by Seth Fineberg

San Mateo, Calif. - Since its channel program began nearly two years ago, Web-based business software company Net-Ledger has considered CPAs to recommend its product, but few have signed on. The company is now planning to change all that.

Across its entire channel partner base, only 10 percent are accounting professionals - all sole practitioners or from small firms. So, the maker of the Oracle Small Business Suite recently assigned one person who will be dedicated completely to penetrating the CPA firm environment, from small regional firms to the Big Four: strategic accounting alliance manager Rita Strauss.

The late Patricia Ripepi, Net-Ledger’s indirect sales vice president, was responsible for much of the company’s channel-building work, including dealings with the accounting profession. While Ripepi’s position has not been filled since her unexpected death in early April, Strauss is charged with increasing the company’s exposure in the CPA community.

Both women joined San Mateo, Calif.-based NetLedger last year from rival small and midsized business software developer Accpac International, in nearby Pleasanton. Ripepi was Accpac’s vice president of partner sales, and Strauss was that company’s director of strategic accounting alliances.

Strauss works with a team of regional managers on the overall strategy, but she is ultimately involved in all of the necessary relationship building, according to Donna Ehart, Net-Ledger’s channel marketing manager.

“A lot of vendors go after the CPA market saying, ÔYou have to offer these products to your client,’ but to embrace us they have to understand what the benefit is to them, as well as the client,” Ehart said. She added that the specifics of NetLedger’s strategy are not clearly defined at this point, but Strauss will start with initial conversations both over the phone and at industry meetings.

Strauss explained that, while NetLedger is vying for the Big Four, the Top 100 CPA firms outside of those represent the majority of the target market. She believes many of these firms are using or recommending accounting and CRM technologies already, and would be “the best fit” for the company’s trusted advisor program. This program essentially gives CPAs and consultants an official “recommender” status, as well as free access to NetLedger’s software and services.

Strauss plans to attend state CPA society technology user group conferences, such as those in California, Illinois, Missouri and Michigan. She has already been invited to make presentations at all of them, and is open to strategic alliances with various accounting associations, the American Institute of CPAs included.

“We have to think how aggressively we want to get in front of these firms,” Strauss said. “It may take a strategic alliance to work with the Big Four, whereas the Top 100 may take aggressive communication. I am hoping for a lot of personal contact overall.”

Last year, NetLedger joined the Information Technology Alliance, a consortium that includes some of the most successful technology consulting organizations affiliated with accounting firms. Ripepi and Net-Ledger president Zach Nelson were featured speakers at ITA’s 2002 fall conference. Strauss, who was Accpac’s representative to the ITA, was part of that meeting’s planning committee.

Strauss claimed that her biggest challenge is reaching firms that do not realize what NetLedger has to offer. Many of the CPAs that do are already part of the company’s trusted advisor program.

Victor Puchi, of the Tucson, Ariz.-based firm R&A CPAs, has been recommending NetLedger’s services to his clients since the company’s reseller program began nearly two years ago. It wasn’t his first pick of Web-based accounting technologies to recommend, but he said that once he took a closer look, “it made sense.”

Puchi said that he first signed up for the channel of rival Internet-based software company Intacct Corp. because it had “more features,” but he switched to NetLedger.

“As it has evolved, NetLedger offered me more opportunities to assist my clients, which is really what it’s all about,” he said. “It adds some functionality that many of the others don’t offer in an integrated environment and at a total lower cost more often than not.”

Puchi realized that NetLedger’s products are not a fit for everyone, but it is more important that CPAs realize that technology should be “a large part” of the overall services they offer. He also said that, while he no longer handles Intacct, he might revisit the software company and possibly some others.

“I’m not a software reseller,” Puchi said. “I just think Net-Ledger wins when there are more accountants that accept the fact that there is a better way to do accounting than what we are used to.”

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