In many businesses, the job title “business development manager” might mean glorified marketing, or top dog salesman, or even just schmoozer extraordinaire. But for Ian Little, who fills the role at Access Accounting, it means “FD for hire – free of charge”. Access sells accounting software through 165 dealers, ranging in size from one-man bands to businesses with more than 20 staff. But while they are all keen to grow, some may need help doing so; others may even be growing too quickly. And because Access relies entirely on its resellers as its route to market, its survival and growth depend on the financial state of the members of its distribution channel. “What we want is for our dealers to grow at a pace that is secure for them and beneficial to all of us in the long term,” says MD Alistair O’Reilly. Little joined Access two years ago from KPMG’s East Anglian offices, where he was involved in advising banks on lending decisions to local businesses. At Access, he offers to advise dealers on how their businesses are managed and financed. “It’s one part of Access’s efforts to do as much as we can for our resellers and help them build up their businesses,” Little explains. “Many of our resellers started off with a couple of salespeople getting together or a couple of techy people. They maybe haven’t got in-house financial expertise – so it’s an attempt to assist them in managing the growth of their businesses, ensuring that it’s profitable and cash-positive growth – sustainable.” The visit usually takes just a day. With some small, fast-growing dealers, their cashflow problems can be quite simple: they just haven’t had enough time to issue invoices for a couple of weeks. “You can either wield a big stick or you can help the resellers overcome whatever problems they have that are stopping them paying you. It has a two-fold benefit: it gets you the money they owe you, and it makes them successful, so they keep doing business with you,” Little says. With others, Little advises on how to fund expansion, whether to buy another dealership, or even whether to take on an additional software product: “Bizarrely enough, I don’t immediately dismiss that strategy. There’s always a case for assessing the financial risk of having all your eggs with one supplier.” He’s also advised on issues such as the staff mix: some businesses have found themselves unable to afford to take on an extra salesman but, by recruiting technical support people, for example, customer complaints go down, cashflow goes up, and salesmen can devote more time to selling. “You can do something in one area of business and have an impact somewhere else,” he says.
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