Startups

Episode 8: Rachel Fisch - Accountants and Alliances at Sage Canada

Rachel talks about why community-centered partnerships are more successful, increasing the likelihood of growing a tangible partnership and more.


This week on The CoSell Show we are thrilled to have Rachel Fisch, Accountants and Alliances at Sage Canada.

 

About Rachel:

Rachel Fisch is a community-builder and people-connector. She helps tech companies understand accountants, and assists accountants transform their firms with innovative tech and workflows, creating awesome client experiences and increasing profitability. (See more on Twitter: @fischbooks)

RachelFischBanner.jpeg

 

Topics Covered:

      1. Why community-centered partnerships are more successful
      2. Do your homework! Plan and research prior to meetings to increase the likelihood of growing a tangible partnership
      3. How unexpected setbacks in your career can actually benefit your professional path

Brought to you by our host: Taylor Baker for CoSell.io

 

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Follow Along With The Podcast Transcript

Taylor:
Hello listeners, and welcome back to the CoSell show. Today we will be discussing how to create and nurture a successful, symbiotic business partnership with our guest, Rachel Fisch, of Sage Canada. Welcome, Rachel.

Rachel:
Thank you so much Taylor, I so appreciate you having me on, that's awesome.

Taylor:
Oh, the pleasure is all ours. Thank you for taking the time. To get us started off, can you tell our listeners a bit about your background and your current role at Sage?

Rachel:
Sure, so I'll kind of start at current and move backward. So right now I work with Accountants & Alliances for Sage in Canada, primarily focused on kind of the mid-market to larger products, so working with mid-sized firms all the way up to Big Four and everything in between. But actually, I did come from a bookkeeping background, and that's what I've been doing for the previous two years that I've been at Sage as well. So I've been here for now, over two years.

Prior to this I was the national bookkeeping leader for Deloitte in Canada. Prior to that, I had my own bookkeeping practice for about five years. And then, prior to that, I was in accounting right from data entry all the way through to corporate controllership. So this is really my first role as a non-practicing accountant. But I've always loved technology. And so, this really enabled me to be an advocate for accountants and bookkeepers on the technology side of things instead of like a technology advocate on the accountant side of things.

Taylor:
Oh, interesting, thank you, you are our first accountant, which I'm very excited. Revenue is the bread and butter of a good business.

Rachel:
That's right.

Taylor:
So I think you're going to have a lot of lovely insights. So one of our favorite questions to as is, what is something fun about you that cannot be found on your LinkedIn profile?

Rachel:
I've choir directed for years and years and sang for years and years. But I actually think that my choir direction is on the LinkedIn profile, so... but, yeah, I certainly enjoy all things musical. And I think that kind of feeding the creative side of my brain helps with that logical, accountant, other side of my brain.

Taylor:
Oh, absolutely, especially music. People don't think that music is so technical, but it is.

Rachel:
Oh, it's incredibly technical, yeah.

Taylor:
I'm sure your work as an accountant feeds into you being a better musician. So to get into the partnership side of things, why do you think building partnerships out of community is important for businesses?

Rachel:
Sure, so just a little bit of a background, this work that... with Alliances and with strategic partnerships and things like that, that I've been doing since I joined Sage, that actually isn't anything that I've done in a role previous, but it did seem to be a natural extension of who I am, which was pretty cool. I think I've always been a really big believer in collaboration, and in community, and the rising tide lifts all ships kind of approach.

I've talked to lots of people now that, of course, since I've been at Sage, that work exclusively with strategic partnerships and a lot of calls on, "What's your product like? What's your product like? Maybe there's some symbiosis here." But what I find really interesting is that I think the FinTech space is a broader community. Digitally savvy or tech savvy accountants is in its own community. So when you can kind of not only see what would be a good strategic partner for you personally, but also to see, whether it's a company or whether it's a person, and how they interact with the rest of that community, I think is really powerful. You kind of get to see multiple dynamics and get a better assessment of what a more strategic partnership might actually look like. Does that make sense?

Taylor:
Oh, no, absolutely, I think strategic partnerships are becoming rampantly much more popular, which is amazing. But the process of how they happen or what they really mean is still kind of coming into focus. And that's a really unique perspective I think, to sort of see people out in the community and see how they interact in real life, in real time, and that is being a nice metric to whether or not you would be a good fit.

Rachel:
Yeah, and again, kind of being one of those tech savvy accounting people, I used to think that every app needs to be integrated to every program. And the more integrations the better. And again, a perspective that I've learned since being at Sage, is that it's really important to make sure that, as you mentioned, that all of those other elements really are aligned.

So sure, let's take a look at the technical piece, because technology kind of enables that level of partnership. But then, let's actually see from a partnership perspective, "What is it that we can do together? How can we jointly solve problems for our client base?" So yeah, to me, that takes it from, as I said, kind of that strictly technical connection partnership level, to that really nice, deep, embedded, solution building level of partnership. And that's that sweet spot. That's where everybody gets excited about working together.

Taylor:
Going off what we're both saying, as partnerships grow, they're becoming more popular. And it's really easy to be like, "Oh, on paper this sounds so great. This is going to be perfect. This huge company is going to get me so much more exposure. I need to partner with them." But how do you actually turn these community events, these happy hours, these conversations when you're seeing and meeting and working with your community... how do you turn those conversations into tangible business partnerships that are at that level of mutual success and not just something that looks good on paper?

