by Seth Fineberg

Orlando, Fla. - Best Software recently brought together one of the largest groups of resellers in its history to send a message about who the company is, where it’s going and why it’s good to be a partner.

For the most part, the reseller community was receptive to what they heard.

But the clearest message that the 2,000-plus attendees took from the recent Best Insights Conference, here, was that the company still has a lot of work to do to communicate what Best Software is and to encourage resellers to want to carry the company’s products.

“All we want to do is make this company easier to deal with, and I know in the past it wasn’t there,” Best chief executive Ron Verni said during a keynote address. Verni referred to difficulties that resellers have had in doing business with so many different units. “We will make mistakes. We won’t be perfect. But if we are to be simpler, more streamlined and customer-focused, we will need your help.”

Creating two new divisions from six business units is not an easy task, especially when the company plans to continue its acquisition strategy.

Best and its U.K.-based parent, The Sage Group, have acquired a portfolio of brands that includes Abra, ACT!, CPASoftware, FAS, MAS 90, MIP, Peachtree and SalesLogix. In April, all of the products officially came together under two divisions - one for small business and one for the mid-market.

Best now plans to increase its overall marketing efforts with a focus on increased brand recognition, which may include radio ads - something the company has never done.

In a campaign that ran in trade and business magazines and direct mailings, Best has had some success migrating customers from its Peachtree accounting product to MAS 90. In the past two years, the number of MAS 90 customers coming from Peachtree has increased from 8 percent to 30 percent.

Also, the recent ACT!-to-SalesLogix migration campaign, which featured targeted e-mail and direct-mail messaging, garnered dozens of sales leads and several closed deals within its first week. The ads featured the Best Software logo, along with an image of a SalesLogix box on top of an ACT! box. The message encouraged users to “See farther with SalesLogix, from the makers of ACT!”

“You couldn’t always tell we were one company in the past, our logo didn’t even say ‘software’ on it, so we are after a common look and feel for all our products and we are strategizing on where to go next,” said Nina Smith, Best’s chief marketing officer. “I can say that, going forward, if you see a product ad, you will know it’s Best Software.”

Smith claimed that the next step would be to continue brand awareness and increase Best’s integrated marketing. She will have help from Dennis Frahmann, who was recently hired as senior vice president for integrated marketing communications.

“The groundwork is there but the real challenge is to maintain our focus on the message in as many ways as possible,” Frahmann said. “There’s a large customer base and awareness with ACT! and Peachtree. Attach Best to those two, and brand identity will move up dramatically.”

On the whole, conference attendees seemed to embrace Best’s marketing plans. But it was word of new incentives, such as a partner referral program that encourages resellers to partner with others who sell products that they do not - as well as offering rewards for only carrying Best products - that really got most of them excited.

Lisa Kianoff, CPA and president of Birmingham, Ala.-based L. Kianoff & Associates, has been a Best product reseller for 17 years. She also sells competing products, such as Microsoft CRM and Great Plains, and is quite familiar with the consolidation issues that both companies are facing.

“As a partner, I feel very good about my relationship with Best,” Kianoff said. “I’ve been through ups and downs and have even seriously evaluated continuing my relationship with them. But they really are putting themselves out there to hear our concerns. They are not perfect - I don’t expect them to be - but they are trying to do the right thing.”

On the specific topic of Best’s new incentives, Kianoff said that some resellers may take issue with selling only Best products, despite the financial gains of doing so. She said that some resellers, such as her company, have established businesses and would rather not put existing clients in others’ hands if they stopped carrying those products.

Another pain point for some resellers has been product integration, an issue that can occur with so many acquired products. Best realizes this fact and plans to address it with a new application integration server, or AIS - but that server won’t be available until early 2004.

“They did a great job of addressing all the partner benefits. The reorganization indicates they are finally grabbing the bull by the horns. But, going forward, product integration is as big a challenge as their branding and incentives,” said Karen Smith, research director at Boston’s Aberdeen Group. “Product integration for Best is not there, but what company is - especially if you continue to acquire new products?”

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