It's easy to see why Value-Added Resellers for Exact Software North America get a bit nervous over the plans of their vendor's new parent, Dutch company Exact Software. Since taking over the North American operations, Exact has purchased four resellers, including the Kent Group, the top revenue producer in five separate years in the late 1990s.

Owner Jim Kent has gone on to become vice president of sales, and certainly understands the channel and its problems. He also tries to assuage the fears of partners who see the latest acquisitions, Evan Berk’s Integrated Planning Systems and Stuart Hill’s Comprehensive Business Systems, as presaging a move towards a direct sales model.

Still, the Macola/Exact channel has fallen from more than 600 resellers in the mid 1990s to an admitted 200 now. Many top partners who left in the 1990s cited serious problems with the software, problems fixed after they left. Since Kent wants to have a channel of 100 to125 solid producers, you’ve got to figure there’s not 200 good resellers in the current base in his view.

However, Exact’s challenge remains one Macola never solved—establishing a clear image in the market. Is Exact an accounting software company, a manufacturing software company, or something that embraces both?

Macola went back on forth on the issue, at times declaring it was a manufacturing software company, then returning to the dual role. The flip-flop enabled competitors sell against it effectively. Accounting vendors told clients that Macola was a manufacturing package. Manufacturing competitors would advise prospects that is was really an accounting systems marketer.

We don’t yet know Exact’s public answer in product positioning. It has quietly started selling its e-Synergy line in the United States—the official roll out that has already occurred in Europe won’t come until later.

But the old "we’re-just-manufacturing" doesn’t cut it anymore in a market in which competitors have broad ERP lines. The company’s Web-site product descriptions of Macola ES, the latest version of Progression that carries on the Macola name, and e-Synergy, make it clear that Exact has moved towards the broader view. It will try to match the ERP suite competitors on its way to a goal of $75 million in sales in the United States this year.

Exact has an effective salesman in Kent. But to get the channel it needs, it has to effectively outline its message and overcome the image problems of the past. Fans say the Dutch management is skilled. It will be interesting to see how they execute.

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