Midmarket Looks To VARs For Accounting, Business Expertise

“From a client&s perspective, they don&t care about the technology per se,” said Dave Beck, president of SystemLink, a Washington-based Sage Software VAR. “It&s all about solving a business problem. We walk in and explain that we understand business processes and that we want to help them select technology to solve those problems.”

Midsize organizations have multiple reasons today for upgrading their accounting technology. “Typically, customers have one or two hot buttons that throw them over to start looking for a new accounting solution,” said Stan Kania, president and owner of Software Link, an Atlanta-based Sage solution provider. “As they look to see if there is software to solve those issues, they see there are other things they can do and it mushrooms from that.”

Future functionality, ease of use and ease of data conversion top the shopping list for midmarket clients. This fall, Microsoft expects to ship Great Plains 9.0, which will have 20 user experience profiles to help users customize the software&s reports, metrics, tasks and frequently used options. Likewise, Cougar Mountain Software just launched Denali, a SQL-based product that delivers more flexibility to users, said Jim Stone, COO of the Boise, Idaho, software developer.

And more developers are offering modules for specific verticals. Sage&s AccPac line, for example, includes modules for target markets such as Web stores, retail POS, CRM, distribution and manufacturing. “Our customers are looking for solutions that offer all the functionality they want by the same vendor so that it plugs in and works seamlessly,” said Beck.

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Customers also want partners to keep them abreast of the latest technology issues. “We have user groups and conferences to show them the latest and greatest features,” said Peyton Burch, COO of ERG-Burch Consultants, a Sage reseller in Houston. “We invest a tremendous amount of time and effort in being industry leaders so we can talk intelligently about the latest advancements. When our clients are ready, we are a trusted adviser telling them where the industry is going.”

When evaluating potential midmarket accounting software, solution providers frequently must help customers determine where the cost savings lie. Today&s programs often allow businesses to reduce the number of staff involved in data input and other accounting minutia. “We are seeing not necessarily staff reduction but [people] repurposed into other areas of an organization,” said Merry Brodzinski, CEO of Sunergi, a Microsoft Great Plains reseller in St. Paul, Minn. “We also see a lot of efficiencies gained through a good implementation, so people are very efficient with their workday and go on to do different activities.”

Midmarket businesses also can improve cash management with effective accounting solutions, said executives. “Anything you can do to improve collection time and stretch out payments to the last moment saves a lot,” said Cougar Mountain&s Stone.

Post-sales service and support are a significant way for the channel to increase revenue while maintaining sound relationships. For example, Sunergi offers clients customized training materials and user manuals to match specific job functions.

Upgrade services such as Cougar Mountain&s “software assurance” program are another way to keep in touch with customers, said Sonny Bajat, president of Data/Add, a Carencro, La.-based Cougar Mountain reseller. The effort ensures companies can keep up with the latest upgrades on their accounting packages. “It costs an average of $100 per month to stay current with the latest patches,” Bajat said.

Finally, although hosted applications are not prevalent, some solution providers are beginning to offer this option to clients.

Computer Team, Bettendorf, Iowa, won a contract from Iowa State University Extension, which had a $100,000 budget to replace its accounting system. Looking for products that were easy to use and flexible, and that could consolidate data from 100 outlying offices, the school chose a Cougar Mountain-based hosted solution. “We went in with an ASP because all the offices have T1,” said Dave Smith, Computer Team president. “In the end, the total they spent was $90,000.”

HAILEY LYNNE MCKEEFRY is a freelance writer who specializes in technology and channel issues.