Microsoft Office might dominate the sector?s mindshare, but that doesn?t mean there aren?t some equally big names, and some smaller ones, that can help you 'produce' more money, as Ben Furfie found out this month?

Making cash is all about productivity

Scratch beyond the surface though, and you can realise that productivity software doesn’t stop at Office. In fact, there is a veritable goldmine of specialist software that can be stocked and make sure, your money is being, well…productive.

And a key change in the way that businesses operate these days, compared to yesteryear, is that a lot more employees work from home or on the move, increasing their productivity, but also increasing the amount of software that a company needs to buy, as Interactive Ideas’ Michael Breeze explains: "There is still a trend of increasing home workers and home offices, along with many part time businesses/entrepreneurs making money from the web."

It’s a point that AVG’s managing director Mike Foreman agrees with: "One of the main business software trends right now is increasing mobility. For example, business intelligence and customer relationship management applications that take advantage of Web 2.0 techniques to allow you to conduct business over the internet while on the move."

Breeze agrees: "Mobility is important to this type of worker and many run their business from a laptop and so the type of software that is being demanded are applications that can help them maximise their efforts such as accounting, website design and management, marketing and contact management, an office suite plus essential items such as internet security and backup."

And while it might seem strange for antivirus software to be mentioned in a feature about business software, Foreman sums it up in one sentence: "An infected laptop is an unproductive one." It’s just one example of expanding your productivity offering by thinking laterally.

One area that retailers can capitalise on is the emerging business market. Apart from the fact that these companies are in need of many various suites of productivity software, there is also the opportunity to build up a relationship that can last throughout that business’ life.

"Deciding what software to buy for a new business can be difficult. There is a lot out there to choose from and the market is changing," argues Sage’s head of retail and distribution, Stuart Wilson. It’s a similar situation for all businesses as he continues: "We know from listening to our customers that more and more businesses of all sizes are requesting software applications that work together to help them manage their businesses as efficiently as possible."

"This integrated software saves business time and money as it removes the need to re-key data into various pieces of software – they can now spend this time doing what they do best – running their business," adds Wilson.

An area that might not necessarily come to mind when looking at either diversifying into or expanding a current range of productivity software is publishing tools, but it is an area that carries high margins and significant demand.

One sector that has been experiencing significant growth in the unified productivity market is cross-media publishing. Adobe’s senior marketing manager, Eric McCashey argues that the benefits of software suites that can overcome the issues cross-media production cause make them highly sought after. "Cross-media publishing is becoming an essential requirement for businesses, and therefore creative professionals and the print industry who are looking for the correct tools to utilise content in a cross-media fashion simply and efficiently.

"The purpose of cross-media publishing is to enable designers to use the content in multiple formats. Retailers can take advantage of this trend by educating customers about the software tools available to help streamline processes and simplify cross-media publishing."

Indeed, it’s such a growth area that there are three groups that you can target in order to maximise your sales, as McCashey suggests: "The first group of users includes design professionals, who need specific design tools to be able to conceptualise and create print and web-based marketing materials, advertising, and publications. Retailers have the opportunity to highlight how software can enable users to deliver cross media content quickly, help them collaborate effectively, as well as manage a wide variety of assets."

Another potential set of customers he suggests are printers: "There is growing pressure for print professionals who deliver prepress, variable data printing, assembly, warehousing and other services to creative professionals to have the right tool sets available to meet their customers’ needs."

"The final group retailers can target for this business software trend is IT professionals who manage networks, write custom programs or scripts, install hardware and software, and keep systems running properly for creative teams," he adds.

"IT staff need to minimise technical disruptions, provide training, and integrate technology from multiple vendors and so need to be aware of the cross-media publishing trend and up to date on the latest software available to simplify this."

However, there are sceptics when it comes to the idea of all-in-one solutions: "Customers like choice," argues Avanquest’s sales director Steve Powell. "They won’t necessarily buy all their products from one publisher. Many will read reviews that will prompt them to buy a particular product. If you’re not stocking it, they will look online or at another retailer."

"Retailers should keep on top of the issues that are on the minds of UK businesses, their attitudes towards new technology and the reasons why businesses succeed and fail," argues Wilson. ASI product manager Chris England backs up Wilson’s comment adding: "The biggest service that retailers can offer is their expert advice to evaluate their business customers’ requirements and recommend a suitable solution."

However, this doesn’t mean simply suggesting Microsoft Office as England continues: "By offering alternative solutions to the software market leader within each segment you can provide a choice giving full functional unbloated software that your customers will appreciate."

Some retailers may be nervous to stock anything but the biggest names, fearing that rivals might not be up to scratch and may impact their reputation. Being industry standard, Microsoft’s Office range is as VIP’s Microsoft product manager Mark Lynch describes, a "safe bet."

If you ask a customer or even a fellow retailer to name a piece of productivity software, the chances are that they’ll name Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office range of software. And not without good reason; even Microsoft’s biggest detractors find it hard to criticise its levels of functionality.

"The ideal software for business customers would be Office Small Business 2007. Not only does it improve personal productivity and aid creation of professional looking documents to enhance marketing, the included Outlook 2007 Business Contact Manager helps maximise every business lead." However, businesses aren’t the only group that can benefit from Office’s wide-ranging suite. "For those selling to home users, stocking Microsoft Office Basic 2007 or Office Home and Student 2007 will help these customers get the job done quickly and easily."

However, selling lower cost rival software can work in your benefit as England adds: "Retailers can benefit by offering a suitable, high margin, software solution to their client base that do not require the purchase of expensive and low margin hardware. This reduces the risk of alienating their customers though ‘overkill’ solutions and also means any competitors suggesting a hardware upgrade and solution will be pricing themselves out of a deal."

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