Software Technology: Looking For Quality Accountants

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by Carly Lombardo

Software Technology is taking 23 years of experience running a reseller channel in the legal practice management software market, and applying it to the accounting market.

It’s not like Lincoln, Neb.-based STI is unknown in the accounting business--it has more than 200 resellers, some of which are accounting firms, but most are law firms. However, by the end of the year, STI would like to have 50 resellers serving accountants. "We are looking for resellers who are not full systems integrators, but are accountants and CPAs. We want to recruit and work with people who know the industry and the inner workings of an office," says STI president Dan Berlin.

Partner Insights

Since its inception in 1979, STI (www.stilegal.com) has developed, marketed, sold, and supported computer software for legal and accounting markets. But it was only in April that the company introduced a version of PracticeMaster, its practice management system, tailored to the accounting market. The program had been renamed from CaseMaster, to give it less of a legal-sounding name. Version 10.6 also shares data with QuickBooks Pro 2002 and QuickBooks Premier 2002. The reseller program followed in May, as a way "to re-introduce ourselves more than appear as a new kid on the block," notes Berlin.

PracticeMaster retails for $295 for the standalone version and starts at $595 for the network version. The system interfaces with STI’s other major product, Tabs III, a timekeeping, billing, and reporting system. Tabs starts at $495 for up to nine timekeepers. Currently, there are more than 275,000 user licenses on STI’s annual maintenance contract for the two lines.

Ron Seigneur, president of Seigneur & Company, a Lakewood, Colo.-based CPA firm, has been familiar with the products for many years, starting in 1980 when he was an administrator for a law firm. His CPA firm has also worked with more than 200 Colorado-based law firms on various practice management consulting engagements.

"The key reason why STI should be successful in extending its products into the accounting market is due to the gap that currently exists between Timeslips at the low-end for small firms and the full-feature offerings available for larger firms," says Seigneur. He says that firms with 5 to 30 timekeepers have few options comparable to Tabs III. Seigneur continues, "The program appears to be rock solid in terms of stability, which is key for those of us who had to deal with things like Timeslips Version 9.0."

In fact, Seigneur’s firm has grown to eight timekeepers and will convert the firm from Timeslips to Tabs by the fall. "The robust management capabilities, such as cash collected fee allocations and having any adjustments such as postings that can be completely reversed, are important for efficient timekeeping."

Calling All Resellers

The STI program has few strings. Resellers face neither a fee when they sign up, nor do they have to pay an annual renewal fee. Any reseller can enroll by completing a set of agreements and forms. However, to be a Certified or Preferred reseller, firms must attend training and/or pass a test, along with getting final approval by STI.

In return, VARs receive a 40 percent margin on their first order. Discounts rise to 60 percent based on the quantity per order. STI also offers technical support, free interactive versions of the entire product line, marketing, training classes, and lead generations and referrals. Certified and Preferred resellers receive leads, can participate under the STI name at trade shows, and get training referrals. "We’ll also follow-up on sales and installations to make sure the client was satisfied with the reseller’s performance," adds Berlin.

STI marketing materials include promotional CDs, multiple brochures, and copies of reviews, success stories, and articles. "The most popular is the promotional CD. It has slide show presentation demos of Tabs III and PracticeMaster, as well as full working interactive systems, allowing firms to ‘test drive’ our software with up to 30 clients," says Berlin.

Also on the CD are multi-media presentations as well as tutorials and manuals. "The resellers really like the slide shows for initial demonstrations, and the interactive systems for more detailed presentations. Since it’s a full working system, our resellers can customize the system with their potential client’s firm and staff information so the presentation looks just like you’re already using the system in their firm," says Berlin.

James Brendle, senior vice president of ProSystems, says the program’s features put STI’s reseller program ahead of the competition. The Matthews, N.C.-based firm, which provides services such as hardware, software, Web design, and conferencing, has been an STI reseller since the early 1980s.

The firm has approximately 2,000 active CPA firms as clients--it also resells Lacerte Tax Software--and has sold over 200 Tabs and PracticeMaster systems. "All companies should model their technical support after STI, not to mention that our margins fall into the 50 percent range," says Brendle.

Seigneur also says that STI sales provide more than adequate financial rewards for a CPA firm. "Each STI software sale comes with a certain amount of hourly based training, typically billed at premium, value-added rates," he says. "The fact that the revenue stream from these activities is, and should be, steady year-round, is very appealing to those of us who have worn thin surviving each successive tax season."

Berlin believes the company offers much more than just margins. He strongly feels that the extensive training and business referrals are keys to STI’s 20-plus years of reselling success. "We want resellers who already know how to sell and we just train them on the product," says Berlin.

STI provides both group and individual training. Currently, two-day group training is offered at no cost. However, individual training is customized to fit the strengths and weaknesses of the firm. This type of training costs $25 an hour. Also in the near future, STI will begin offering online training for individuals at $50 an hour.

In addition to training, resellers can participate in STI’s lead generation program. STI-generated leads are sent to a reseller who can serve the client’s geographical area. Brendle says, "When we get a lead from STI, there is over a 50 percent chance that the lead will turn into a customer."

Degnan & Shlafer, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based CPA firm, attributes 15 to 25 percent of its new client base to the lead generation program.

James Degnan, partner in charge of information technology and accounting, says, "STI has an income-producing product. The margins are high and there is ongoing revenue because clients need upgrades, training, and support. In fact, STI clients account for 35 percent more proposals in computer systems consulting."

Berlin prides himself on the fact that STI provides a steady source of leads to the channel partners. "Our resellers are our front-line sales people. Everything we do, we do to drive back business to the reseller. If a client calls our offices and wants to add on features or upgrade their software, we refer them back to their local reseller," says Berlin.

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