Shortly after Don Nelson took over the Microsoft Great Plains channel program as vice president of U.S. channels, Accounting Technology asked him about his plans involving CPAs as recommenders or consultants.

Nelson replied, "We have got to do a better job with the CPAs. Great Plains and Solomon has served CPAs that act like VARs pretty well. But we haven't served the mass of CPAs or CPAs that served small business so well."

Great Plains' lack of a CPA program has been a puzzler. Most accounting software companies implemented CPA programs over the last two years. Great Plains used to have an advocate for CPAs, Wayne Harding, now senior vice president, channel development, at CPA2Biz.

What happened with Great Plains and CPAs? I think its focus was diverted by its acquisition of RealWorld and Solomon in 2000 and its own acquisition by Microsoft later that year. Product strategy also had an impact. The company bet on the market moving more quickly to the Web and further upstream than it actually did. It made a big gamble on a CRM alliance with Siebel Systems and lost. These are areas where typical CPA recommenders and consultants are not players.

Great Plains also placed its bets on the Technology Alliance Program, a Microsoft-inspired program from the AICPA that was supposed to teach CPAs how to perform technology consulting. Like most of the AICPA's technology efforts, TAP was a bust. GP never got more than 250 participants while Best (formerly Sage) and Intuit were signing up thousands of CPAs in their recommender and advisor problems.

Last year, Great Plains named Joe Corigliano as director of strategic alliances, which were to include CPAs relationships. Less than a year later, those duties are in Nelson's hands. The market should view Nelson's appointment as a sign that some things need fixing in the channel. He has a good reputation at Great Plains, one as a guy often brought in to fix problems.

The narrower problem is the role for the CPAs and there's been a lot of talk that CPAs are ideal resellers for Small Business Manager, the stripped-down version of Dynamics that's targeted at users who have outgrown QuickBooks.

There's a danger here. People in the GP family are talking about SBM as suitable for Value-added Providers. These are the thousands of Microsoft resellers and consultants. Toss in small CPAs and this is starting to sound like the old State of the Art idea of having a CPA reseller on ever corner. That kind of channel will degrade pricing and will not attract VARs selling products like Dynamics and MAS 90.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with this. We may be dealing with two different markets and two different channels. But Microsoft GP better make certain it knows which is which because the chances are, they won't mix well.

-Robert W. Scott

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