ACT! Users Celebrate: Sage sells ACT! & SalesLogix to Swiftpage

act_fanatics_hdrFor those who haven’t heard:
Sage is selling ACT! and SalesLogix to Swiftpage
And it’s great news for all involved

Here are the relevant official releases:

As someone who has spent more than 25 years supporting ACT! and supported more ACT! users than anyone else over that time, I have had hundreds of messages and questions about this since the Friday announcement. Mainly focused on these areas:

  1. How many owners has ACT! had?
  2. Why would Sage sell the products?
  3. Is Swiftpage a good choice for ACT! and the ACT! Community?
  4. What does this mean for Mike Lazarus 

Let’s discuss these one at a time – However, as I haven’t worked in the SalesLogix space, my views are from an ACT! perspective.

How many owners has ACT! had?

From The History of ACT!, this is the 4th sale of ACT! – and, if you don’t count Pat twice, the 4th owner:

  • In 1993: Contact Software International (ex Conductor Software) purchased by Symantec
  • In 1999: Sold by Symantec to SalesLogix (owned by Pat Sullivan, one of the co-founders of ACT!) – later renamed as Interact Commerce Corporation
  • In 2001: Interact Commerce Corporation purchased by Sage Group Plc (Best Software in the US at that time)
  • And now sold to Swiftpage


Why would Sage sell the products?

It’s useful to understand the reason Sage wanted ACT! (and SalesLogix) in the first place … a decade ago, companies in the ERP arena like Sage, Microsoft and others believed that they could gain advantages in the small-mid business market by providing a front-office solution to complement their accounting and ERP solutions, in a similar way that solutions sold to larger enterprises had done to lock in users to a single vendor.

This essentially failed for a number of reasons:

  • Sage never managed to achieve the promise of real integration between ACT! and their accounting products to a level where they could show an advantage in an SME customer purchasing both from the same vendor
  • Unlike with the enterprise users, small-mid businesses do not make the decisions on their accounting and their sales/marketing solutions at the same time or from the same management needs
  • Sage never fully understood that the CRM market is different to ERP in it’s use – especially for small-mid market users and for those in international markets

Also, like SalesLogix (Interact), they thought that the ACT! base would become a feeder channel that they could convince to move to their bigger products – this belies the passion that most ACT! users have for the product and the reason why both Symantec and Sage couldn’t remove the ACT! branding to replace with their corporate ones. It also failed to appreciate how the needs of ACT! users differed from those of the other products.

Sage has had a tumultuous relationship with ACT! and the community surrounding it:

  • They did recognise that, in order to add functionality that users wanted, ACT! needed to be re-engineered from the CodeBase architecture that the Symantec re-write had been based on. However they made the mistake of jumping on .Net and MS-SQL well before it was ready for prime-time (most tech support issues are related to the Microsoft components rather than Sage code) and this further limited the product in portability to Mac or other operating environments.
  • Most of the long-time ACT! staff were let go instead of being promoted. This created a vacuum of requisite knowledge of both the product and the users within the organisation
  • With the exception of the brief stewardship of David van Toor, senior management refused to engage the users and partners with any communication about problems or the direction of the product – to me, this was the single biggest error that Sage made. Although, since the more recent promotion of Ben Lederer to the Product Management position, this has been improving as I stated in the post: Looking ahead with #SageACT! 2013
  • They gave up on ACT! in many international markets such as Asia, India and recently outsourced the Australian and New Zealand market to ACT! CRM – at least this last one improved the resources for ACT! users and partners
  • Sage also failed to understand the mobile needs of the users – or that the mobile users for ACT! and SalesLogix have quite different needs. ACT! has been in the mobile market longer than most (since supporting HP95LX in 1992), but Sage’s years of trying to get their Sage ACT! Connect product (renaming it several times) working has been a distraction and a failure. It was the first time I’d ever publically advised against using a product with the ACT! brand in the post Getting ACT! on your phone and again in Problems with Sage Mobile for ACT! (new ACT! Mobile Live) and, most recently in this Sage ACT! Mobile Solutions Comparison. While the newer Sage ACT! Premium Mobile interface has some good functionality (when they get it right) for Premium users who can administer an IIS infrastructure, I’d suggest that Connect should be put to rest and that Swiftpage should work with Handheld Contact to provide a complete solution.

I do not feel, as some others do, that making ACT! a pure SaaS product would have been the right answer for Sage. One of the long-time ACT! consultants, Paul Marentette, put it this way:

I'm seeing a real backlash in the marketplace against high-cost, slow response plus the restricted controls endemic with SAAS. Remember, ACT! is uniquely positioned to work well over the web, but even better in on-premise/self-hosted environments while supporting mobile and remote users with the full features and fastest response only available from a local database.

ACT! has, in fact, been available as a hosted solution (browser or remote desktop) since 2003 – and I agree with Paul, in that one of ACT!’s advantages has been the variety of remote support options and third-party integration products that are not available in full SaaS offerings. As well as the higher expense that monthly fees typically entail and the fact that ACT! was built around the mobile sales-warrior who will often need access where the internet is not readily available.

That Sage has been wanting to sell off these products should come as no surprise. Most of us arrived at this conclusion seven months ago when Sage defined ACT! and SalesLogix as “non-core” as you can see in this discussion thread (despite Sage’s denials at the time)

Sage has realised that it’s good business sense to focus on the solutions it knows best … and, like when Symantec made the same decision previously, I believe this is the right call and will be good for both Sage Group, plc and for the products they are selling.

There are some who may think that the lack of corporate backing by Sage might hurt ACT!. Sage will maintain a 16.1% stake in the new ACT/SalesLogix operations, so there still is that backing to leverage off when it has value

Is Swiftpage a good choice for ACT! and the ACT! Community?

