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!

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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.

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).

It’s a Small World After All…

When I came onboard with XCM and Xpitax this past Summer, I was quite familiar with the XCM workflow solution itself as well as with most of the team. I had spent time with them at various trade shows, and worked with them as fellow partners in CloudSolutions Alliance. The side of the house that I was less familiar with was our Xpitax outsourced accounting services business – and the international team behind those services.

I’ve since come to learn that in addition to our team in Braintree (and the handful of remote folks throughout the US), I have the pleasure of calling another group -developers and tax professionals from our Chennai and Bangalore offices – fellow Xpitax colleagues as well.

During my first few weeks on the job, I asked a lot of questions about the international Xpitax team. Who are they? Does the same team work with one client or is it more like a call center environment? What are the conditions like in our India offices? How do our clients communicate with our team in India? I was definitely feeling a bit out of my element, and a tad unsure of exactly how to explain the way our outsourcing model really works…mostly because it was just a big unknown. Naturally, most of us don’t care too much for the unknown, so I figured if I need to sell these services, first I have to believe in the model myself – which means get educated.

Well a few weeks ago the world got a little bit smaller. After a recent trip to India, our Founder and CEO (yes, Professor Workflow himself, Mark Albrecht) addressed our U.S. team with a plea to unify our multiple offices. With that in mind, our VP of Client Services, Colleen Osborne (with some help from Facebook), created an interactive platform for our teams to communicate, share photos & ideas, and learn about each other. I’m sure some might say I’m just easily amused, but seeing photos of our team and having the opportunity to wish them a happy holiday (last month they celebrated Vinayaka Chathurthi, a national holiday in India) completely brought these people to life, and gave me a whole new perspective on this part of our company.

Just as important, it proved once again that technology can truly bridge the gap in physical miles – and even time zones. Without platforms like Facebook, the Xpitax team would still be a list of emails in our Outlook contact group “Chennai”, but with the medium to interact with them, I’ve begun to make a whole new set of friends. Likewise, without solutions like XCM, the outsourcing model of Xpitax wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as successful as it is today, where an accounting firm can track the status, open points, estimated completion date, number of open items remaining, and several other elements of any outsourced return, anytime (most firms don’t even have that much control over returns or projects inside their own firms, let alone one that is being completed by someone half-way around the globe). With Cloud-based tools like these, geography instantly becomes a non-issue, and productivity becomes the big priority.

With the launching of the new Xpitax Facebook group, I decided to post some photos from a recent company outing we had in Cape Cod, figuring it would give the India teams a chance to see some of us outside of the typical work setting. I was caught by surprise (in a great way) when photos appeared just hours later showing Colleen and a few of the folks from the team in India at the beach during her recent visit. I guess the old adage is true – it really is a Small World After All!

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!

Old Dogs Can Teach New Tricks

And by “old dogs” I do mean “seasoned accounting veterans”. I just got home from the Midwest Accounting Show in Rosemont, IL, where I was honored (and a bit star struck) to have opportunity to eat some authentic Chicago deep dish with one of the most respected thought leaders in the industry, Dana “Rick” Richardson. Most people know Rick as the closer – it never fails that show managers put him on the schedule for the end of the day, and he comes in just like any good relief pitcher and gets them 1, 2, 3.

After holding the attention of 1,500 accountants for over an hour and a half at the end of a long day, Rick was gracious enough to join my XCM Teammates, Brian Austin from Avalara, along with Doug Sleeter, Jody Padar, and Jennifer Warawa, three nationally recognized accounting influencers, for a “FOX” (Friends of XCM) dinner at Gino’s East. I think it’s safe to say that nobody on that bus knew exactly what was in store for the evening. Unfortunately, none of us were able to see Rick speak an hour earlier – but it didn’t matter, we all got our own private session at the master’s feet.

We hadn’t even pulled into the Gino’s parking lot when my colleague, Beth Bruck, had resorted to making a “Rick List” on her iPhone of some of the technology devices Rick began to mention. As the conversation continued well into dinner (2 slices of pizza into dinner that is), that list kept growing. So did Rick’s audience, as he quickly added the third XCM blonde at the table, Jamie Soper. I couldn’t help but sit back in awe that here I was at a table with so many accounting greats – Jennifer, Doug, Jody, Brian – and Rick, who has been a rock-steady icon in the CPA world for longer than I’ve been alive, and might just be the most tech-savvy of us all. From being a Mac champion, to embracing the Cloud, to his love of productivity apps like Evernote…he proves more than anyone I’ve ever met that technology is not defined by age or by generation, but rather by willingness to think outside the box, and by a passion for achieving greatness.

