As the economy begins its recovery, today's leading resellers and consultants of accounting technology have earned their place on our Technology Pacesetters list of top-flight accounting and ERP VARs not simply by selling the latest software, but by being able to offer essential - often new - services to their clients, and focusing more on key vertical markets.

Moreover, since many of the businesses they serve have been hit hard too, resellers of all sizes have had to do more than just push software upgrades and new packages.

"Many businesses have been reluctant to make new investments in technology. This trend now appears to be changing for the better, but plenty of businesses are still choosing to stick with the status quo," said David Cieslak, principal at Simi Valley, Calif.-based Arxis Technology Inc. "To overcome this challenge, we have rededicated our efforts to serve our existing customers, focused on nurturing key alliances and referral partners, and diversified our product portfolio."

In many cases, this year's Pacesetters opted to dig deeper into vertical markets.

Grapevine, Texas-based Exact Macola reseller SRH Consulting was among many that pursued a more vertical focus - in its case, biotech - and is starting to see the rewards. "The downturn has led us to lower our expectations regarding near-term revenue growth," reported chairman Randy Napier. "We plan to continue our emphasis on biotechnology as an area of vertical specialization. We are fortunate to have a base of biotech activity in or near our home market area."

The same scenario held true for Microsoft Dynamics AX and GP reseller and Pacesetter I.B.I.S. "Verticals are driving our most profitable business opportunities and are resonating very well in the marketplace," said chief executive Andy Vabulas. "Over the past year, we picked up a new industrial supply distribution vertical. This is an extension of our industrial equipment manufacturing expertise, so we remain in alignment with our in-house expertise."

EXPANDED SERVICES

Innovation and adaptability, of course, are one of the hallmarks of our Pacesetters, who are chosen based not on size, but on proven excellence and leadership. Many demonstrated that this year by choosing to increase their service offerings to boost business.

Herndon, Va.-based Sage reseller SystemLink started a business process outsourcing initiative to provide outsourced accounting transaction processing, controllership and CFO services, while Monterey, Calif.-based ie Solutions has increased its focus on training and management consulting.

"Our best clients are looking for more services now - as long as there's measurable value for their business," said Steve Birdwell, president of Fontana, Calif.-based IncorTech. "We are exploring software integration and development and spending more time looking at integration of cloud solutions. We have several hosted and cloud options and [that business] is picking up too."

Meanwhile, Livingston, N.J.-based SWK Technologies has turned its eye overseas, primarily via offshore development. "We constantly strive to create new recurring revenue streams that relate to our core business, yet may not have existed two years ago," said president Jeffrey Roth. "We have created a new profit center in going offshore for development; it's working quite well. We have utilized these resources to support third-party integrations that we may have done in-house last year."

With clients being more selective and specific in their needs, it has become common for our Pacesetters to make adjustments, be it to their own expectations and internal processes or by looking outside their long-standing product lines to offer more variety.

"One thing we have noticed is an increase in rate pressure, with clients trying to negotiate lower rates for projects," revealed Eric Sheehan, CPA and managing partner at St. Paul, Minn.-based OTT Inc. "We have countered with offering pre-paid blocks of consulting time at lower rates. ... We are giving a lower rate in return for prepaid dollars, which is a positive boost to cash flow."

For others, like Minneapolis-based Boyer & Associates, making internal adjustments has helped, while turning to cloud-based services has offered opportunities. "It is harder to find leads in the traditional areas where we typically got leads," said president Jack Boyer. "We have responded by doing more specific statements of work so that clients know exactly what we are doing and not doing, regardless of whether the work is fixed-fee or not. We have also provided many more learning events via webinars ... . We have signed up to resell and consult on a new cloud-based product. We believe that using software development tools that are much more up to date [like those in cloud-based offerings] gives clients much more of an ability to share data."

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