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Microsoft Corp. took a page from the playbook of its partners when it launched the Microsoft Professional Accountants’ Network this summer to drum up business for Microsoft Small Business Accounting and other applications.

For years VARs and systems Integrators have used the close ties between accounting firms and their customers to promote their offerings and initiate contacts, several resellers said. Now Microsoft expects to employ the same means—using accountant firms to build momentum for their products—to the same successful ends with MPAN, which it launched in August.

“[Accounting firms] have always been a huge resource for referrals,” said Ivan Noel, president of Oscar & I Computing Solutions, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist. “They have a large number of clients who have a need for technology; most are in business and most are in small businesses. They’re in a role where they have the trust of the client. … It only makes good sense that [Microsoft] would make use of something that has worked in the channel for years.”

“The accountant might be the most important and influential person in a small business,” said Bob Lewis, senior marketing manager of the MPAN, which is part of the Microsoft Small Business Group. “He is in your financials, performing audits, telling you how to balance this or change that. It becomes a very trusted position. People were coming to them with technology questions, and they were telling them the things that would improve their performance.”

Through the MPAN, participating accountants will receive free copies of SBA for their own use and up to 27 hours of training of its capabilities and installation, to prepare for recommendations and integration into their clients’ businesses, Microsoft said. They will also receive free technical support to help them perform the integration.

Pointer Click here to read about Microsoft’s recent decision to fuse its small business and partner units.

Some MPAN members may choose to build an SBA installation consultancy into their business, but reselling and support for further Microsoft products are reserved for Microsoft Partners, Lewis said.

To date more than 4,500 accountants have availed themselves of the MPAN offering, a Microsoft spokesperson said.

Microsoft expects MPAN to give SBA a boost in its battle for market share against QuickBooks and its drive to the burgeoning 6 million-strong (SMB) market, Lewis said.

“It’s a practice that has been going on naturally already,” said Lewis, himself a Certified Public Accountant. “We’re just giving them the tools and the access to [SBA] so they can see for themselves. We feel that once the accounting community embraces SBA and sees how it compares to the other products out there, it won’t be long before their clients follow.”

Most Microsoft partners contacted for this story said awareness about the program is limited among channel partners, but the program is likely to benefit their businesses.

MPAN members will receive training in the capabilities of additional Microsoft products, but no integration training or support, the spokesperson said.

“People are crying out for this stuff. You just let them know what is available,” said Gregg Blundell, president of Integral Systems Inc., also a Microsoft Small Business Specialist. “They are selling a stand-alone product that introduces the client to the technology, but they’re not selling a business solution. As their company grows and as their technology needs grow, they will need real implementation.”

Part of the MPAN program will be a partner referral portal for accounting members to locate Microsoft resellers and integrators when they become necessary, as well as networking sessions, to introduce members of both communities to each other, Lewis said.