As this year’s CPA Practice Advisor 40 Under 40 list hits the wire this week, I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a big thank you from those receiving that honor – after all, without folks like Rick, we’d have no footsteps in which to follow…

What’s in My (Orange) Bag?

This past weekend was one of those weekends – spent packing up for a week in Boston for the XCM Quarterly Sales Meeting and our Summer team outing in Cape Cod. Now I’ve always prided myself with my ability to “pack small” – trust me, my carry-on bag is NOT light – but one thing that packing small requires is something I learned last year from one of my highly-respected fellow road warriors, Darren Root: “Everything needs to have a place”. While the inside of my Orange tote might look a tad different than Darren’s Tumi backpack, I’ve found that sticking to this system enables me to stay on top of things and ensures that I never leave anything behind.

So as I prepared to hit the road this week, I decided to give you a glimpse into my world by showing off what’s inside my bag – and, more importantly, why it’s in there…

A – A is for Apple, so naturally, I always keep my iPad handy. From in-flight reading & pod casts (like the THRIVEcast), to email access, it’s a must-have whenever I’m on the go!

B – Bye bye big laptops! My new Ultrabook is TSA friendly and doesn’t break my back while we globe trot together.

C – Can’t live without my ScanSnap S1100 mobile scanner…I guess this falls into the “once you’ve had it, you don’t know what you’d do without it” category.

D – Disaster Recovery Bag: You never know when you’ll need it, but you sure don’t want to be without things like hand cream, B vitamins (for those early mornings after late nights), EmergenC, wet wipes, and back-up travel toothbrushes.

E – Education Creation Bag: While I tend to use my iPhone camera more, I still keep my digital with me to capture plenty of Facebook photo content. I also always carry my Flip with me since you never know when that moment will arise where you can score a great impromptu interview (keep your eyes out for more of these from CloudSolutions Alliance this year). **Lesson learned from experience: always bring extra batteries, even if it is fully charged**

F – Fabulous Foldable FLATS! Not just any flats, these would be my authentic Tieks (thanks for the recommendation, Michelle Golden!). Not even sure where to start with these beloved “Just Shoot Me Heels” recovery shoes, but if you don’t have a pair – what are you waiting for??? **Bonus points: They’re actually cute enough to sport in public – not that Dave Cieslak would have a photo of me in mine or anything…..**

G – Gone are the days of lanyards or clip-on name badges…I travel with my ITA badge holder with a magnet back, so no more planning my wardrobe around those pesky nametags. PS – That’s my flash drive there too, which often saves the day itself.

H – How convenient is this? My tote bag came with this strapped-in pouch which is perfect for the few things I’m constantly accessing: business cards, a pen, and gum.

I – I might get hungry. I’ve learned my lesson to always travel with snacks. The only thing worse than going all day without eating, is trying to stomach airplane food. I’ve been caught too many times without time to grab something at an airport (or, even worse, landing in an airport after-hours when nothing is open). Protein bars, dried fruit, nuts, and these homemade energy bites (thanks, Pinterest) are my travel staples.

J – Juice it up. This is my power pouch. Going back to Darren’s “everything needs a place” – when I keep them all together, it’s easy to do a quick cord-count when I’m dashing out of a hotel room to catch a flight.

K – Kim’s favorite item: Mophie Juice Pack Air. This external iPhone battery functions as a case while charging your phone. This thing has saved me more times than I can count (including that night in San Francisco – right, Kara Haas?)!

L – Life line. When all is said and done, there’s nothing I use more in this bag than my iPhone. It’s the last thing I power down on the plane and first thing to power up when we land. Whether it’s to call home, pay my bills while I’m gone, or get directions to where I’m going, I’d be lost without it (literally).

There you have it – that’s what’s in my bag. Check back again soon and I might even show you how to pack 8 pairs of shoes into a TSA approved carry-on!