Excitement over the latest upgrade from open source code provider AccountMate ushered in a change in tone and attitude among attendees at Synergy 2006 - the company's annual partner conference."It's very rare to see the business partners this happy," remarked AccountMate chief executive David Dierke. "It's rare that this happens across the industry. But we've done a lot of communicating with them this year and kept them close with the changes."

AccountMate's business partners were visibly excited about the upgrade of AccountMate SQL and MSDE, also called Express, to Version 7.0. The latest upgrade will contain more than 200 features and five new modules, along with two new modules for inventory control in AccountMate LAN, with a full upgrade of LAN expected out in June 2006.

The release of 7.0 is expected at the end of April. Beta testing was scheduled to begin in mid-to-late-March for a select group of partners.

But as CPA and AccountMate applications consultant Christine Atup said, Version 7.0 is "still a work in progress," with new features continually being added.

As an example of that frequency, chief technology officer Tommy Tan revealed, "We added three new features since the conference started."

Of the 200-plus features already planned for the next version, Tan noted that one of the most popular features was one allowing users to add attachments to any screen linked to AccountMate, including a business partner's customized screens - a feature that earned applause at one of the marquee product seminars. The CTO also noted an activities feature that acts as a mini-customer relationship manager, tracking customers, phone calls, addresses to send quotes, and if support calls were made.

While the cost of AccountMate 7.0 remains roughly that of Version 6.5, there will be five new modules added to the product for additional fees. On average, the new modules - Up-Sell Management, Landed Cost, National Account Management, Electronic Payment and Custom Checks - will cost an extra $1,500 apiece.

Up-Sell Management is an alert-prompting module that reminds the user, after placing an order, to sell some added features or services. For example, if a CPA creates an invoice for a 1040, the module might ask the CPA if the client needs help with their financial planning for next year.

The Landed Cost module was added to the list of modules after business partners complained of sending or receiving dual invoices for items that were purchased from one company and shipped by another.

"Landed Cost could be taxes, tariff, anything outside of the bill from where the item came," explained Tan. "Normally, that charge doesn't come with the purchase order, because the shipping company may or may not know the charge, no invoices till later on in time, so that charge is created as a separate charge instead of part of the item ... it makes the accounting all messed up."

Parent companies can also be set up to pay for bills associated with their subsidiaries through the new National Account Management module. The new anti-fraud Electronic Payments module sends a payee list, so that anyone not on the list will not be able to cash that company's check. And batch closings can also be purchased as an add-on product for 7.0 that will allow users to schedule a time and date to close all their modules and pull the monthly data.

While a number of seminars were centered on the upcoming arrival of AccountMate 7.0 and new modules for all three database versions of AccountMate - SQL, MSDE and LAN - the conference also served as a platform for announcing the new members of AccountMate's advisory board - a council of nine business partners, where three new members are rotated in every year for a two-year term.

AccountMate brought 90 business partners in total, along with 20 of its employees, to Synergy 2006.

The annual gathering also showcased four workshops on improving sales techniques.

"We don't think the best ideas necessarily have to come from within our four walls," said David Render, chief operating officer and co-owner of AccountMate.

As an example of AccountMate's partner-centric strategy, Render pointed out that in October, one of the advisory board suggested an added incentive for being a reseller of only AccountMate products. From that discussion, the AccountMate Elite sales program was born.

The Elite program gives resellers who only sell AccountMate products the chance to receive a 50 percent increase in marketing funding from AccountMate, free product training classes, and reimbursement of up to 75 percent of their annual sign-up fees for SellAccountingSoftware.com, a Web site to retrieve information on sales leads.

Since its founding, AccountMate has had a history of being passed around like a hot potato, while at the same time maintaining strong partner loyalty. According to Render, most partners have remained with the company for over 10 years.

Founded in 1984, the company was purchased by Softline in 2000 and subsequently resold to global business software provider Sage in November 2003. Five months later, the trio of Dierke, Tan and Render bought the company back from Sage and formed what is now AccountMate.

And while Render and the rest of the owners and management team are always looking toward higher sales figures, they are not trying to expand the 90-employee company into a larger corporation.

"Our goal is to organically grow about 10 percent a year," said COO Render. "We want to remain manageable. We're not interested in creating an empire. Tommy and I don't get a kick out of having more people report to us."

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