Sage Presidents Circle 2009 Wrapup

For three days – from January 25 to 27, 2010 – I had the honor of mingling with the elite Sage Business Partners who earned awards for sales achievements. My reason for being there was to pick up a Sage Spirit Award (not a sales award) that Sage awarded this year to two Business Partners.

This award was being given for the first time this year to two partners who best exemplified the characteristics of being a diverse, vibrant and constant contributor to the Sage business partner community

Here’s my wrap-up of the event – containing the good and bad – but mostly good.

The Sage Presidents Circle brings together what must have been about 200 Sage Partners (and guests) from across the country. They’re awarded for sales achievements as well as customer satisfaction, community service and being high spirited (Sage Spirit Award).

In the past these events have been in more exotic locations such as Hawaii. This year due to the economy (the change was announced last year) Sage decided to make the event more of a business meeting than a vacation. The event was held in Phoenix Arizona at the Arizona Biltmore.

This year’s gathering was informal with about two dozen Sage Executives in attendance to mingle with the group and exchange ideas. The real reason for being together in one place is to honor those receiving awards.

The awards ceremony happened on the second evening of the three day event.

My main concern about this year’s President’s Circle is that an event of 3 days (for which I spent 8 hours traveling each way) was just too short. In essence those coming from the East Coast had one full day to relax – half of which was a Sage meeting – before packing up to head home.

It didn’t help that hotel check in was 4pm and checkout was noon which tended to further compress the free time available on check in and check out days. I’m going to avoid ranting about the Biltmore Hotel  – though if you’re looking for a review detailing why I’d never return – here it is.

Overall the lack of free time wasn’t  a huge issue for me. I was really just around for the ride to see what these things are all about. This Presidents Circle will be my one and only trip as I’ll never be ringing the sales bells at Sage (or any other software vendors).

The three day event was broken down as follows

Day One – Arrival & check-in – evening reception/dinner.

I know next to nobody here. I’m a poor mingler. I dread making small talk at social events like receptions  I quickly spot the folks from DSD Business Systems and Mike Fitzgerald and his wife. They’re our dining partners the remainder of the event.

Day Two – Half day Sage meeting with Michael Gerber – remainder of the day is free for one of three events (we went to Taliesin West -architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home base) – and the evening for awards and a hypnotist.

Day Three – Head home

Meals and evening social activities were all A++.

Sage has a top notch events planning team who did an incredible job keeping this whole event organized.

Event Activities & Observations

Nothing was mentioned about next year’s Presidents Circle  – though several times from the podium budget cutbacks leading to a much condensed 2009 event were mentioned.  Given the way the economy is running –  the next few years  trips might just as well piggyback Insights and let Sage take the winners out to dinner and a movie either at the beginning or end of the conference.

I kept wondering when I was going to get the ceremonial handshake from Sue Swenson – the CEO of Sage North America. She wasn’t there. The unofficial-but-only-when-asked explanation was that she entrusted the leaders of her various divisions to run these events – a fair enough (and believable) explanation and one that I think Sage should have made clear form the podium.

I also was scheduled to “meet” with Sage during the event. I generally duck these types of meetings (as I do with all generic “getting to know you” business meetings)  because they’re typically  feel good – go nowhere time wasters.

Because Sage had flown me out to Arizona – and called me a “Spirit Award Winner –  I felt somewhat obligated to carry the spirit flag for a few days and hold the meeting.

I’d made travel arrangements (later flight) so that I’d be able to do so without looking at my watch.

By the time I was seated “on deck” (around 11:15) to meet with Sage there was also another business “partner” waiting.

So I had a dual meeting with the other “partner” and Sage. Rather the other partner had a meeting and I sat and listened to the same old material/complaints re-hashed. ZZZZZZ. Basically we all checked our watches to see when everyone had to leave to be at the airport.

