Earning Customer Loyalty

This time last year, my amazing fiancé (now husband) surprised me for my birthday with a 6-month coaching package from an online fitness coach I’d been obsessed with following for several months through various Social channels. For once, a fitness persona who uses hashtags like “#TeamPants” & “#MyMomFollowsMe”, and is 100% focused on bettering herself and anyone who will follow. It’s not an overstatement to say that Sarah Bowmar has changed my life.

Upon first look at the program (meal plan + cardio + weight training routines), I was completely overwhelmed & remember telling Brian “there’s no way I can actually do this while traveling like I do”. But for anyone who has spent any time with me on the road this past year, it’s clear that where there’s a will, there’s a way – and I’ve made it happen. Even if that means living out of a cooler in a hotel room, or eating MRE-style tuna pouches while driving across Southern Illinois.

But I promise, this isn’t a blog about fitness – in fact, one of the things I respect so much about Sarah has nothing to do with fitness at all – it has to do with her ability to earn customer loyalty – and that’s something we all can agree is a highly sought after skill…

From the moment I discovered Sarah, I was hooked – skimming through all her Instagram posts, Tweets, YouTube videos, and diligently saving her newsletter workouts to cobble together some of the most challenging workouts I’ve ever done – all with material she provides to followers for free. I remember for a split second thinking “why do I need her coaching package, I have everything she does already?”, but I underestimated her – and myself.

I know for many accountants, they’re doing things on their own as well – I’ll often meet a firm who has a great start to their online practice, and I’m so impressed that they’ve done it with little to no resources from Intuit, but it’s clear they’re struggling (and often frustrated). It’s so fun being the one who gets to break the good news to them by sharing everything we can provide to them as part of our managed account team. Ultimately, It’s an opportunity for us to really earn the loyalty of our partners, who have put their trust in us, by putting their clients on our platform.

As I’ve watched Sarah & her husband, Josh, build their businesses over this past year, I’ve seen myself go from “freemium” user, to client, to supplement user, to elite member of their bowmarfitness membership website. I’ve seen her soar to over 1 million Instagram followers (giving back regularly to loyal followers by doing weekly – sometimes daily – giveaways). And I’ve caught myself feeling such a sense of gratitude for what she’s done for me…and through that, an amazing sense of loyalty. There are millions of places I could go online to find more workouts, but I choose to come back to the Bowmars, because they invested in me, and earned my loyalty.

There’s such a sense of accomplishment when I know that partners who previously recommended other solutions have now shifted to QuickBooks Online. Accounting software is just a tool, and they all have debits & credits, but what can set a tool apart from another is the people behind that brand. I only hope that I can be a similar inspiration to the accountants I work with every day. I hope that my managed firms feel valued, appreciated, and even inspired by me as they make huge strides and move closer to the daunting task of taking their practice online. I imagine when many of them first hear my  pep talk, they feel a bit overwhelmed too, but I’ve seen some of my firms make amazing progress this past year, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

Throughout the year, I’ve sent progress check-ins to Sarah, and she’s been an amazing encouragement, as well as providing me guidance on things to do differently. Anything worth doing in life is challenging, but having a cheerleader rooting you on sure helps. She constantly makes me feel like she feels proud of the difference she’s made in my life.

In the same way, I absolutely love getting the call or email from my partners telling me “got another QBO for you”, and I love that we’ll often do a virtual happy dance together when a big one comes across. It’s such a great privilege to represent a company like Intuit, and help earn customer loyalty for QBO. I love feeling like I’ve helped make a difference in my partners’ careers…and lives.

Play Your Position

Growing up playing soccer, I learned many lessons about being a good team player: don’t hog the ball; cover for your teammate when they need it; when you get a break-away…don’t look back! As the resident center forward, I spent most Saturday afternoons gloating about how many goals I scored – of course, very aware that it took an entire team to get me the ball, cover for me, and ensure that while I was sprinting down the field with the ball, nobody was going to sneak up on me at the last minute and make me miss the shot. There’s no way I would have had the successful 10-year run in the sport had it not been for my teammates.

