By Carly Lombardo
After 20 years of honing its Excellence Series of financial management software, SouthWare is now looking to boost its brand recognition with new marketing initiatives and an alliance with IBM.
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Since it started in 1984, Auburn, Ala.-based SouthWare has relied on its channel, which now numbers 100 partners. The key to the channel's success is selective recruitment. At one point, there were as many as 300 partners, but the vendor made a conscious decision to limit the number of resellers. "We don't want people who just want to throw a box out [into the marketplace]. We look for partners who want to provide total care to the customer base, and are serious about it," explains vice president Rick Hulsey.
In an effort to enhance SouthWare's name recognition, lead generation, and overall sales campaign, the vendor has become an IBM Business Partner. "We are exploring ways to leverage IBM's huge Linux investment, and have started by becoming members of the IBM PartnerWorld for Developers," says Clay Ingram, director of marketing.
SouthWare's Excellence Series supports more than 600 hardware/operating system combinations, including Windows, Unix, and Linux. Users can also choose various databases, including Visual ISAM, C-ISAM, Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle. Ingram says, "As businesses grow, needs change. We've seen many businesses out there that would like to convert from Windows to Linux, but are not able to because of the cost of changing their accounting system. We are the solution to this predicament."
Although the software began with five core modules, the company has added more with each revision over the years. There are now 35 modules in Revision 9, targeted to the wholesale distribution, retail, rental, and services industries.
Nolan Breazeale, president and partner of Atlanta-based Exerve, started as a SouthWare user with a medical products sister company in 1991. "Because of our operating expertise, we started consulting with SouthWare users for several SouthWare dealers in 1994, and we acquired the SouthWare dealership of one of those companies in 1997. This timeline highlights the quality of the SouthWare product--we liked it so much, we became a reseller."
Exerve currently has 100 clients using SouthWare's software and feels the open platform helps retain clients. Breazeale says, "Today, Windows can be a client's platform, but they might want to move and with SouthWare there is no re-investment. We can move clients into new environments with ease."
Excellence's Web-enabled functionality and easy modifiability are key selling points for resellers. Specifically, NetLink provides controlled, browser-based network access to a company's data files. It can be used for Internet, intranet, and extranet applications, and gives a company's vendors, customers, and employees access to their own records to check account balances and order status, submit service requests, review product history, make address changes, and request information.
Exerve has approximately one-fourth of its client base utilizing NetLink, according to Breazeale. "We have a client that has 50 sales representatives in the field. NetLink is a portal for the sales representatives and their sales managers. We built it so the regional managers can see the status of all sales reps, and the sales people can see the status of their customers," he says.
Customization is also important for Exerve's clients. For example, one customer wanted to create a purchase order for out-of-stock items at the same time they entered the sales order. SouthWare has the ability to create a batch of purchase orders from sales orders automatically, but not interactively while entering the sales order. "We set up an interface using the SouthWare WorkFlow module," explains Breazeale.
He continues, "The system asks users if they want to create a purchase order automatically and then links out from sales order entry to purchase order entry, and creates a purchase order for the out-of-stock item." Breazeale says that with use of the WorkFlow module, the completed customization will carry over when a customer updates to a new version, just as the customer file does.
Exerve has found that implementation of a brand new system takes approximately three months, with the cost for software and services averaging $70,000.
The initial investment to join the channel program is $5,000, with $3,000 recoverable through sales, although only at the rate of $1,500, so it takes at least two sales to recover that amount through what is in effect a "store credit," since the company does not require resellers to maintain any inventory.
Partners must employ at least one dedicated sales person, and another focused on product support. Partners must also have an accounting degree or strong accounting background and a business plan that ensures some degree of success in marketing products. SouthWare does not accept one-person shops or start-ups.
In return, partners receive product training, discounts on software for internal use, free product updates, an online reseller listserv for sharing information, and the ability to earn co-op marketing dollars.
Furthermore, SouthWare is working on several marketing initiatives. One program uses an "email greeting card" approach. Ingram explains, "SouthWare sends someone an email with a greeting, and the option to click on several different links to digital video clips (alongside a PowerPoint presentation) containing a message that we want to convey to the recipient. It's a new technology, but we're anxious to try something new and cutting edge." The company is formulating a new direct mail campaign as well.
Breazeale has utilized several of SouthWare's sales and marketing programs. He comments, "Maybe unique to the SouthWare community is SouthWare's sales and marketing focus--to be helpful and complementary to a dealer's sales and marketing goals rather than just forcing their own way."
To maintain communication with the channel, SouthWare established a dealer council in 1995. The group of five to seven dealers serves as a collective voice for the channel. It allows partners to be involved in the decisions that affect their businesses. "Its purpose is to consider, discuss, and act upon common problems relating to the management and operation of SouthWare partners," says Ingram. "Also, it facilitates the success of our dealers by sharing ideas and maintaining a constant and accurate line of communication with our partners on all matters that relate to them, such as new product features and development, support issues, marketing initiatives, and business practices at the partner level."
HQ: Auburn, Ala.
Breazeale agrees. "The closeness of the channel allows us to communicate with other partners because they're more like colleagues than competition," he says. "Our relationship with SouthWare is more family-esque."
A member of the dealer council, Breazeale feels it is a great sounding board for the reseller community. "SouthWare bounces ideas off of us," such as product enhancements or sales and marketing programs, he says.
Carly Lombardo is Associate Editor of Accounting Technology and can be reached at email@example.com.