Re-affirmed my commitment in the future to duck these cattle call “Dear whats-your-name I want to meet you personally and learn about you – pick from one of my 100 open slots” meetings with Sage. Did I mention that for the past 20 years I’ve found them to be a complete and utter waste of time? I simply won’t go to any more of them. Hopefully Sage isn’t puzzled by why it’s sometimes hard to get the smarter partners to meet with them.

The best part of the trip was having dinner with Doug Deane, Mike Fitzgerald, Kayley Bell, Giselle Ferguson and guests.

These folks are who I consider the true “spirit” of Sage. If software vendors want to reach the best consultants  THESE are the respected thought leaders they should focus on.

Doug and Mike and Kayley were all there to pick up awards for sales and community achievements. Doug’s firm is DSD Business Systems (Disclosure: We are Premier Partner members and no independent with respect to DSD Business Systems – though that didn’t stop me from photographing Doug doing 30 minutes of  napkin folding during the keynote).

Mike Fitzgerald (http://www.thefitzgroup.com) is a perennial modest winner of Sage awards for MAS90, MAS200 and MAS 500. He’s also one of the first people I call when I need a second opinion or advice on just about anything related to consulting.

I  enjoyed meeting Peter Wolf of Azamba who was the other Sage Spirit Award winner. He was in a breakout session with me for the Gerber keynote and seems very on the ball. I believe his specialty to be Sagecrm. http://www.azamba.com/. Here’s a picture below of Peter, Tom Miller and Me.

I learned that there’s probably no big motivational speaker at Insights this year and that Sage is going to take more of an approach that they want Business Partners to re-connect with Sage — so watch for keynotes from  Sage people that we duck daily as well as plus a wrap-up session with open Q&A with Jodi Uecker-Rust ( I specifically asked if Sue Swenson would be doing the QA and was told no – but who knows whether that may change by the time the event rolls).

As with all Sage events the agenda and content can change up to the day of the event so you’ll have to wait to see what eventually occurs.

I also heard many people complain about the new tier structure  (my thoughts from last year about why I think Tier needs to go) which dictates how much more money resellers make (or don’t make) depending upon new business sales volume. Based on feedback it seems those complaining fell more into the “don’t make” category. The big issue is that the tier changes hacked away (and often completely removed) the commission paid on maintenance renewals.

If there was a lull in conversation during the breakout session the topic of tier usually came up. It’s one of those items that doesn’t come onto most VARS radar until it affects them (aka – Not In My Backyard syndrome) — then they are radically opposed to it and can talk about nothing else.

Overall a good event though I think Sage missed an opportunity to re-connect to their top partners from the podium. Instead of giving any type of indication about the year ahead they pretty much addressed the group as if everything was great and full steam ahead. I believe that this is sometimes referred to as “whistling past the graveyard”.

Michael Gerber And The E-Myth

Michael Gerber, author of the popular E-Myth series of books (here’s a very good condensed version of his E-Myth material) , spoke to the group for about two hours. The talk was broken up into a one hour general keynote where Michael spoke about the vital importance of having a system to do things which enable businesses to be unique and survive almost any downturn.

His opening comment of “the only reason to start a business is to sell it” threw quite a few in the audience for a loop and provoked discussion about the concept of whether that was truly the only reason to start a business.

Since as VARS most of us are stuck with lookalike businesses we can’t sell – because we have no systems for doing what we do – in hindsight it seems logical that nearly everyone in attendance appeared to disagree with Michael Gerber’s speech (which was all about having a system to build a unique company). To believe otherwise would be to admit that the last 20 years of “seat of the pants” business building was all wrong – and nobody wants to do that. Easier to kill the messenger.

The second half of the keynote saw  attendees break into small groups of 6-8 people. I’m not sure how other tables fared but the room that I was in had two groups  engaged in lively conversations. After the keynote I remarked to Sage that this keynote provoked some of the best discussion that I’d ever seen at Sage. This was also the first group breakout session where Sage participated as equal contributors instead of leading the conversation – which worked extremely well and reminded me of the IT Alliance meetings which are run similarly with vendors, consultants and software company representatives participating equally.