Score

And every once in a while, when the lineup was laid out, I would see my name somewhere other than front & center, but on defense instead. I admit, I loved being the star & getting the high-fives for making the victories happen, but it was also very necessary to fill in when I was needed in the back field – or to give others a chance to be in the spotlight. So I would take the field and give it 110% every time, and be sure that I helped our team win every way I could.

Little did I know that 20+ years later, I’d be using those childhood soccer lessons in my professional life. For the past 9 years, my various roles have centered mainly around attending accounting conferences and trade shows – I made my name in the accounting world as “ScanSnapKim” by doing so, and have met so many amazing people on the road at shows. While the show circuit can be exhausting at times, there’s such a great community in which you become a part, and I look forward to seeing them at each event.

When I started at Intuit back in 2013 as part of a new Business Development team & program, we saturated the events world as a way to get our message out to our accountant partners. The past 2 years have been absolutely brutal, but amazing at the same time. I’ve often compared it to building a skyscraper – you have to first dig down deep, to ensure that you’ve got a solid foundation that will support the exponential growth yet to come. Of course, very few people see how much effort goes into building everything below ground – it’s always the building that gets the attention.

With that, we’ve had an incredible past year, as QBO has hit and passed the one million company mark here in the U.S. – and our team is a huge part of that growth. I’ve loved being part of this success – scoring victories along with my accounting firms as they transform their businesses into being firms of the future with QBO and cloud technology – and getting recognized internally and in the accounting profession for doing so.

All the success has come with lots of changes too – new leadership, new initiatives, new responsibilities. As we round out our fiscal year, I’ve been asked to play a new position, which will keep me out of the conference circuit for most of the remainder of the year. For the first time in years, I’m missing some of the “can’t miss” events that I look forward to each year. But I won’t be putting my suitcase away. In fact, I’ll be traveling more than ever as I visit accounting firms and work strategically with them to transition their practice…those meetings, which are vital to our success at Intuit, don’t however have event hashtags.

So as I sat in an all-day training session in Dubuque, IA this week, and now rush around the Mid-West from meeting to meeting, I’ll be thinking of everyone at Expensicon. Last week I could only sympathize with my fellow ITA members as they braved the Houston floods at ITA’s Spring Collaborative. And when I see all the photos from my work friends in the Bahamas next month at Scaling New Heights, I’ll likely be driving from firm to firm in Southern California. I’ll be missing all the laughs & photo opps, but I know I’m where I need to be to help Intuit reach our next goal.

My absolute best season of soccer ended unusually for me – I didn’t make the all-star roster, which was tough for me to swallow…but at our end of the year party, my coach presented me with the game ball – the ball with which we won every game of the season but two, the ball that took us to a sudden-death shoot-out in the championship game, the ball that she told everyone I had put the most marks on throughout the course of the season.

My hope is that as I play my position at Intuit this year, I’ll be fortunate enough to put a few marks on our game ball, and when I see everyone next year, I’ll have some great stories to tell about what we’re doing to help or firms reach for the cloud.

Soccer

Sprinting to the Finish

I suppose it’s fitting that I spent the final day of the busiest Xpitax/ XCM quarter of the year the same place that I started it – and the same place I spent all but two of the past 17 weeks – on airplanes. What I wasn’t counting on was a first (even for me) ever barefoot 100 meter dash through John Wayne airport. I’m pretty sure I could have kept pace with Michael Johnson in his fancy golden shoes. It’s safe to say that I plan to avoid 6:45am flights this next quarter. It’s also safe to say that I have thoroughly cleaned and sanitized both my feet as well as the inside of my heels.

When you’re as much of a plane warrior as I am, you have to adapt to the road and learn how to make constant chaos your new “normal”. One thing I’ve learned the past three months is that no amount of pre-planning can make up for the accident on the freeway en-route to the airport, or the fact that there are only three (3) taxis in Yakima, Washington (and they don’t like working after midnight), or the rental car worker who decided not to wait up for the delayed flight…sometimes you’ve just got to roll with it (I promise, that is much easier said than done).

