Swan Business Consultants Ltd

Software to Shape Your Business

Swan Business Consultants Ltd have been a Sage Business Partner since their inception in 2002. Over the years Sage's approach to us as a partner has varied hugely. In the early days, their focus was merely on volume. We were encouraged to "Stack it high and sell it cheap" - an approach which we did not agree with. Myself (Paul Ebrey) and Graham Phelps came from a background in Line 500, working with larger companies. We found that the lower end of the market suffered greatly from "Sell it and leave it" approach, so the very reason we created the company was to bring the approach and experience we had with the larger companies to the lower end of the market.

This meant that unlike many other partners, we would go to each business we dealt with, assess their needs, and recommend the right solution for them. In many cases, this meant taking a smaller or cheaper package than they might otherwise have been sold. However, our honest, no nonsense approach won us many customers, and many of those customers have stayed with us over the years - some still using the same solution, some having progressed.

Sage eventually declared that their approach was wrong. It was, in their own words, "Damaging the Brand". They then took steps to bring all of the business partners into line, introducing an accreditation scheme, and a lower level of partnership with those companies intent on discounting the product in a race to the bottom price war. The effect was, in our opinion, good for the customers and end users of their products.

However, Sage have an endless lust for new business, so over the years, all the measures they put in place have been eroded. Today, you will find just as many people discounting their products online - some to the point of selling at a loss in an attempt to gain more customers. (Its now cheaper for us to buy Sage product from a competitor than it is to buy it from Sage). The accreditation scheme has changed too - it was once a challenging course followed by a tough exam. However the last exam I was required to sit was actually done by my wife, who has never looked at Sage software. Needless to say, she passed. Sage appear to be more and more interested in selling upgrades and solutions which customers simply don't need, rather than addressing their customers real concerns.

More recently, Sage have been pushing Sage 200 and Sage 200 online. The feeling in the business partner community is that Sage want to get rid of all business partners, and deal directly with customers themselves. Only Sage know if this is truely the objective, but their recent actions would indicate it is. They now sell and support their online versions of Sage 200 directly, and also have direct sales people competing against business partners for the more traditional on-premise solutions. Fundamentally, some people could think this is a good thing. However, the reason our customers come to us is because they want something more than a distant voice on the end of a phone. Particuarly for systems such as Sage 200, the business needs are generally more complex - the support questions we deal with are rarely "How do I process an invoice", but "We have a complex process we would like to accomodate". These are questions that are hard to answer without a real knowledge of the business itself. And often the solution involves elements outside of the Sage 200 software environment, such as SQL scripts or Excel reports. Sage do not provide for these things in their direct support, so the customers are the ones that lose out by working directly with Sage.

Early in 2016, I received an email from Sage stating that Swan Business Consultants Ltd would be required to achieve a sales target. As a company, we have never, ever set sales targets. We believe that in an industry such as ours, its perverse. We want our customers to trust what we say, and to believe our advice. This means that we often find ourselves telling customers that they don't need to buy something. How can we have an honest relationship with customers that think we are only interested in selling? Furthermore, the targets which Sage wished us to conform to were simply not achievable - unless we "Stack it high and sell it cheap". We replied to Sage stating in no uncertain terms that we would not be joining them in their race to the bottom. Apart from a communication from an account manager thanking us for our frank appraisal, we heard nothing more.

Then, in May 2016, we received a letter from Sage stating that since we have not achieved our unachievable target, they were discontinuing our Business Partner agreement. This means that they have effectively put us out of business with just 30 days notice, after 14 years of working with them. Sage's strapline is "Active support for Business". If a company can treat is so called Business Partners in this manner, then you can draw your own conclusions as to their attitude to customers.

We are far from the only partner to fall victim of Sage's axe. We believe there are at least 15 Business Partners in the North London area alone affected. However, that does not help us with the sad fact that we will no longer be able to provide the support we believe our customers deserve.

It is then, with a heavy heart, that I announce from June 23rd 2016, Swan Business Consultants Ltd will no longer be a Sage 200 Business Partner. We would like to thank our many customers over the years and wish them all the best for the future.

Paul Ebrey
Swan Business Consultants Ltd

 

Bootnote:

Since publishing this statement Sage UK have been in touch stating that they do not have a direct sales team competing for on-premise sales. This differs from the information I was given by another Business Partner recently, so please, for anyone reading this or acting on that information, please do your own research and draw your own conclusions.