To Gerber’s defense, he began his talk with a story about how as a child he took saxophone lessons from a strict teacher who accepted no student unwilling  to dedicate all their resources to learning.  This teacher even went so far as to tell Michael’s parents not to bother to call complaining because whatever Michael said the teacher made him do was probably true. I can’t say that the group wasn’t tipped that the Gerber presentation was going to break the mold of prior conference motivational speakers.

Ultimately I think I was one of the few believers in the crowd. Major props to Sage for bringing in a non-conventional speaker like Michael Gerber.

My favorite moment  during the Gerber keynote after Sage spent a minute or two saying how 2009 sucked (my paraphrase) but that 2010 was looking up  (anyone ever hear that before – for the last 5 years that seems to be all I’ve heard everywhere). To Gerber’s downfall he immediately launched into a proclamation of what I was thinking – nope the economy is probably not getting better and haven’t people been predicting that the next year will “be stronger” forever? I didn’t get a chance to look  I’m sure Sage was less than pleased.

Don’t expect to ever hear Gerber’s name at Sage again – and it’s too bad because he delivered the most thought provoking content that I’ve ever seen in 20 years at Sage events.

Overall Evaluation

I go to events such as this not to shake hands and kiss ass with executives hoping to earn future favor. Rather I watch and listen to what Sage says – and does. And to what partners say and do – and try to make sense of it. My opinion is by no means the only one – or even correct. Use my thoughts along with your own to form your own conclusions.

I  tried to bring the flavor of what actually happens at the Presidents Circle to those who might not get a chance to attend. Anyone can come back and write glowing love letters to an organization who has just flown them (and a guest) for a three day vacation. My belief is that most people don’t want to read summaries that regurgitate only positive while leaving out analytical thoughts (whether positive or negative).

While I was at the awards conference Sage announced the hiring of Robert Deshaies, a former VP who helped developed the partner strategy for Microsoft and also worked on their SaaS strategies as well as managing field operations for MS Dynamics.

These hirings are in addition to Tom Miller, a 20 year veteran of Great Plains and then Microsoft who is on board running the Sage Channel. If there was ever any doubt about Sage’s commitment to the channel I think the hiring of experienced channel professionals like Jodi Uecker-Rust (President Sage Business Solutions), Tom Miller, Robert Deshaies (and any that I’ve missed unintentionally) puts those doubts to rest.

While meeting with Tom Miller the question of what new partner programs might be unveiled at Insights 2010 came up. I believe Sage has already unveiled some great programs – starting with Ed Kless and Rob Johnson’s series of FREE consulting and sales classes hosted throughout the country starting in Feburary (login to Sage Partner University to take a look and register). Sage’s continued support of educational classes for their channel (classes that don’t focus strictly on moving boxes of software) is a huge partner program that they should be commended for continuing to offer.

Sue Swenson’s absence from Presidents Circle, while on the surface provoked questions, ultimately was a vote of confidence in the Sage Management Team that she’s put in place to run the different divisions. I walked away from Sage Presidents Circle pretty optimistic about all that’s happening with Sage – not based upon what they said during the event – but based on what I observed.

Link: Flickr set of my Sage Presidents Circle 2009 photos

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Comments

  1. Hi Wayne,

    As a person who has similar feelings to you about Sage Events and Sage staff meetings I think this was probably the most informative synopsis I have ever recevied from anyone on any Sage Event that I did not personally attend. Thanks for your unbiased and honest analysis. I know it can be difficult publishing information like this in this type of forum. The information was very valuable to me.

    Glen Mund
    Plus Computer Solutions Ltd.

  2. Hi Wayne,

    Congratulation on your award.

    I like your tagline : Customer satisfaction is worth more than sales awards.

    Robert Tan
    Careware Systems

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  1. […] During her tenure at Sage North America she was all but invisible to most VARS while Paul Johnson, Executive VP, served as the public face of Sage and emceed many events including the Sage Presidents Circle in Phoenix. […]

  2. […] Sage events, most notably at 2009 Presidents Circle, Swenson did not play any role and was barely mentioned from the podium save for when employees […]