Best Opens New Act On Partner Opportunities

Available immediately, Act 2005 now comes in two versions: The familiar edition for individuals and the spanking-new Act 2005 Premium for Workgroups, which supports up to 50 users. While both have been written for the Microsoft .Net architecture and SQL Server 2000 database, the new workgroup edition serves up the greatest potential for partners, according to Best executives.

"Act isn't your grandfather's contact manager anymore," said Ron Verni, CEO of the Irvine, Calif.- based vendor. "Act for Workgroups brings us to a whole new market in which we weren't competing - midmarket companies wanting to manage the sales process."

For partners, the key benefits to the higher-end version stem from its scalable relational architecture, beefier security and equally new software developer kit for creating add-on features. These capabilities, say Best solution providers, offer intriguing new opportunities.

"The product is perceived as being more in need of a staff skilled in SQL Server and light programming - skills that weren't needed in a traditional Act consultancy," explained Wesley Snow, president and CEO of Best solution provider Ascendix Technologies, Dallas. "I spent the first quarter of this year building an Act practice because that workgroup product exceeds the ability of most Act VARs to service it."

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Unfortunately for Snow, Best didn't release the 2005 editions when Snow originally expected them in June. That delay essentially robbed Ascendix of the incremental services it had expected from the workgroups version - forcing the Best partner to put its Act practice on ice. Now Snow has adopted a wait-and-see attitude, based on how well others do with the program.

"There's definitely promise with it," said Snow. "The real benefit of Act for Workgroups is for organizations that need larger data sets than Act but don't have the financial wherewithal to deploy [Best's high-end CRM application] Saleslogix. Now that it's out, we have to seriously consider getting that [practice] engine back up."

One Best partner that is forging ahead with its practice: Infinity Info Systems, of New York, which has carried the program since 1988. In that time, this CRM provider to small- to midsize companies pushed the program in ways not typically found within the 700 consultants certified in Act. That's because 10 years ago Infinity hand-crafted many of the features now found in the workgroup version by creating its own Act-SQL Server links. The new product just made life easier.

"This is the best release ever for the low end, and it closes the gap to Saleslogix," said Yakov Wrocherinsky, president and CEO of Infinity. "I believe partners can double their business if they grow their skills for this new version."

Wrocherinsky said customers are definitely showing interest. One day after the Act 2005 introduction, an Infinity-led seminar on the premium version drew 70 attendees. That afternoon, two new customers ordered the software and eight others upgraded to it, he said.

"This new version is consistent with Best's philosophy of starting customers with the low end and then growing with them," said Wrocherinsky. "We now have more options as our customers grow from Act to Accpac or Saleslogix."

In fact, Best has been deliberate in its efforts to create a migration path within its software lines. Earlier this year, the company announced a new framework and user interface to pull its disparate lines - from Act and Peachtree at the low end to SalesLogix and Mas 500 at the high - into cohesive product suites. Act and Saleslogix, also recently updated, now share the same .Net architecture to smooth the transition between the two. But that's not all.

"As part of our 'customers for life' initiative, we have created a Migration Center in Atlanta to help customers move up to the next product in the process," Verni told CRN. "We take 21,000 support calls a day, and we've trained our reps to listen to the pain points, and pass the information on to the folks in the Migration Center. They then call the customer, listen to the problem and then send the prequalified leads to our partners."

According to Verni, Best's Migration Center has begun building customer profiles so that Best can predict the types of customers that are more likely to upgrade to the different products. Those profiles will now be created for path leading from Act to the Act for Workgroups to Accpac and Saleslogix.

Act 2005 retails for about $230 a copy. Act 2005 Premium for Workgroups lists for about $400 a copy - prices that Best claims are up to 50 percent less expensive than a year's subscription to