Over on ACCMan, Dennis posted about the partnering strategies of SaaS vendors. His
post was initiated by a new partnership entered into by SaaS accounting vendor
Xero, but his words ring true for
other vendors also. Dennis stated that;
I have believed for some time that the key to making partnerships successful
comes in providing easy on ramp. I have no insight into what Xero is doing in
that regard. Elsewhere, I see precious few signs of meaningful partnerships that
could help jog that process along
Which, to paraphrase, says that a feel good partnership adds nothing if it
doesn’t facilitate the conversion of potential customers into paying ones. No
truer word have ever been spoken… as they say.
Jason commented on his post, specifically talking about account applications,
There are many theories about how to build sustainable saas businesses, none
of which have been proven for the long term.
You are right Dennis, as SaaS is only just starting to stick and so it is too
early to know the best course of action, but one of those courses has to be
getting the accountants on board, let’s be honest Sage only got to its current
position by partnering with accountants.
Sage did have an advantage way back when; they had an easy to use
computerised ‘bookkeeping’ package which would mean accountants could get bigger
clients off manual time consuming records and thus make more money.
Now the problem the SaaS market have is to convince the accountants to move
from tried and (not always so) trusted Sage onto something else, and that is the
I’m going to go out on the edge here and disagree with Jason. The way I see
it, traditional desktop accounting software (and potentially other classes of
software could be included with this argument – but I’ll concentrate on
accounting) was sufficiently complex that accountants didn’t feel a huge amount
of anxiety over whether they’d lose custom to the new systems.
To this end I contend that the software vendors almost consciously designed
their products to fulfil the needs of their professional partners (accountants)
more than their end users. They new that in order to drive the change from
manual to computerised accounting for small businesses, the accountants would be
The move from desktop to SaaS however is a totally different beast. I believe
that SaaS has the ability to truly disrupt much f what professional advisers do
for businesses – features like automatic benchmarking, real time connection with
other businesses, acceptability of taxation advice, online filing of returns etc
etc pose a significant threat to accountants gravy train.
And therein lies the dichotomy – many SaaS accounting players are utilising a
strong accountant partnering strategy in order to build their sales base – it
seems a little strange to be partnering with the very people that, rightly or
wrongly, consider themselves threatened by your product. As I commented in
Dennis’ original post;
I can’t but think that partnering with accounting firms is less than optimal
for SaaS businesses. The way I see it traditional desktop accounting software
was complex enough to not concern the bulk of accountants – it was still
difficult enough to do the real accounting stuff that they felt no real threat.
SaaS however is different and has the ability to leverage connectedness to
disrupt the accountants (at least in part).
Sure I know all the messages about giving accountants more high value work
and allowing them to “value add” but I don’t completely buy that theory. I talk
to a bunch of accountants and they tend to be pretty skeptical or anxious about
SaaS – to make these same people your primary partners seems
So – what do the readers think? Are professional partnerships a necessary
evil, an exciting opportunity or just a marginal investment for SaaS