by John M. Covaleski

San Mateo, Calif. - Internet-based business software and services provider NetLedger has launched a campaign to recruit consultants that concentrates on accountants.

The application service provider of programs that include the Oracle Small Business Suite has created a new Trusted Advisor classification of consultant-partner that is designed to be filled primarily by accounting professionals, and it has recruited sales channel executives with extensive experience in dealing with accountants.

Those executives formally launched the new channel effort at the fall conference of the Information Technology Alliance, a consortium that includes some of the most successful technology consulting organizations affiliated with accounting firms (see story on page 5.)

"The fall ITA conference was a great meeting," said Rita Strauss, NetLedger’s new accounting alliances manager. "It provided us with a lot of exposure that should help us accomplish what we want."

The company wants to expand its total channel to more than a thousand from its current list of approximately 500. That channel has three different designations matching its members’ different business profiles.

The new Trusted Advisor, as the name implies, is for people or firms that want to be trained and certified to advise their clients on NetLedger’s offerings, but will not be involved in implementation or receive commissions for their advice.

There’s also a Certified Consultant designation for individuals who are mainly interested in receiving referrals to provide NetLedger customers with services, such as implementation and training, and a Solution Provider title for experienced software resellers who market NetLedger products and are trained to provide full services on them.

Pat Ripepi, NetLedger’s vice president of indirect sales, said that the company is following the market and customers’ preferences in changing its selling model. "Most of the other application vendors have done a great job in cultivating full-service channels, and we want to do the same so our customers can have a choice in how their service is provided," she said.

Consultants also have a choice, as costs and financial reimbursement vary. Trusted Advisors pay a $300 annual fee and do not receive sales margins or referral fees; however, they are able to provide services on their clients’ hosted NetLedger programs. Certified Consultants pay a $1,200 fee and receive 10 percent margins on engagements referred to them, while Solution Providers pay $2,500 and get sales margins that start at 30 percent.

Ripepi joined NetLedger in June from rival small and midsized business software developer Accpac International, where she was the vice president of partner sales. In October, Strauss followed Ripepi from Accpac, where she was the director of strategic accounting alliances.

Both women expect that heightened concern about accounting firms’ consulting work may prompt practitioners to consider the Trusted Advisor program.

"The new concerns will definitely have an affect because accountants will be careful about the services they offer," Strauss said. "[The Trusted Advisor designation] gives them a knowledge base about their clients’ systems without risking entering into implementation work."

They also expect a boost from NetLedger’s ability to let accountants tie into their clients’ accounting programs to provide accounting, payroll and other services. Ripepi noted that NetLedger is in the process of developing a client write-up module to allow clients and their accountants to more rapidly do that work; write-up services are now performed on NetLedger’s general ledger, which, like most GLs, is slower than write-up-specific programs.

Ripepi said that the company does not have an exact count, but "a lot of" NetLedger customers have their accountants perform services on their Net-Ledger set-ups. The company says that it has 5,000 customers for its flagship product, Oracle Small Business Suite.

That suite integrates accounting with a variety of other small business applications - including payroll, customer relationship management, order processing, time and billing - and hosts the data on servers that are accessible online by the customers and their accountants. NetLedger has also developed a higher-powered NetSuite package of applications.

To be sure, the ability for accountants to provide services on their clients’ NetLedger system is not new. NetLedger has provided the capability since its launch in 1998. It has also been actively recruiting accountants since its inception.

Also, the competition for accountant consultants includes another ASP with virtually the same accountant tie-in capabilities - Intacct Corp.

Ripepi acknowledged that competition for accountants’ attention is fierce. "We have to continue promoting ourselves throughout the industry and keep a high profile with stories about our partners’ successes," she said.

NetLedger managed to increase it exposure at the ITA conference, as company president Zach Nelson participated in a panel discussion with top executives from rival vendors Accpac, Microsoft Business Solutions, Epicor and Best Software, while Ripepi moderated a separate panel discussion on reseller issues. Both conference sessions attracted more than 100 attendees.

Asked whether NetLedger risks confusing the market, as it launched the new channel strategy just a few weeks after it had released its latest new product, NetSuite, Ripepi noted that the company has already had success in adding consultants this year. It has 50 Solution Providers, a designation that it established last summer.

NetLedger also has 350 Certified Consultants, 100 of whom have indicated that they want to change to the Trusted Advisor designation, Ripepi said.

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