by Seth Fineberg

New York - Partnerships between accounting software resellers and customer relationship management system specialists are on the rise, as more resellers are finding that CRM is not something you jump into, mainly because it is more than just software installation.

And while overall demand for CRM products may not be quite where analysts predicted it would be by now, resellers want to be ready for when it is, either through the partnerships that they create, or by hiring experienced staff.

Charles Perrella and his Valley Cottage, N.Y.-based firm, Trexis Inc., have installed CRM products for the past two decades. He has noticed “a significant increase” in his partnerships with accounting resellers of late, particularly accounting firms that do not have in-house CRM expertise.

“There is no question there has been an increase in accounting firms and [value-added resellers] looking to partner with us to accommodate the need for CRM,” Perrella said. “CRM is very much a specialty unto itself, and if you don’t handle it right, you can deal a company a deathblow.”

Perrella’s firm primarily carries Best Software’s SalesLogix CRM product, as well as Micro-soft’s new CRM software. It has partnered regularly with several major accounting software resellers, including Livingston, N.J.-based SWK and Boston’s BHE Consulting.

SWK is a long-time reseller of Best Software’s MAS 90, 200 and 500 lines, while BHE handles MAS 200 and 500, as well as Microsoft’s Great Plains.

Randy Johnston, executive vice president with technology consultants and trainers K2 Enterprises, agreed that CRM implementations are more about business processes than technical implementation. He has also found that it is often more cost-effective to partner for these skills, rather than trying to educate existing staff.

“A good CRM installation requires excellent implementation skills, as well as business consulting skills, to help management understand their responsibilities and what to expect from the CRM implementation,” Johnston said. “The implementers, not the software, are the key reason for CRM implementation success.”

Certainly, there are a number of accounting software makers trying to push their CRM product lines through their channel partners, with some offering attractive incentives.

Best Software recently introduced a referral program that encourages resellers to partner with others who sell products that they do not. In return, the referring partners will earn a 10 percent margin and a 50 percent tier credit in their product category. The company’s chief executive, Ron Verni, has also said that he expects CRM to be a significant part of his business, going forward.

Accpac International has also taken a particular interest in increasing CRM sales of late, expecting significant increases in this space. The Pleasanton, Calif., accounting and enterprise management software vendor recently concluded a 10-city tour resulting in 100 potential new sales partners for its Accpac CRM product.

Resellers with limited exposure to CRM find that partnerships are a good introduction to the products. Canfield, Ohio-based Neo3 is a good example.

The small reseller has, until now, sold MAS 90 and BusinessWorks accounting software. But sales manager Jim Rosenberg is, like others, encouraged by what he hears about CRM’s future. He also finds that many of his clients “do a poor job of maintaining customer relations.”

Rosenberg has not taken on any CRM products yet, but he is engaged in numerous conversations with “CRM experts” and is anxious to partner up.

“The only way we can get clients to pay what we want is to educate them, but we need to learn more about [CRM] first,” Rosenberg said. “At this stage it would pay to partner, and we’ll likely do that until we get our hands around it. CRM is not going away and, as people learn more, it’s going to be in most business solutions.”

In some cases, experienced resellers, though pleased with partnering, decide that they are ready to offer clients more and have taken on both CRM and accounting product lines.

Jim Sirianno, sales manager at Falconer, N.Y.-based JP Diamond, has sold CRM products, such as SalesLogix and Goldmine, since the 1980s. He felt that his firm had enough experience doing customized work with accounting systems to take on a full product line.

In early July, his firm became licensed to sell MAS 90, 200 and 500. “We spend 75 percent of our time and revenue working with these back-end accounting systems, so we just decided to do the [accounting system] work ourselves, rather than partnering with an accounting firm or another VAR that does it,” Sirianno said.

In Sirianno’s experience, most resellers were accounting firms or VARs that did not have his company’s level of expertise in writing custom programs.

There are, of course, competitive concerns, among other things, when partnering with another reseller. As such, it may pay to take some time to work out any trouble spots before entering into a mutually profitable relationship.

Trexis’ Perrella has been partnering with accounting resellers for many years, and often speaks on the topic at conferences. He advises firms to learn each other’s presentation style before ever setting foot into a potential client’s office.

Perrella also suggested that firms visit their respective facilities and get to know their businesses better. “You can’t always determine business philosophies and practices over the phone,” he said.

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