Outgunning the Competition

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So what’s it take to be a reselling champ? A cursory look at our roster of Killer VARs yields no quick and easy answers.

It’s certainly not just a matter of revenue-this year’s slate spans a fairly wide chasm, from less than a million right up through $10 million. Nor is it a matter of head count-one Killer VAR has only three employees officially on the rolls; another has 150, and that’s only the technology division of a much larger company.

It’s not even an issue of how focused or how broad the product portfolio is. Several of our Killer VARs are specialty houses, dedicated to a single accounting software vendor, while others hew more to a best-of-breed approach, representing an assortment of accounting packages.

Partner Insights

So what is it that sets these resellers apart from the rest of the pack? IBIS president Andy Vabulas could be speaking for all of his honored colleagues when he says of his own firm, “We always are looking for ways to add value for our clients.” Or as Marshall + Poe partner Rick Kidder phrases it, “We understand what the ‘V’ in VAR means. Rather than sit back and say ‘Where are my leads?’ we strive to bring value to the table.”

What that value is can take all kinds of different forms. In reviewing the profiles of this year’s Killer VARs, one finds certain patterns emerging while others continue to build momentum. These include:

● Increased Verticalization. It’s not enough to “focus” on manufacturers and distributors; resellers are zeroing in on market niches as particular as assemble-to-order houses and radio stations and aviation services. Many are doing what Harwood Consulting president Vince Harwood does: “If we have good success within an industry, we will target similar businesses to leverage that success.”

● Adoption of Implementation Methodologies. As Web-enabled, front-office/back-office installs grow more and more complex, VARs are finding it necessary to formulate step-by-step methodologies. For Romero & Boston, it’s Result Oriented Implementation. For IBIS, it’s Accurate Implementation Methodology. For Clifton Gunderson, it’s the CG Way. Forepoint’s methodology includes a 30-point checklist for helping to set client expectations, according to partner Kevin Cumley. “That way we’ll end up with happy staff and happy clients.”

● Heightened Emphasis on Training. Webinars, Lunch & Learn sessions, and Authorized Training Centers are all manifestations of a commitment to ensure that both the reselling staff and the client base are being kept up to speed on new product and service advances. Romero & Boston put in an on-site training center because, as partner Brad Boston explains, “The transfer of knowledge is what we bring to the table.”

● E-commerce Gains Ground. Electronic business, including its Web store component, is inevitably becoming mainstream. Alternative Business Systems senior partner Norman Wine notes, “We are doing more and more e-business demos for existing and prospective clients on a regular basis.” Granted, a lot of people are window-shopping, but patience can be a virtue. En’tegrate USA partner Steve Balow has found that “Most customers see e-commerce as a second step; they get their core supply-chain systems replaced and then move to e-commerce.” The point is, they do move. And why not? AS EZ Access partner Lisa Parr observes, “It’s the easiest way to increase your sales without having to hire new employees.”

● Opportunities for CPA Partnering. Tremors from the Arthur Andersen debacle and the resulting imbroglio over corporate governance continue to be felt. Some accounting practices, rather than wade through massive regulatory red tape, are scrapping their technology consulting units. According to NFP Consultants president John Francis, “Many CPA firms have recused themselves from that [technology advisory] role. They have decided to work through us to provide those information system services.”

Most of this year’s Killer VARs are pure-play technology houses, although almost every one of them has an affiliation with a CPA practice, to which they can refer clients in need of attest and tax services. One prominent exception is Clifton Gunderson, with thriving-but distinctly separate-accounting and technology practices of its own. That set-up has worked just fine, according to CG partner Alan Hardy. “We’re getting more and more opportunities to provide technology services-not just software-because of a client’s being an audit or tax client.” He adds, “That’s the way it ought to be.”

-- Richard McCausland
Senior Editor

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