AccountMate is in an odd position. It's a company that is small in a business that has largely consolidated.

So how does AccountMate, the Novato, Calif.-based accounting software company, survive in a market that is dominated by Microsoft and Sage? It is choosing the only way that is likely to work--operating as a boutique company that does not even consider trying to rival the big kids.

AccountMate has been around for a long time. It was an independent company that was acquired by Softline in 2001, which was in turn purchased by the Sage Group. Sage then spit the company out early last year, selling the operation to its managers.

Throughout this all, AccountMate has been doing roughly the same thing--selling financial software to resellers who perform installations that involve a high degree of customization. In some ways, the market is playing right into these resellers' hands since the big push is to serve vertical markets that want software to fit the special needs of their business.

But there are also challenges. Among these is that small companies can't make mistakes. They have little margin for error. They must also remember to stick to their chosen business plan. AccountMate needs to remember not to see any success as an invitation to depart from the boutique strategy.

The big problem may be those VARs. It's not that they are not technically competent. That's what keeps them in business. It's that many of them aren't by nature, or training, business people. Many such resellers get their leads through referrals and they service these installations for a long time. They don't have the pressure to dig up new business that a Microsoft VAR faces.

But some business slips away and must be replaced. So these VARs still have to be able to close deals, which means expressing their message, that they are specialists.

Even with a high degree of technical knowledge, the specialists need some of the same skills that are rapidly being acquired by generalists.

It's all about business, not the technology.

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