As a certified consultant for Sage Software's Act products since 2003, it's no surprise Rainer Hoffmueller, managing director of Phoenix-based Design R1 Software, is a proponent of the contact and customer management software. Hoffmueller has been an Act user dating back to 1990. "Act was the first thing I opened in the morning and the last thing I closed in the evening," Hoffmueller says, referring to his tenure as a sales manager. "So when I became an Act Certified Consultant, I wanted to help my clients implement it because of my positive experience. It would dictate my day, telling me what I needed to do and who I needed to call."
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There are a lot of people like Hoffmueller. And the Act Web site says something about the feeling users have for this package. Sage offers Act Gear, merchandise such as Identity Ware, and Office Gear & Beyond that includes shirts, mugs, and travel packs. Users can also fill out a form on the Web site describing why they are Act fanatics. Let's put it this way: Sage doesn't offer shirts or sign-ups for fanatics for Peachtree and MAS 90.
Sage estimates there are more than 2.5 million users of Act, which comes in an increasing variety of flavors, ranging from the original Act, now called Act by Sage, through Act Premium for Workgroups, Premium for Web, and Act for Palm OS.
To serve this clientele, Sage has a force of 400 certified consultants, a number which has steadily risen since 2004. However, the executive who heads the CC program, Bob Duff, vice president of partner programs, says he wants to add more to the roster.
Last year, the consultant population rose between 12 and 15 percent, a marked increase from previous years' single-digit increases. Sage is looking heavily at secondary metropolitan markets for new recruits. It's not just that there is geographic room; the market itself has openings.
"Whereas the accounting software space is saturated," says Duff, "there is only 25 percent penetration in the contact management space."
Act consultants typically range from one-to-10-person organizations that build their practices around the sales management tool exclusively, or who offer other sales productivity and CRM packages along with it. They have a wide range of backgrounds. Some have had sales careers, along with experience in training or business process consulting. Some of Sage's MAS and SalesLogix resellers have also added Act to their practices.
Sage estimates that among the consultant population, about two-thirds focus on businesses that employ up to 25 people, while the other third deals with companies with from 25 to 100 employees. Act Premium for Workgroups is bringing Act into midsized companies, as well as divisions of large corporations.
The numerous sales opportunities mean CCs can reap a quick return on their investment of $2,500 to join the program. That fee covers product training, the first year's dues, and certification classes. Upon receiving their certification, consultants receive a free Web listing on Act.com.
"Once we get your Web listing up, you get leads," Duff says, "and it doesn't take that many service engagements to return the $2,500."
Reseller Susan Clark, president of Cornerstone Solutions, says the Web listing is a rainmaker. "We get so many inbound calls," says Clark, "I've become lazy at marketing."
A Platinum CC, Clark's Houston-based firm is required to sell a minimum of $30,000 in Act products annually. Clark is also a member of the Act Advisory Board, which includes certified consultants from around the world, and her company is also a Certified SalesLogix Business Partner.
The consultant program has three tiers: Platinum, Gold, and Bronze. Gold members must sell $10,000 in product a year, while there is no minimum requirement for Bronze consultants, which represent about half of the total. The other half is equally divided between Platinum and Gold CCs.
The annual renewal fee for certification is $1,000 for Bronze and $1,500 for both Gold and Platinum. Consultants must stay current on new products as a condition of their certification. Margins top out at 30 percent for the Platinum level.
Clark, whose firm sold $1 million last year, says she is content with the 30 percent margins given on the portfolio of products from Act by Sage.
The product lineup starts with Act by Sage 2006, for individuals and teams with up to 10 networked users, at $229.99; Act Premium for Workgroups 2006 for workgroups of up to 50 users is priced at $399.99, as is Premium for Web 2006.
Among other benefits, the program offers its partners is an assigned channel account manager, unlimited technical support by telephone and the Web, and access to its Partner News Group, a portal for consultants to exchange information.
Design R1's Hoffmueller notes that the assistance he received from the News Group when he first became a certified consultant was invaluable.
"Without the News Group and the ACC community, it would have been difficult," Hoffmueller says. "It sped up my learning process during the first few installations."
Act Means Business
Act is increasingly not just a small business product. For example, Cornerstone's clients run the gamut from small service companies to Fortune 500 companies, and from professional sports franchises to construction companies.
"The beauty of Act is you can work with all types of companies and it fits," says Clark. "It has totally reinvented our business."
Clark recalls in 1987 when Cornerstone was formed, the business was focused on corporate training. However, as requests for Act by Sage from its Fortune 500 clientele grew, it transitioned the business to reselling Act and SalesLogix, Sage's high-end CRM package.
"Now, we no longer do corporate training," Clark says, "we only do Act and SalesLogix training." Not only does the company offer Act training services, Clark authored The Official Act by Sage QuickStudy Guide, which was issued last fall with the release of Act 2006.
Clark's roster of clients illustrates Act's reach into large business. Cornerstone has about 500 client companies, but that includes thousands of employees, including the strong sports practice with the Houston Texans, Astros, and Aeros as customers, along with Duke Energy and other corporate customers.
The Act Corporate Sales Team specializes in assisting small businesses, corporate workgroups, and divisions of larger organizations to get the most out of Act.
Contributing to Cornerstone's shift was that it was not only more lucrative, according to Clark, but that Act goes beyond simply providing contact information.
Corporate customers can also get Upgrade Assurance, which provides automatic upgrades during the course of the purchase agreement, and a reader utility which provides read-only access to most data tables, enabling them to be queried by third-party tools such as Crystal Reports for advanced reporting and data extraction.
Consultants can customize Act to mimic their client's organizational practices; for example, generating monthly sales reports and producing and sending client letters, so that all the sales force has to focus on is generating sales.
Riccardo A. Davis is Associate Editor of Accounting Technology and can be reached at email@example.com.
Act by Sage
HQ: Irvine, Calif.
Phone: (800) 305-2556
Founded: Act first released in 1987
Products: Act by Sage, Act by Sage Premium for Workgroups, Act by Sage Premium for Web,
Act Premium for Windows, Act for Palm OS