Business partnerships from A to B

Business partnerships from A to B

Talking to Tony Finnemore, who refers to himself as "principal consultant" of Access to Business (A to B), there is an immediate sense of a no-nonsense businessman who has developed a computer business around business itself.

For a company that started off life in 1987 (as Micro Office) developing database applications, and providing network and hardware integration, there is a tendency to get so wrapped up in the technology that it would be, well, understandable to lose the link with the business benefits. But Tony Finnemore seems to have been in touch enough to have adapted his business model to one that is about providing what we all seek in business - business advantage.

A to B's key application is in the sales automation field. "About five years ago, we started to focus on the Windows database applications, and decided to use Microsoft Access as our Windows development tool, as well as Visual Basic, for development of customised applications.

"Around the same time, we teamed with a Washington-based company called Access to Business, hence our name, and it developed as an arm's-length partnership.

"The concept was to distribute Microsoft Access add-on software and tools as well as the customisation of applications such as Contacts Unlimited, which we developed jointly, and still sell," Finnemore explained.

"We do custom application development in Access and VB and support for major client server projects such as call centres of 250 or more seats," he added.

After a brief chat, it becomes clear that Finnemore relates each part of A to B to business - especially sales - productivity, and despite what is obviously a capable and successful technology-based organisation, A to B applies the benefits that it promotes to itself.

It seems it was inevitable that a substantial part of the business would have been about sales automation, and A to B was one of the first SalesLogix* business partners in Australia.

Describing the sales strategy, Finnemore said: "We have a small internal sales team, with a full-time sales manager, and I also spend about 50 per cent of my time in sales. We also develop strategic relationships with business partners with whom we can leverage sales opportunities."

As an example, A to B works with accounting software vendor Great Plains' business partners, because it can integrate applications and tools with Great Plains' product.

"We also work with organisations that sell other sales automation products, especially where their clients have outgrown products like ACT and Maximiser," he added. "Plus, we have a strategic relationship with organisations like [software testing solutions provider] Mercury Interactive, whose clients need data management and transformation tools such as Data Junction."

According to Finnemore, these strategic relationships have allowed A to B to expand its own sales force by leveraging off their efforts, using their people for the mutual benefit.

"Sometimes we're introducing a Great Plains reseller, a strategic partner, to our client for whom we are developing a sales automation solution. We have also recently integrated Mercuri International's sales methodology system into SalesLogix," he said.

Finnemore said that some of the strategic relationships are conducted on the basis of a simple exchange of leads, others are done on a percentage of the end profit, while others are a more detailed agreement. "No small business can afford to develop massive sales teams of six-figure salespeople. You've got to leverage everything you can," he explained.

"There's one Great Plains business partner to which we have sent four major pieces of business and which has introduced us to a number that we are still working on."

Finnemore claims that A to B has always been service focused rather than box focused, and this is what has been behind the strategic relationships with other specialist companies that have an advantage in product supply.

Explaining how the SalesLogix partnership came about, Finnemore said, "We had been involved with Act! and Tracker since the very early days, and we dropped Tracker when they started going direct to the end users. We looked at Maximiser and Goldmine but never got involved.

"However, when SalesLogix was first launched, we received a copy of the CD in April 1997 and were totally impressed with the product. It had a clean look and feel, it was stable and customisable.

"So we contacted SalesLogix which was not ready to go international. But after a meeting with a representative at the end of that year, I went over to the US for a training course in March 98, and they launched here in April 98."

There are currently eight SalesLogix business partners in Australia and New Zealand and Finnemore claims that they work very closely together, don't step on each others toes and share the selling resources and intelligence that the vendor provides.

A to B's SalesLogix patch is concentrated on the finance, media and IT sectors, and especially environments running SQL Server on NT.

Every part of A to B's business seems to link up, and it is appropriate that selling sales automation software and a customer relationship management solution like SalesLogix binds it together.

While CRM services and SalesLogix-related business now represent about 60 per cent of A to B's turnover, custom development, Access and Visual Basic tools and add-ons distribution, data management tools and other products seem to fit very neatly into the package.

Finnemore is almost fanatical about CRM, and who knows, Access to Business could be blazing a new channel trail for the expanding call centre management segment.

You can bet that he will be monitoring it.

Access to Business

(02) 9878 4958

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