After 24 years of selling direct, document-management vendor Questys Solutions is turning to the channel to reach the small and midsize business market.

The Mission Viejo, Calif., company, which employs 35 people and does more than $8 million in sales, launched its Pro Alliance partner program a few months ago and embarked on an aggressive recruiting campaign. It already has enlisted 54 VARs, and company executives are shooting for 300 by the end of next year.

Why the strong push?

Questys executives say the SMB document-imaging market is worth about $5 billion this year and is projected to increase to $9 billion in 2008. Document-imaging technology, which converts paper and film into computer files, has traditionally targeted enterprises, so the SMB market remains largely untouched.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Colby Weaver, Questys’ vice president of sales. “From a market penetration standpoint, less than 5 percent of the market has been penetrated.”

To eliminate any possibility of conflict with direct sales, Questys decided it would sell to SMBs only through partners and signed a distribution deal with Ingram Micro Inc., of Santa Ana, Calif., the world’s largest IT products distributor.

“We realized that if we’re going to be successful we need to invest in the VARs,” Weaver said.

Much of that investment is in training channel partners through online seminars, on-site sessions and conference calls to make them experts on Questys products, Weaver said.

The company also has a product specialist working at Ingram Micro’s document imaging help desk. The help desk handles questions from VARs that source document imaging technology from the distributor.

Questys executives said they spent the better part of a year working with the distributor to formalize the partnership and to collect market information to build the SMB partner program.

Questys is one of a handful of vendors that have partnered with Ingram Micro for an ISV-geared program the distributor is launching within weeks.

In targeting the SMB market, Questys management concluded the company had to have the right product. Hoping to avoid past mistakes of vendors that have sought to enter that market by merely stripping down enterprise products, Questys actually built a product from scratch, called Questys Pro.

The idea was to eliminate the complexity of enterprise-level products, making it easier for VARs to install and service the software, said Andre Pavlovic, chief operating officer at Questys.

“Our goal was, the salesperson who sold it could install it. From the standpoint of implementation, there’s no training required,” he said.

According to Timothy Howard, president of Questys partner RMON Networks Inc., the product is a hit with customers.

“I have seen a number of document imaging products over the past 10 or so years, and I have to admit, this product does everything that we need, our clients need and more,” he said.

Questys Pro is an off-the-shelf product with easy installation and interface. To make it SMB-ready, Questys simplified the number of settings and configurations users can choose so that, for instance, instead of having 300 security setting choices, they have 20, Weaver said.

Without document imaging, Howard said, companies have to store invoices, contracts and other paper documents off-site. When they need to refer back to any of those documents, the retrieval time can take hours or days, Howard said.

“What makes it attractive and/or necessary is the ability to store data, all types of data, on the corporate network and have it available to our clients when they need it, within seconds,” he said.

The major growth drivers in the SMB market are data-protection federal regulations that have been going into effect in recent months, said Questys executives. Those include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which regulates corporate financial disclosures, and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which addresses the security of medical records.