There are a lot of terms out there—the Intuit Club, LKA University. Art Nathan, owner of Solution Strategists, has another name, but the principal is the same in terms of making sure the implementation has a chance of success.
Like what you see? Click here to sign up for Accounting Today's daily newsletter to get the latest news and behind the scenes commentary you won't find anywhere else.
“We always start with education. Does the employee know not just enough to do his job, but to be really good at it and contribute to others?” he asks.
The Cranford, N.J.-based Sage Software reseller has its own system, called Target Training, that goes beyond the standard training for ensuring the staff can use a new accounting software system.
“We actually determine on a use-by-user basis what kind of training each person needs,” says Nathan. “Rather than read any book to them starting on page one and ending on page 417, we customize the training program to ensure that they are able to accomplish their given task with understanding and also understand what all of the other people around them are doing that affects them.”
How important is education and training?
One of the most succinct statements comes from Syms Clothing, a retail clothing chain operating in 11 East Coast, Midwest, Southern states and Texas. “An Educated Consumer Is Our Best Customer.”
What’s good for picking designer dress shirts, slacks, ladies accessories and blouses applies to selecting accounts receivable and payable modules. And there are several reasons why providing training provides a return to the organizations selling software, beyond fees they charge for educational sessions.
One of the big payoffs for clients is when education helps them avoid calling a reseller or accounting firm for support.
“All clients pay for training,” says Nathan. “Some of them get charged under the heading of training. Some of them get charged under the heading of support. When they pay for support, it costs five to 10 times as much.”
Nathan also believes that lack of training has a direct correlation to staff turnover, particularly among younger workers.
“We think a great deal of the turnover that’s occurring among younger people is because they don’t know their jobs well enough to know if they want to stay,” he says. “I think there is an additional benefit. Employees who know their jobs better feel more successful. If they are more confident about themselves they are more likely to stay.”
Surprisingly, another problem that Nathan finds with young workers is their highly touted technology skills. Those often don’t equate to business skills.
“The younger people are so adept at using computers that they think they can adapt to anything,” Nathan says. “And yet, when we start putting data into these basic systems, we are finding out that they don’t know their function. Yes, they know what keys to hit, but they don’t know why. It’s raw data that’s being put into the system. It’s intelligence that we need to take out.”
One thing that hasn’t happened is having training sessions fill the time slots at Solution Strategists’ office. Clients would usually prefer to work in their own offices and at their own desks. But that isn’t always the best of because of office interruptions.
“We have seen it reduce the effectiveness of training by almost 100 percent,” says Nathan. “We have said we will not train a particular client on their site and when it comes to key executives, we go into their offices and we close the door and put the phone on ‘Do Not Disturb.’”
The Intuit Club
There’s nothing exclusive or fancy about the Intuit Club. It’s simply a monthly meeting for “anybody that has any relationship with QuickBooks,” says Marion Nowogrodzki, who owns Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based Mendelson Consulting.
The club doesn’t have any immediate connection to the Mendelson operations, which includes installation and training services for QuickBooks along with reselling QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions.
Nowogrodzki established the group, which first met in September 2006, via the Web site, Meetup.com, that enables interest group meetings to be organized and scheduled. About 90 to 100 organizations have signed up with a typical attendance of 10 to 12 persons at a monthly meeting.
“We do not necessarily do this for profit. We do not charge for this. There are no expenses other than what people want to spend on food,” he continues.
Each two-and-a-half-hour meeting has an agenda that is very open ended, with half of the time usually open for a question-and-answer session. Nowogrodzki says the club is the perfect venue for businesses that want to absorb knowledge, but not become clients.
And while the Intuit Club doesn’t produce a direct stream of customers to Mendelson Consulting, Nowogrodzki notes that it is part of an effort to keep his name before the buying public. Those efforts also include seminars, among which are continuing education sessions for CPAs produced by a local college.
A CPA, Nowogrodzki firmly agrees with the Syms slogan about the value of having educated customers. “The best clients are the educated clients who know this is a service, not a necessary evil,” he notes.
Such clients are “more fun and more profitable,” he continues, because they understand the greater ability to produce a return on investment when they know better how to use technology.
Despite the best efforts of vendors like Intuit and its evangelists like Nowogrodzki, many users don’t know what tools are available for learning more about products they have purchased. Even though Intuit has tens of thousands of accounting professional enrolled in its ProAdvisor program, “only half the people who purchase QuickBooks know about the ProAdvisors,” he notes.
Even though Birmingham, Ala., is in the geographical area covered by the Southeast Conference, LKA University is not entity that will be entering a team in a college sports event.
Instead, LKA stands for L. Kianoff & Associates, a Sage and Microsoft reseller based in that town. The firm, in turn, takes its name from CPA Lisa Kianoff, who puts a high value on educational efforts.
These include its CPA Lunch and Learn programs, two-hour seminars which started in 2008 and which are aimed at educating the CPA community, not directly at selling software.
“We believe in supporting the community,” says Kianoff.
Educated accountants are good for customers and for the profession, Kianoff continues. She fears that for the profession to have a reputation that it lacks technology skills is not good for anyone.
“I think there are a larger percentage of CPAs who are not able to stay up on technology enough to understand what their clients are about,” she says. “If they are not well-versed in technology, the clients will believe they are not well-versed in tax.”
For the firm’s users, the company this year held Partnership 2008, which Kianoff pictures at a more traditional conference, although it was knew for the reselling organization because it marked the first time clients for Sage’s MAS 90 and Microsoft’s Dynamics GP line had been brought together in the same user event.
Kianoff invested heavily in the event, which drew about 130 attendees to the venue, the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum in Birmingham. Founded by George Barber, the facility features 1,200 motorcycles in its collection.
“It was costly from an investment standpoint and costly from a time standpoint,” she says.
However, there are many similarities to the kinds of training needed for both client groups as both use Microsoft’s FRx software, Crystal Reports and applications such as Avalara’s AvaTax, an Internet-based sales and use tax application. Since Kianoff had previously offered separate tracks for the two accounting applications, it was simpler to offer joint sessions during the two-and-a-half-day event.
On the strictly education side, the organization decided to take a different tack on providing instruction.
“We switched gears in the fall. We looked at the evaluations we got and people wanted more hands-on,” she says.
The result was LKA University (after L. Kianoff & Associates), which was designed for end users, although it wasn’t hands-on because the firm didn’t have enough computers for all attendees.
Some of the session offered at the motorcycle museum coming from LKA curriculum. Those are designed for attendees so that, “When they walk out of those sessions, they can make better use of the investment in technology,” Kianoff says.
Education can pay off in a somewhat surprising area—the collection process.