by Richard McCausland
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Like every other reseller coming off the Year 2000 euphoria, Bennett/Porter & Associates in Tigard, Ore., was understandably jittery. "We anticipated there would be a sales drop-off because everyone had spent their money" on Y2K-compliant accounting system upgrades, recalls co-owner Deni Porter.
But unlike so many of its competitors, "We were able to grow our company and maintain profitability by cross-selling," says Porter, whose firm is a Best Software VAR. "Otherwise, it would have been a very bad year for us."
Fortunately, Porter and partner Sue Bennett had the assistance of an aggressive staff. "Our consultants, project managers, and trainers are always looking for more opportunities to make the clients happier, and to make more money for the company," notes Bennett. One staffer, a CPA, became a very vocal supporter of Synex Systems’ F9, a Best-authorized financial reporting package that links general ledger data to Microsoft Excel.
"She insisted we had to have this product, and she was right. Now it’s included as part of our sales process," says Porter. Prospects are routinely asked if they currently do financial statements in Excel. The result: "Eighty percent of the time we sell a GL [module], we sell F9," states Bennett.
The reseller’s post-Y2K balance sheets have received an additional boost from sales of StarShip, a multi-carrier shipping solution from V-Technologies that features plug-and-play interfaces to MAS 90/200. "One of our implementers had heard about it, and thought a lot of our client base could use it," says Porter. The VAR put on demo seminars for potential users. "When they saw it, they could see it would save them a full-time employee," she continues. "They couldn’t write their checks fast enough."
StarShip was such a resounding success, Best added the product to its ever-expanding list of officially authorized third-party add-ons.
That’s hardly an unusual development these days. Lured by the sirens of verticalization and upstream migration and Web enablement, all leading middle-market accounting software publishers are seeing their product catalogs grow thicker and thicker. It’s becoming enormously expensive and time consuming for valued-added resellers to stay informed about, much less certified for, these seemingly unending product line additions.
What to do? Don Nelson, channel development general manager for Fargo, N.D.-based Microsoft Great Plains, advises resellers to choose a market niche or two. "Partners need to develop their own business plan with the right amount of focus based on their skills and capital availability," he says.
He cites a GoldMine contact management dealer in Houston who recently joined the Microsoft Business Solutions fold with an eCRM authorization. The firm will continue to concentrate on front-office implementations, but partners with an area Dynamics VAR for clients that need an accounting package. "They have separate customer bases, but will be sharing sales opportunities," Nelson explains.
Accounting software resellers are inevitably finding themselves fielding questions about not only the core financial modules, but also operating systems, networks, hardware, e-commerce, and more, points out Softline Software president Murray Aston. "No individual VAR can know all these things," he says.
That’s why, with a few exceptions, "the best VARs have banded together." Aston cites Covasco, consisting of southern California resellers SRS Consulting and Ventana, which handles Softline’s BusinessVision and AccountMate products.
Reseller Progressive Business Solutions welcomes the opportunity to learn more at conferences and certification classes about "adjuncts" to the enterprise-class Exact Macola line such as Crystal Reports and business intelligence add-ons, according to president Gary Chervitz. "Cross-selling to existing accounts is extremely important," in his view. "There’s more to it than just ‘come in and implement the software and show them how to set up a screen.’ We have to be advisors" to the client base.
Education, though, may not be enough, warns Kevin Bowes, chief executive of Best reseller Millennium Business Solutions Group in Westlake Village, Calif. In his view, "Product knowledge only, as it relates to features and functionality, makes you a commodity salesman. Business and management knowledge and skill make you a viable long-term business partner." He particularly values the ability to listen to what clients are telling you.
Exact sales and marketing vice president Jim Kent recognizes the enormous investment in time and money required of a reseller to become proficient in much if not all of a vendor’s ever-expanding product mix. But he’s convinced the investment can pay off in spades. "Cross-selling from multiple vendors is getting antiquated," he says. "Prospects and customers are really getting back to one source."
‘Having the Right Product’
As the result of an ongoing buying spree, the Best Software portfolio now bridges five divisions: Mid-Market (MAS 90/200, Best Enterprise Suite, BusinessWorks, and PFW by Best); Small Business (Peachtree and DacEasy); Specialty Products (Abra HR and FAS); Nonprofit/Government (NPS Intro and Pro from Micro Information Products), and CRM (Act and SalesLogix). "Having the right product for the customer is a fundamental piece to cross-selling," contends Mid-Market division president David Butler.
He readily concedes, though, that most channel partners don’t have the resources--or the inclination--to represent this entire product mix. Thus, "It’s inevitable that we help them to focus on where their skills lie, and to cooperate in those areas that complement their core competencies," he says.
These efforts have included educational sessions at VAR conferences, workshops for learning how to identify customer needs, publishing a third-party solutions guide, and compiling a digest of customer success stories.
Best is also making use of a Solution Selling methodology, which was devised by Sales Performance Inc. and is incorporated as a module within SalesLogix. At the Best Visions reseller conference in June, approximately 240 partners were trained in the methodology, according to Butler. Plans are under way for conducting regional training sessions this summer.
Another brand new initiative is the Best Cross-Product Referral Program. It provides a 10 percent referral credit and 25 percent tier credit whenever a VAR refers a customer to an authorized partner who represents Best products not handled by the referring VAR.
There’s also a newly-unveiled "In the Family" discount program, which gives existing partners a 50 percent discount on their product authorization fees when they enlist to represent additional Best products. Partners who carry three or more Best products get a 25 percent discount on their annual PartnerCare fees.
Additionally, Best is completing a plan to provide improved margin opportunities for partners representing multiple products. This could mean that a top MAS 90 partner would also receive the top margin when taking on Abra, suggests Butler. The rationale is, "We want to be one company as Best Software to our partners," and not an amalgamation of non-collaborative product divisions.
Besides paying attention to what customers are telling you, success is also dependent on recognizing when to partner with others to fulfill clients’ needs, according to Millennium’s Bowes. The reseller "frequently" calls upon Best-authorized Master Developers for functional enhancements, according to Bowes. A case in point: a developer was able to provide an insurance claims processing solution to a client that needed all cash expenditures to be automatically assigned/linked to a specific property, agent, region, territory, policy, and branch, along with management reports to determine operational efficiency and property for each of those categories.
Through mergers and acquisitions, Microsoft Business Solutions has grown to encompass Great Plains, Solomon, and now Navision accounting software, with products stretching from Small Business Manager up to Axapta and including both front-office CRM and back-office manufacturing and distribution functionality. "We’re on an evolution where cross-selling will be very important," comments Nelson.
To further that end, Microsoft last month launched an Affiliate Program at its Fusion conference targeted to the Microsoft channel. Participants will remain focused on Microsoft infrastructure products such as SQL Server and Office, but have been told, "If you pass us [at Business Products] a lead and that lead closes, we’ll pay you a finder’s fee," notes Nelson.
Asking the Right Questions
Here’s the Accpac portfolio to date: Advantage Series, Source Solutions, HR, warehouse management, eTransact for Web-based commerce, eCRM, Accpac Online as a hosting option, the new Business Analysis Suite, and of course Simply Accounting at the low end, as well as a slew of third-party add-ons. How can VARs get a handle on all this?
"It’s an issue," acknowledges Michael Bongiovanni, senior vice president for sales at the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company. Whereas larger VARs are used to dealing with a multiple of third-party suppliers, Accpac had found "the smaller VARs didn’t pay a lot of attention to our end-to-end e-business extensions" such as HR and CRM. The reason wasn’t hard to come by. "Many of our partners really weren’t sure what questions to ask," recalls Bongiovanni.