by Seth Fineberg
San Rafael, Calif. - In a shaky economy with a wealth of new software products and name changes, what it takes to succeed in software reselling really depends on whom you ask.
At the recent reseller conference of accounting software vendor Softline AccountMate, terms like continuous marketing, customization, specialization and even "verticalization" were tossed around among accounting software industry analysts and resellers freely and with little consensus as to their importance.
Resellers can do more to broaden their product offerings and knowledge of add-on technologies, advised Carlton Collins, president of Accounting Software Advisor, an Atlanta-based information source on accounting software products and marketing strategies.
"There are a lot [of products] out there for you to learn about to make yourselves more valuable -- just look at some of the vendors who are here," Collins told an audience of about 200 value-added resellers. Also on hand at the conference were the vendors of about 20 different specialty software products designed to work in integration with Softline AccountMate’s Visual AccountMate accounting software.
"Too many resellers have one or two products they really push, but how is that good for business?" Collins asked. He suggested that resellers focus on learning about and selling business intelligence products and customer relationship management systems.
While CRM is abuzz among accounting software resellers, however, there are some difficulties in getting it out to the market.
"CRM products, particularly the high-end products, are complex and difficult to use, and most of the ones on the market today don’t quite have everything built correctly," said Randy Johnston, the Hutchinson, Kan.-based executive vice president of technol-
ogy industry analysts and trainers K2 Enterprises. "CRM is a good market to get into, but in general the marketplace is highly misguided right now and resellers do not always know that it is not necessarily a technical implementation issue, it’s procedural."
Another point of contention Collins had with resellers is their failure to master a particular niche
or field. He advised many to simply "pick one" and read up on the area, attend conferences, and try "any way you can to get involved in order to stay ahead."
But just being a specialist is not always the best idea for a reseller. Having a proper balance of doing one or two things well, while maintaining a general focus, may be key.
"The whole specialization thing doesn’t always make sense," said K2’s Johnston. "People can work on their specialty, but in their own marketplace they are going to be a generalist. Basically, you can specialize more if you are in a big enough market or have enough people at your company to do it."
Johnston noted that the average size of a reseller in this industry -- around 20 people -- isn’t necessarily large enough to be a successful specialist.
Collins also identified the ability to customize software to a user’s specific needs as a key to winning deals. Johnston agreed, but noted that customization is only for resellers who are able to work with open-source products -- and those are few and far between.
Some resellers agreed that expanding product offerings and even specializing are good ideas, and noted that many have been doing that for a long time. "I have been a VAR for over 20 years, and I’ve always said vertical is the way to go and that has helped to a point," said Dan Means, vice president of sales and marketing at San Jose, Calif.-based reseller Covasco. "We still do that here, but these days it’s more important for us to focus on servicing the customers we have."
Means also said that one area that resellers, his company included, can work on is a continuous stream of communication with vendors.
Jory Weissman, vice president of sales at New York-based Mibar Computer Services, claimed that augmenting his product line is key to his business and one of the main reasons he goes to trade shows. Still, he admits that learning about new products and implementing them is not always easy or cost-effective.
"As somebody who only a few years ago didn’t participate in many of the trade shows, I have made a conscious effort over the last couple of years to really see what is out there. You have to continue to do that," Weissman said. "Picking the right products is still a real challenge. It is often hard to tell what is best."
He further said, "It’s expensive to bring on a product with the training and tech support you need. You have to make sure you pick the right one, and you can spend an awful lot of time doing that."
As for the idea of marketing well and often, the resellers generally agreed that they do not do enough, noting that marketing properly also takes time and money to hire the people to do the job right. Weissman said that his company is all too aware of this, and just recently hired an agency to deliver a four-part, direct-mail campaign to promote its products and services.
"To do it professionally you need a dedicated, full-time person to work overtime," he said. "How many VARs have that?"
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