When I started at Fujitsu over three years ago, I got some great advice from a colleague who put his arm around me and told me “Kiddo, pace yourself – if you don’t, you’ll burn out”. Boy did I think of that conversation over & over the past three months! Little did I know back then just how much I would rely on those words of wisdom in my next career chapter. It’s amazing how true this is not only in business, but in life in general. For people pleasers like me, learning to pace ourselves, not take on too much, and most importantly, not spread ourselves too thin so that we can’t do anything well, is vital not only to our success, but to our survival.

I’m so proud to be a part of the XCM & Xpitax team as we continue to set new records for both organizations. I’m even more proud to know I’m playing a part in hitting those marks, and pushing us to the next level. While I’d love to stand up and do the “XCM Quarter Three is Over” victory dance & celebrate the milestones that we’ve achieved – I don’t even know that I have the energy to do so…I’m feeling a bit more like Kerri Strug in Atlanta – raising my hands in victory, and limping off to recover.

So as January comes to a close, and we turn the page into February, it’s with great pleasure that I now hand off the baton to my clients – get ready, folks, it’s your turn to run the tax season race now! I’ll be here cheering you on, dropping by hugs and coffee and other necessities. We know you can do it…just remember to pace yourself!

Everyone Should Have a Kelda

In my role at XCM and Xpitax, I have the pleasure of traveling all over the Western U.S. visiting accounting firms. It’s always fun to see all the different shapes and sized in which firms come. One firm I visited had adorned their office with their extensive antique abacus collection. Another recent visit led me to the 24th floor of a Honolulu high-rise with a breathtaking view of the coast of O’ahu. On one of my last journeys to Northern California, I found myself dashing from one meeting in bustling downtown San Jose to an appointment in the quiet and quant little town of San Rafael (where they told us a story of the time they had a cow wander into their parking lot). I love seeing all these different personalities that show through the various organizations – all tied together by the fact that each of them serves as their clients’ CPA.

One morning, during one of my multi-city road trips, I got an email from a woman at a firm…her name was Kelda. Kelda’s email began with a brief introduction of herself and her firm, and explained that she had recently spoken with one of my colleagues who had referred her my way. Her concise but detailed email efficiently communicated that her partners were interested in meeting with me, and that she was aware I was in their area that week. In closing, she suggested a few days & times that week, and promised a follow up via telephone as well. Shortly thereafter, I got a voicemail from Kelda.

With my crazy schedule that day, we traded a few voicemails and emails before actually connecting live. When we finally did speak, I was pretty blown away by both her professionalism and her organization. She explained that the two Partners were going to be on a tight schedule, so she would be ordering in lunch during our meeting. She also gave me detailed instructions on where I would find parking, and how long she anticipated it would take to travel from my current location to their office.

When I arrived at their office (and found a spot right out front as she promised), I was greeted at the top of their stairs by Kelda, who was holding not only her business card, but the cards of the two Partners with whom I was meeting. She then had me escorted into their conference room, where I was again further impressed. Lunch was not only delivered, but everyone’s assigned places were set – with silverware rolled up into a tidy napkin as if we were dining in a little sidewalk café.

Upon the end of our scheduled time, we heard a quiet knock on the door – it was Kelda, there to remind the Managing Partner that his next appointment was approaching and he’d need to wrap up. As he walked out of the room, I stood up to say goodbye and added “I’ll make you a deal – I’ll take Kelda and you can have XCM”. Both Partners smiled and even chuckled a bit as they replied “Over our dead bodies”.
In reality, there weren’t any real mind-boggling acts performed that day. I mean, even I can order lunch and walk someone to a conference room. And yet I left that small firm in Palo Alto, California thinking to myself, “Wow, if they went to all that trouble for a software vendor – imagine what type of impression that makes on their clients”. I’ve told the story of Kelda to several people since then, which proves my point even more. Sometimes it’s the littlest details that make the biggest impression on people.

How to Change a Tire in 4″ High Heels

I recently had the pleasure of crossing “Get flat tire en-route to important business meeting” off of my bucket list. Oh, wait, that wasn’t actually one of my life-long to-do list. Looking back at it now I can laugh, although, it really wasn’t too funny at the time.

