on the [underlying] processes.” Process has been the focus at the Revenue Performance Center, a new group within Sage North America headed by Bellar. The group has developed a three-year plan to help boost organic growth by 6%. Phase one is underway. Bellar has pulled together automation experts from various business units to analyze and streamline data and processes across Sage North America. Pulling those experts out of their vertical silos led to revelations, Bellar said. For example, two business units had purchased the same list. In a separate case, some customers were receiving three independently created newsletters from different Sage business units. Also, the company had about 500 active domains—enough to negatively impact search engine optimization efforts. “You start to see the warts,” Bellar said. In June, his team will introduce one companywide campaign automation platform using Eloqua software. A customer relationship management tool from SAP will also stretch across the company. “We're building a foundation of new processes,” Bellar said, “and we're building our data pool, getting all the information about our customers in one repository. That's important for targeting and segmentation. Once we have that, we're coming up with common nurturing programs across each customer segment across the businesses.” In other words, customers who had been receiving three newsletters will start receiving one with dynamic content. That content will be refined over time as customers interact with the company and help Sage better develop profiles. “You put in a set of rational and consistent processes, wrapped around really solid data, and then you have a good tool set that plugs in and automates all of those processes and leverages the data,” Bellar said. “And it's scalable. There is no reason once this is done that you can't open it up to other [Sage business units around] the world.” The strategy coincides with an organizational shift at Sage, he said. Specialists in different marketing areas—webinars, automation, events—will act as consultants across business units. Sales and marketing integration will improve, and all marketing vehicles will be linked to revenue. Moreover, product-focused marketing has taken a back seat to thought leadership. Reliable data will allow Sage to better understand its audience and develop targeted content. The company will roll out a branding campaign after its annual conference in July. “We want to have an overall campaign that is high-level thought leadership driving our vision, our value proposition for SMB,” Bellar said. “Then we're going to develop a more specific top-of-the-funnel demand-generation campaign that will deliver offerings and solutions to different customer segments. It's a different mindset.”
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