My answer: A resounding YES!

The Friday announcement is the public statement of intent. It’s still subject to final regulatory approval (which can take from a few weeks in up to 3 months) and no specific details of their plans have been revealed.

So, what is it about Swiftpage that I find so compelling and exciting?

  • Swiftpage understands the products and the market
    They have been working with the ACT! Community, as an add-on vendor, since about 2004. Senior Vice President and General Manager - Sage ACT! and Sage SalesLogix, Dan Wilzoch, pointed out:
    As an existing partner and provider of Sage E-marketing for Sage ACT! and Sage SalesLogix, Swiftpage also brings a thorough understanding of our customers, partners, products and the markets in which we compete.
  • Their partners find them great to do business with and they inspire loyalty
    I should point out that, unlike other members of the ACT! community, I haven’t had a lot of dealings with Swiftpage as I don’t sell directly to end-users and my client base tends to be ACT! Consultants, Resellers and Add-on vendors that prefer communications and news via forums such the LinkedIN ACT! Fanatics Group – in fact, I previously produced add-ons for ACT! that directly competed with them, such as MergeMaster! for ACT! 5/6. My only connection with them is that I have, at times, recommended them to users via this affiliate link: Swiftpage
    But, I know from all the many resellers and users that I deal with that Swiftpage has been a superlative organisation for them to deal with. They have been responsive and supportive of users and community, alike.
  • Swiftpage understands the sales and marketing mentality
    As their focus has been in digital marketing, they come from an appreciation of the needs of sales and marketing, which is quite different from those looking for an ERP or accounting solution.
  • They understand the real value of ACT!
    As a long-time add-on vendor, they know that ACT!’s value is in having a great, easy-to-use, core-product with users able to build the solutions they need via the huge number of add-on products available. Hopefully, this will means they will make it easier for such solutions to be created.
  • Swiftpage has been in the cloud for a long time
    While most ACT! users prefer the speed and functionality of local copies – as regional internet access improves and the market continues to mature, the benefits of having hybrid systems combining hosted (or SaaS) and on-premises solutions will be an area that ACT! is better enabled to take advantage of.
  • Swiftpage is an entrepreneurial enterprise – like most of the ACT! user-base
    ACT! has always flourished best when not constrained by the controls and red-tape associated with larger corporations that try to pigeon-hole it within their broader product range.
  • Swiftpage has the necessary financial backing
    Via investment from Accel-KKR, one of the preeminent private equity firms in the US. Accel-KKR has a reputation for creating high growth software companies. They would not be investing in Swiftpage if they did not think they have the skills and resources to make ACT! a big success
  • They intend to make the international market a focus
    Swiftpage has a lot of activity internationally and expects the international ACT! market to be an important point of growth going forward. 
  • I spoke to Swiftpage’s Chairman and Founder, Bob Ogdon, on the weekend. He reaffirmed that Swiftpage wants to reignite the energy and passion that the communities of both products still have in heavy supply. It is the intent of Swiftpage to  include the ACT! community in a very active role.  He told me that they want to make an impact and they need the key players in the ACT! community to be involved for that to happen.

One can see from this thread that the “ACT! Fanatics” in the Community are very much behind this change:
Announcement from ACT! Fanatics - ACT! and SalesLogix sold to SwiftPage

What about the future?

  • They are bringing over 250 of the ACT! staff … this includes UK and US staff. Time will tell as to how many of those stay in place. There are many that I hope do just that – I won’t name those I especially think are important here, for fear of upsetting any I may inadvertently miss
  • As I mentioned above, ACT! CRM is distributing in Australia and New Zealand and I’d expect this to continue. While there are some changes I might make to the local policies, I have considerable faith and trust in Michael Bryant (the long-time ACT! Consultant behind the new distributor). He knows the local market, has a considerable investment in both money and time behind the product, and has shown himself to have exceptional business and entrepreneurial skills
  • I hope they listen to, and work with, the local Consultants in Europe and South America as well as looking at reigniting the markets in Asia, India and others that Sage left. Most especially, they need to understand some of the international issues that Sage had ignored. I’d be more than happy to assist them in this venture.
  • I do hope they remove the artificial barriers of international regionalisation that Sage implemented (especially amongst the partners). While this is de rigueur for ERP and accounting solutions, it’s counter-productive for contact managers and CRM
  • They should look at ending the annual upgrade cycle that makes more sense for ERP products than it does for CRM … good products should have their releases determined by development and QA, not by marketing, accountants and analysts.
  • They should refocus on the core product – and look at the options to leverage off both on-premises and SaaS. Then promoting the third-party vars for functions they are already doing so well.
  • More specific plans will be discussed and announced as the transfer proceeds to a close.

The ACT! world is going to be fun again - In fact, the only negative I can see is that searching the web for “ACT!” produces far too many unrelated results, compared to “Sage ACT!” or #SageACT on Twitter


What does this mean for Mike Lazarus 

Well, after 25 years supporting ACT!, including over 13,000 posts to the Sage ACT! Community site, winning the Experts-Exchange Titan Award 3 times and running the LinkedIN ACT! Fanatics Group, I can’t see myself going anywhere in the near future … but I am looking to see what opportunities this may present.

I must say that I have been delighted, humbled and a little amused by the posts in this ACT! Fanatics thread – while I don’t see the option of Pope being available, I would certainly be open to talking to Swiftpage and see how they could best leverage my skills, on-line reputation and passion for the product.

It the mean time, I’m looking to set up an ACT! Fanatics Club to provide the type of training indicated in this thread – please let me know if this would be of interest to you and worth putting the effort in?