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Finance and accounting software maven Intuit wrapped up its annual partner conference in Chicago this week with a renewed focus on fostering a channel with a finite number of high-value partners.

The company, which entered the channel three years ago, recently benchmarked itself against competitors such as Microsoft and Sage, both of which have massive numbers of channel partners, and concluded that having 700 heavily invested and skilled partners would be a better strategy, according to BJ Schaknowski, director of Intuit’s channel.

“We want a smaller channel with high producers,” Schaknowski told Channel Insider. “We’ll cap it at 700 and invest all of our resources with them and their business and work with them on a joint business plan that drives their profitability.”

Currently, Intuit has 556 active partners in its program today. Much of the focus over the last year has emphasized on-boarding activities to get partners up and running faster, Schaknowski said. The efforts have paid off, he added, with 70 percent of new partners closing more than two new deals in their first month in the field. To facilitate these efforts, Intuit has added a number of new channel sales managers and funnels 45 percent of its telesales leads to its partners.

How do they decide which leads go to partners and which stay direct? “If the deal is more solutions-oriented, with integration work or has a vertical focus, then it’s more appropriate for that lead to go to a VAR.”

At its partner conference this week, Intuit also announced it has signed on with distribution for the first time, inking relationships with Ingram and Blue Star. Schaknowski said this decision is being welcoming in particular by Intuit’s Point of Sales solution partners, who already source their hardware from distributors.

The company is also looking to leverage its universe of accountants and CPAs relationships with a new program called the Accountant Work Exchange that looks to match Intuit’s VAR partners with its accountant Pro Advisors (56,000 of them) for reciprocal demand gen opportunities and co-selling solutions.

“We are not forcing anyone to participate in this,” he said. “We are the matchmaker here. They can go to the online exchange and list their services and find one another that way.”

Intuit also facilitates local seminars and lunch & learns where partners can invite the local CPAs to join, he said.

Intuit still only derives a small slice of its annual revenues from indirect sales, but channel revenue is the fastest growing, he said. One solid partner opportunity, beyond reselling the classic QuickBooks accounting software, rests in solutions based on Intuit’s QuickBase database. The database opens the door to lots of customization and services attach and has been implemented by such high-profile customers as Jet Blue and Home Depot.

“QuickBase is our secret weapon for VARs,” he said.