Nothing like running late to an appointment and winding up stranded on the side of a remote mountain road near Napa Valley with no cell service (cough cough, see The Trouble with Technology). The good news is that I was smart enough to have my President, Glen Keenan, along for the ride (something I highly recommend when you plan on getting a flat tire), and we eventually made it to our destination.

As “we” hurriedly jacked up our Jeep rental car and swapped out the flat for the spare, I felt horrible about the fact that we couldn’t even get word to our prospect, who was obviously wondering where we might be. Of course, one would at least hope that they would understand the situation, but the business sense in me  says “I’d rather be an hour early than a minute late” kicked in, and I stressed the rest of the way there.

To my surprise, when we eventually made it (nearly an hour late), we were welcomed into the office with warm hugs and greetings of “thanks for coming all this way to see us”. As I settled into the conference room and began to catch my breath, I was taken back when the Managing Partner walked into the room with a bottle of wine…he opened up our meeting with a toast to the opportunity to all meet there in person.

I sat there and recalled a story my mother had told me as a child about a friend of hers who had visited a very poor village in a land-locked area of Asia. As her friend was preparing to leave, one of the natives presented the woman with a gift – a small bag of sea glass. Being a smart woman, she immediately realized and noted to the native that he must have had to walk miles and miles to the sea in order to find sea glass. The native smiled and acknowledged “long walk is part of gift”.

While a flat tire on the way to wine country doesn’t quite equal walking miles to the coast – the moral of the story is the same. People tend to appreciate when someone goes out of their way for them – while we might have been an hour late, we showed our new customer that we cared enough to make the trip to see them.

After completing the tire-swap, as we made our way down the mountain road, Glen and I realized that our strategy was flawed. Glen figured the easiest & fastest way to change the tire was to do it himself (I was very supportive by handing tools and assisting in other various “moral support” capacities). Next time however, we know exactly what to do. Glen will need to walk down the hill until he is out of sight, and I’ll be the one to attempt to change the tire (in my skirt and heels). When all the locals who drove by offering to help see me, it won’t be as bad if I take them up on it. And that is how you change a tire in 4” high heels.

Tire - Copy

The Trouble with Technology

I make a living selling technology. I’m passionate about the fact that technology is changing the world for the better, and I’m proud to say that I have a front row seat to watch tomorrow’s technology become today’s reality. Numbers don’t lie. When we survey XCM users each year after the busyness of tax season, we are thrilled to hear that our technology often saves our clients well over an hour a day per person. On the Xpitax side, without both scanning and Cloud technologies, this outsourcing model would be impossible. When you look at it that way, it’s hard to find anything to complain about as far as technology goes…or is it?

**Warning – I’m officially standing on my soapbox in my stilettos**

Let’s be real for a minute – who are we kidding? We all deal with technology trials and tribulations virtually every day. How often are you tempted to throw your iPhone across the room when you’ve dropped a call for the 3rd time in 10 minutes (not to mention that you were still talking for 2 minutes before realizing the like was dead)? Sure it’s great that you can book your airline reservations from the amazing little device, but sometime you just simply want to make a phone call. How about those web-based training sessions that you’re struggling to understand because you can only catch every third word of the presenter and his slide deck is moving about 28 seconds slower than his talk track? Why do we all just accept this as “normal” and go about our business pretending it isn’t a problem? It IS a problem, because it keeps us from concentrating on our main goal.

From my shoes, I see two main issues with technology:

  1. Technology isn’t fail-proof, so when looking to put your best foot forward, relying on it is risky
  2. There’s just no substitute for face time

As technology advances and enable us to have more access to information when & where we need it, typically as automated as we want it, we are able to be more productive as we adopt the “self-service” approach. I know I use this every day when it comes to tracking packages online, paying bills, booking travel arrangements, and numerous other areas of personal and professional life. The danger comes when this dependence on using technology takes over the desire to have human interaction, and foster relationships with clients, colleagues, and partners.

