ProAdvisors span the nation, consulting with many of the 3.7 million QuickBooks customers on how to get better use of their software. Now Intuit hopes to convince a portion of those 40,000 ProAdvisors, as well as resellers of competitors’ products like Sage Software’s MAS line and Microsoft Dynamics GP, to add QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions to their toolkits. Could this plan be realized, or is it just a pipedream? Intuit began beta-testing this channel strategy a year ago, and by its QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions user conference in San Diego earlier this month, announced that 94 people had signed on, including a handful of the competition’s resellers. The goal is to hit 250 around the time of its 2008 user conference and 750 by July 2010. Unlike its competitors, Intuit essentially is starting from scratch in its attempts to formalize its channel. “We didn’t have a bona fide VAR program with a clear role for the channel,” channel director Jim Gregg acknowledged during the conference. “We don’t have much flesh on the bone right now.” That leads to a challenging path ahead. The QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program began in 1999 and provides members with product discounts, free training and an online resource center to help accountants market and run their practices. These members have formed a community over the years and some even compete with each other to be first to acquire the latest certification. Now Intuit must push them to either upsell their current clients who have outgrown the lower-level application or convince users of more complex and expensive products to switch. What’s challenging is that many accountants who hold the ProAdvisor title are uncomfortable with the selling stage of engagements and are dependent on Intuit for help, according to Gregg. While the vendor aims to provide its channel with 50 percent of their leads, it expects them to generate the other 50 percent, he says. Program participants receive a 25 percent margin, which could jump to 50 percent if they sell two deals per month, and Intuit plans to offer coop marketing assistance in the future and expand the Intuit Developer Network to encourage VARs to sell other products. Sounds fair enough. But when you look at Sage’s highly structured channel program, which offers sales training, marketing coaching and clearly defined plans to help its partners succeed, Intuit’s program looks like the little engine that could—or at least that might. Add that to the fact that Sage execs at their May partner conference in Orlando discussed plans to bring Peachtree Quantum into the channel, and the hill grows a bit steeper for Gregg’s team. He says he hasn’t seen much competition from Quantum yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t coming. Dynamics resellers, however, are demonstrating interest, quickly returning inquisition calls from Intuit, according to Gregg. That is not hard to believe being that Microsoft’s channel is so large it doesn’t need to nurture it. What can Intuit do to entice Sage resellers to take on its mid-market product when Sage has its own and rewards partners who sell only its products under the Sage Select program? It might benefit by providing more individualized attention to VARs, demonstrating a clear commitment to helping them grow. It’s on the right track, with plans to add a marketing manager, channel manager and training manager in the next three months. But it’s going to take a lot of steam for this little engine to catch up with the locomotives.
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