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!

There’s a Whole Lotta “WE” in Team

Leave it to the Olympic spirit to remind us all just how important teamwork can be for the success of just about anything. This week, as I’ve been glued to the TV watching coverage of the Summer Games, I’m constantly reminded of one of my favorite Olympic memories: watching Kerri Strug vault the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team into history at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. While it may have been Strug who got most of the spotlight that night, it was truly a team effort from each of the other six members who equally contributed to that magical evening where the “Magnificent Seven” took the Gold medal – and captured America’s hearts.

It’s not too different in the business world.  You’ll rarely find a successful business professional without a strong team behind them, and similarly, some of the most successful individuals will gladly admit that they are only as good as their team. Nobody exemplifies this more than one of my good industry friends, Jennifer Warawa. Jennifer always impresses me when she meets someone for the first time. Instead of introducing herself as VP of Partner Programs and Channel Sales for Sage, she modestly explains that she “looks after the Sage Accountants Network”. I’ve never heard her reference anyone “working for her” – but she’ll often mention those who are “on her team”. Her approach has enabled her to create a real sense of community within her team and within the accounting industry by eliminating any sense of superiority she would have over those of us who don’t have a VP in our title.

It might be the Olympics getting to me, but I might also have teamwork on the brain as I wrap up my first month with my new team at XCM. When you join a new organization, you’re often at the mercy of your new teammates to help you get up to speed and to warn you about the land mines that loom ahead, in hopes that you’ll learn from their mistakes rather than have to make them yourself. I can’t begin to express how blessed I feel to be a part of such an amazing team, who has done just that for me. From my first few days in the office, the sense of teamwork and community at XCM was apparent. When this feeling of community is truly put into action, this will wind up impacting not only an organization itself, but also its extended ecosystem (partners, clients, prospects).

Believe it or not, before the 4” stilettos filled my closet, I used to sport a pair of soccer cleats. In all of my 10 years playing soccer growing up, I was never the most powerful player on the team, but one thing is for sure: I was a team player. One memory that I have all these years later is from an indirect free-kick scenario. While most people want to be the one to take these shots, to be the one to score the goal and get the glory for doing so, I knew that just wasn’t my role on the team. Thankfully, I also knew there is just as much value in being the set up person. So as my teammate lined up to shoot the ball into the goal (unaware that it wasn’t a direct kick, and that two players needed to touch the ball before a goal could be scored), I came running out of the backfield yelling at the top of my lungs. My antics worked. My teammate paused as I ran right up to the ball, tapped it, and yelled to her to shoot it. I turned around just in time to see her put that ball into the top left corner of the net. Of course my teammate got the high-fives for making the score, but I also got recognized for setting it up…after all, without the assist, the goal wouldn’t have counted in the first place.

What’s the big lesson there? As many of us get caught up in climbing the corporate ladder and desperately trying to get ahead, we sometimes lose sight of what really matters – teamwork. Perhaps even more important is the realization that each and every member of a team has a purpose and a value. Sometimes it’s not just the folks on the front line that deserve the recognition, sometimes it’s those in the background, quietly doing their job so well, which in turn makes those of us in the spotlight look even better.

So here’s to the amazing teams behind each leader. The Customer Service Managers who skillfully calm frustrated clients. The Support Reps who graciously answer each & every question from confused new employees. The Development teams who diligently work to add new features. And the most near & dear to my heart, the Managers who stand back and let their apprentices shine…knowing that their success is truly achieved through watching their handy work in action. One, Two, Three – GO TEAM!

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