Video, web, and teleconferencing services are in surplus these days – and the ability to
connect with clients, prospects, and even friends and family via GoToMeeting, WebEx, or Skype can shrink the distance between two individuals. These technologies allow me to start a Friday morning on a team call with my colleagues around the country, to present Xpitax to a firm in Nevada in the early afternoon, and to meet with a local SoCal accounting firm and show XCM for Client Accounting Services all in the same day – all without leaving my “soffice” (Sofa+Office). But what do I give up by not being in person at these various meetings? And what happens when the technology I’m relying on lets me down?

I sat in a board room this past week at a very large accounting firm in the Midwest. While I made the effort to fly out and be on-site for the meeting, I relied on web telephone conferencing to include my President in the meeting with me. By the end of the meeting, we had reconnected the web conference twice, and redialed into the teleconference three times. Needless to say, the flaws in technology were not only distracting, but extremely stressful too.

The saving grace was my ability to interact with the group inside the room, to make eye contact, read body language, and even poke fun and make light of the frustrating technology failure. Thankfully, the meeting was still a success, but had I not been there in person, it might have had a different outcome.

As the world seems to move faster & faster each day, it’s so important that we do step back and remember that deep down, we all value personal interactions. Sure it’s easy to sit back and say that it’s more productive to conduct business from your comfy office chair…but don’t underestimate the power of a real handshake. Shortly after starting at XCM I had the opportunity to visit two prospects in New York – both were very busy, but agreed to my visit. I have no doubt that the relationships I started building that week will continue to be vital to the future success of these two clients. As I arrived home late that Friday afternoon, I had a voicemail from one of the firms I had met with. The message said something like “I wanted to call you and give you the good news – because you were the one who showed up at our office…”.

So don’t be afraid of a little TSA pat down – before you know it you’ll sporting premier hotel status and plenty of airline miles to boot…go out and build those relationships – maybe I’ll see you on the road (I’m the one with the bag full of shoes).

Why Did I Buy That?

Having spent the past few years with Fujitsu in more of a partner-centric/ business development capacity, I’ve been dusting off my sales shoes getting up and running with my new role here at XCM. One of the things that bubbled up to the surface very quickly is the importance of understanding a client’s needs, and helping them understand how my solution or service can either fix their problem, or open doors to opportunities that they might not otherwise be able to explore.

A few weeks ago, I spent some time with my boss, Bob Locke, in Kansas City during the Boomer Technology Circle Summit (which, BTW, is an event that I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t been before). During our chat we laid out the four main reasons why a firm would implement XCM Solutions Workflow:

  • Time Savings/ Increased Efficiencies
  • Compliance
  • Client Satisfaction
  • Personnel/ Recruitment Tool

As we discussed these four areas, Bob used examples of firms who had recently purchased XCM in order to avoid fines that they had incurred the previous year for being out of compliance. Now, these firms will certainly appreciate the other benefits as added value from the new solution, but it became clear that had we tried to sell them on client satisfaction, or using new technology as a way to recruit young hungry talent, we most likely wouldn’t have uncovered their true pain point – and might not have earned their business.

Of course, since I tend to live my life seeing everything through 4” high heels, I couldn’t help but think of the example of walking into my local Nordstrom shoe department, being greeted by the friendliest of salesmen, and being asked “What are you looking for today?”. See, Freddie (yes, my shoe guy’s name is Freddie) knows me well enough to ask. If he were to see me coming and immediately fetch the perfect pair of orange python Miu Miu pumps from the back room, regardless of how much I love or want (need) them, when I’ve come in for a new pair of Nike Frees for my travels, then he’s missed the opportunity. I’ll likely go down the way to the Nike store to make my purchase.

Now, if instead, after asking me why I’m there, he returns from the back room with a great pair of Frees and happens to also bring the amazing orange heels (ok, they were on sale anyway), then I will be much more likely to try on both, and knowing me, return home with a much bigger smile on my face (and a little more motivation to sell some software).

Now I realize that shoes and software don’t have all that much in common – but the situation is really similar: in both cases, understanding the client’s needs and motivation for a purchase is what should drive any sales cycle. Sales professionals who make this part of the discovery process will be much more likely to be successful – and, as a by-product, will build stronger relationships with their clients because they have shown that they truly care about what their clients need vs. just making a sale.

Now, if you’ll excuse me – I’m about to run into Saks…wish me luck!