by John M. Covaleski

Quebec City - Accounting and enterprise software developer Accpac International gave customer relationship management center stage at its annual resellers conference here.

Accpac, which wants to distinguish itself as the small and midsized business market’s leading developer of a full range of “end-to-end” business solutions, clearly identified CRM as the crown jewel in that strategy. It also unveiled plans to significantly expand its efforts in CRM.

“CRM outshines every other end-to-end product we have,” chief executive David Hood said in an enthusiastic keynote address, in which he credited CRM sales with helping the company achieve double-digit growth last year. He also announced several new strategies to make CRM shine even more brightly in Accpac’s future.

Accpac officially launched www.accpaccrm.com , an Internet-hosted version of its desktop-based Accpac CRM 5.5 software, and it announced a program that enables independent software vendors to more easily integrate their applications with the CRM system.

Hood plans to get more Accpac accounting product resellers and consultants, possibly all of them, to also handle CRM. The company now has some 650 certified CRM partners, up from about 150 a year ago. It has more than 3,300 SMB-focused partners across all its products worldwide.

Accpac’s specific strategy for attracting more CRM resellers is still being hammered out. In the meantime, it is encouraging resellers who are not certified in CRM, but have client demand for it, to team with Accpac resellers who are CRM-certified, and it is making its online CRM available for free to all resellers through the end of the year.

Reseller recruitment could also be aided by the third-party development program, in which Accpac provides independent software vendors a development kit to enable integration between their applications and CRM 5.5. The program is open primarily to reseller ISVs that have been building custom application add-ons to Accpac’s accounting software.

Accpac will not pull back from its core product, accounting software, or its end-to-end strategy, but CRM will be getting much more attention.

“You land a core accounting software customer and the [addition of] end-to-end solutions tends to follow, but we now see more and more that the decision to buy CRM drives the decision to buy other applications,” Hood said in a press briefing. “That’s not in all cases, but it is important and we’re responding to it.”

Accpac’s most prominent SMB competitors in desktop-based CRM products are Microsoft Business Solutions, which earlier this year launched a CRM system specifically for SMBs; Best Software, whose divisions include a CRM unit comprised of SalesLogix and Act!; and Intuit, which more recently launched a set of CRM tools for its QuickBooks accounting line. The most prominent online CRM vendor is SalesForce.com.

Hood believes that Accpac has the inside track because it is offering the option of online and desktop CRM programs. In its marketing materials, Accpac said that users of the online CRM “can easily convert to Accpac CRM deployed on-site, and vice-versa, whenever they determine what best suits their needs.”

Hood echoed that marketing message in his keynote: “Our CRM is based on freedom of choice that allows customers to make the most appropriate choice today and to modify that decision down the road if they want.”

Indeed, Salesforce.com does not have a desktop solution, and Best, Microsoft and Intuit, at latest report, are not moving to add online CRM to complement their desktop applications. However, SalesForce.com offers a link that integrates its online CRM solution with Intuit’s QuickBooks and with Microsoft’s Great Plains accounting solutions.

Accpac could be considered a CRM newcomer. It entered CRM development by itself late last year when it acquired eWare, a Dublin, Ireland-based CRM specialist whose product had been private labeled and marketed as an add-on to its Advantage and Pro Series accounting lines.

Accpac’s first major revision to the eWare product was Accpac CRM 5.5, released in May. At the time, Hood said that Accpac would be increasing its attention to CRM, but the extent of that increase was not clear until the resellers conference.

“What Accpac is doing with CRM is a gutsy move if they can pull it off,” said Randy Johnston, a Hutchinson, Kan.-based senior vice president of technology consultants and trainers K2 Enterprises. “If they can pull it off, they will be at least a year ahead of the competition.”

The big “if” is SMB market demand for CRM and reseller buy-in. Hood said that market acceptance has not been a problem, claiming that Accpac has been selling about one CRM installation for every five accounting system deals over the past year.

He acknowledges that CRM may require a different focus from resellers because this application is usually sold to managers in areas such as marketing, who typically are not involved in accounting software buying. However, Hood said that CRM should be considered an extension of accounting software, since CRM handles information about customers who generate the numbers that populate general ledgers.

“It’s more natural for an accounting software reseller to move over to CRM than for a CRM VAR to move to accounting, but you can be successful regardless of where your roots are,” Hood, a former reseller, said in the press briefing.

His keynote address to the hundreds of resellers on hand was more pep rally in nature. “We already have the best CRM product and now we’ll have the best CRM strategy to complement our end-to-end strategy,” he proclaimed.

Hood’s assertion that Accpac has the best CRM is open for debate. However, its 5.5 product has some distinctive features and has been winning favorable reviews in technology periodicals. Some of its more interesting features, according to the Web-based accounting software consulting business, www.accountingsoftwareadvisor.com , include:

● Bi-directional data transfer to accounting software, which automatically updates both systems simultaneously.

● Maintains customer histories of all faxes, personal visits, phone calls and e-mails

● Integration with telephone systems.

● Real-time viewing of transactional and statistical data in accounting software.

● Multi-currency, multi-lingual support, including English, U.K. English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese.

● Provides for Web-based customer dialogues, including the ability for them to access or request services and support.

● Recognizes customer preferences and buying patterns to help uncover cross-selling opportunities.

● Provides Web-based real-time customer information to call centers, sales forces and entire organizations.

Network Computing magazine, in a recent review, hailed Accpac CRM’s “easy customization, painless installation and well-rounded feature set,” adding that, “unlike Microsoft’s CRM, Accpac required no pre-installation software or configuration changes.”

Upon acquiring eWare, Accpac made that Irish company’s former president Ivan MacDonald its senior vice president and general manager of Europe.

McDonald, who delivered a keynote talk and assisted Hood in his press briefing at the reseller conference, appears poised to be a key player in Accpac’s CRM expansion efforts.

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