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Intuit has officially launched its first-ever solution provider program for its QuickBooks Enterprise financial software. Developed in concert with 54 solution providers over the past 16 months, the program is focused on solution providers who work with midmarket customers.

The resulting program already includes more than 100 certified partners–some of whom were recruited from the ranks of Sage and Microsoft solution providers. And Intuit’s channel director is hoping to expand the number of solution providers in the program to 200 by the end of the year.

“The program solves a lot of problems in how VARs and solution providers sell to the midmarket,” said Jim Gregg, channel director of Intuit’s Mid-Market Group, in an interview with The Channel Insider. “In the past, customer needs were often not met. And solution providers were not provided with the right tools, and not measured against the right standards for success.” Gregg also said that the new program needed to deal with the potential conflict between its own direct sales operations and the channel.

The program draws on elements of Intuit’s ISV program for QuickBooks, using customer satisfaction as a major metric for success. Commission rates for partners are based on their customer service rating, as well as for the volume and types of software sales they make. Intuit is also providing leads to solution providers enrolled in the program.

The program was the result of partners recruited into the program—some from the ranks of Intuit’s existing QuickBooks ProAdvisor community, and others from the ranks of Sage’s and Microsoft’s Great Plains partners. The 54 participants worked in six committees, or “pillars,” along with Intuit’s channel team, to draft what Gregg calls the “constitution” of the program, developing the details around products and services, marketing, implementation, technical support, certification, and “the overall value proposition” to service providers, Gregg said.

Mario Nowogrodzki, president of Mendelson Consulting, a Miami-based QuickBooks solution provider, was one of the first partners to join the pilot program in June 2006. He worked in the value pillar committee, he says, “where we put together the cost of the program, as well as what’s included in the program. Overall, it’s a good program. I think that when you put many heads together, good things come out.”

One of those things is lead generation. “Because of our hybrid model, we get an enormous number of leads,” said Gregg. “For midmarket leads, we assess whether they should be handled direct or transferred to the solution provider network.”

So far, Nowogrodzki said, he has gotten a good deal out of the program’s lead generation. “Those have been, knock on wood, pretty good. We’ve gotten some good qualified leads, and some haven’t been so qualified.” He estimated the number of leads he received from Intuit through the program at about 70 or so over the last 16 months, of which about 20 converted into sales. “I’ve spoken with other providers, and they haven’t had the same experience. But for me, it’s been a great tool to help me grow.”

Now that the program has exited the pilot stage, the elements hammered out by Intuit and the partners are being put into place. To get the full financial benefits of the program, members will have to complete a needs analysis for each customer, based on a format provided by Intuit. The company is also providing a proposal template that partners can use, which includes costing for software, professional services and IT.

The documentation is necessary, said Gregg, to help Intuit properly reward members of the program if customers then decide to purchase software directly from Intuit. It also drives the additional compensation that partners will receive based on customer satisfaction. All told, the various incentive and reward programs in the program “pushes upwards of 60 percent margin [for partners] as long as they excel in the areas we’re measuring,” Gregg said. Customer satisfaction is measured based on what Gregg calls the “net promoter” principle—how likely the customer would be to recommend the solution provider to another company.

Nowogrodzki says that these new elements of the program are just rolling out now. “I have no opinion on [the needs analysis template] yet—it looks good, but I don’t have any experience with it so far.”

Intuit is using the program to try to improve the quality of the interaction of its solution providers with midmarket customers, according to Gregg, based on a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group of solution providers’ performance. “There was a lack of analysis on the front end as far as how a solution provider would meet the needs of the customer,” said Gregg. “And the skill sets of VARs and solution providers was sometimes a misfit. [They found we] could do more to make sure partners were trained in a certain area.”

The study also found that solution providers frequently understated the investment required by the customer. “We saw that if we used the solution providers as an extension of the company, we could improve the customer experience,” Gregg said.

Intuit is still adding to the program and is envisioning a certification program for partners around product knowledge, professional service knowledge, and sales and marketing skills. But Nowogrodzki rates the program as a success already because of the level of personal contact it has given him with Intuit’s channel team and technical support. “I like very much the way that the program works, because it’s like a close family,” he said.

Nowogrodzki said having direct access to technical support and a dedicated account manager at Intuit has improved his ability to handle special orders and requests from customers. And the technical support team often refers customers in his area to him for consulting work, he said.