Rachel:
Yeah, no kidding, that's a really great question Taylor. Because it's something that I've had to learn and be a little more disciplined in. So I tend to kind of slide... if introversion and extroversion is a scale, I'm definitely introversion leaning, which is sometimes challenging. Because I can speak on stage to hundreds of accountants, and it's no big deal. But I actually find those networking events or those happy hours, I find those the most challenging, especially when I don't know a lot of people. When I know people, it' fine. But it's just going from a room full of strangers, my anxiety is through the roof.

So I just had to learn to prepare. So if there's ever and opportunity to know who is going to be there ahead of time, to take a look at their LinkedIn profile or connect with them ahead of time or even what companies are going to be represented to see if, again, from a technical perspective, there is at least some kind of partnership opportunity, it's just doing your homework, right?

So first of all, being prepared going in, making sure that you do connect with the people who you think would be the most likely for an effective partnership, and then making sure you do your follow up. Because if you show up unprepared, schmooze, have a couple drinks, glasses of wine, and then leave and go, "Yeah, that was a great event." Okay, great, but how have you advanced your business? How have you advanced somebody else's business, right? How have you really, genuinely connected in a meaningful way? And so, I find... yeah, just be prepared and do your follow ups.

Taylor:
Oh, for sure. Matt Fox, one of our previous guests comes to mind. Because this isn't actually in our episode. But, so my name is Taylor Baker, and he did his homework and was researching to be prepared to be interviewed. And he emailed me saying, "Oh, I'm such a fan of your band," and all these other things. And there is another Taylor Baker in Austin Texas-

Rachel:
Oh, you're kidding.

Taylor:
She's in a band, she's really awesome. I've actually... I've met her before. And my husband's a musician and has played music with her. And so, it was a funny way to get a conversation started. Because he thought he knew all these things. I was like, "Well, that's kind of right. That's not me. I know who she is." And then, that opened the conversation of, "Well, my husband plays music." So it was like an icebreaker. And it's a funny moment.

Rachel:
Absolutely.

Taylor:
It's amazing what finding those little details... it's great, I think, that you have that you direct a choir on your LinkedIn, because now someone can be like, "Oh, what part do you sing? What's your thing? I'm an alto too. What about you?" That's great advice. So to take a little bit of advantage of your accounting prowess-

Rachel:
Sure.

Taylor:
... How do you typically measure if a partnership is providing mutual, fiscal prosperity.

Rachel:
Show me your financial statements. No... so I think that ultimately there does need to be some level of measurable ROI out of this. I think there are definitely some challenges if you look at the accountant industry. And there are certainly, especially in kind of the desktop accounting software world, there is a whole world of accountants who do resell product. And that's what they do as part of their business. I think that as we... again, technology shifts, we're getting into more subscription-based, that model is also changing. And so, I think it used to be much more quantitative is, "I've made this connection. I've made this sale based on that, and we're good." And so, that's changing.

Another thing is that for an accountants channel, which is basically what I work in... And other software companies have accountants channels as well, and I would actually encourage, if you don't have one, maybe take a look to see if there's an opportunity there for a different way to approach the market... Anyway, that's a whole other show. But I think one of the challenges with an accountants channel is the long... it's kind of a long sale, right? It's a longer-term sales cycle. And so, sometimes you do lose track of where that kind of lead originally started or that conversation that originally started. And then, you may not see the fruits of that for a year, year and a half, two years or more down the road. But again, it's just staying connected. It's seeing that.

And even within Sage, it's a huge organization, so to just kind of keep tabs on those relationships that you've built and who ends up responsible for managing those partnerships and then going forward. So ultimately, it still comes down to revenue on both sides and where you can see that you can draw a straight line between that connection that you made to the revenue that that brought in, that's always a really positive thing.

Taylor:
Absolutely, and a lot of my guests have mentioned on the show so far that there is sort of a gap there in trying to actually measure what percentage of your revenue is directly a result of your partnership. And we actually, at CoSell, are working to sort of fill that gap, more exciting news on that in the spring as we develop further.

Rachel:
Awesome, looking forward to it.

Taylor:
Thank you, so you sort of touched on this a little bit, but what do you suggest partners do in their partnership to balance the... both workload and the actual fiscal responsibility of their endeavors?

Rachel:
Yeah, and I think it really comes down to testing. We can have really grandiose ideas on an accountant channel approach or messaging that we want to be doing. But if we can kind of test what we think a certain organization or association, how they're going to behave, the number of leads that we can get out of that in a really high-quality way, yeah, test and change and test and change.

Rachel:
Also, the balance of short-term success compared to long term success, so I mentioned that it's quite a long sales cycle for something like an accountants channel, so how can we get those short, quick wins to balance what we know are kind of those longer-term deals? It's certainly a challenge, but I think it's just... whether it's time blocking, whether it's staying connected and staying in communication, I think, with those partners, and also making sure that... especially if it's a long cycle that you haven't forgotten about them, that you're still working towards something, and also keeping the end in sight.

Taylor:
Definitely, so I think that was sort of an answer to my next question. But you might have more to add to that. What if, if any mistakes, have you seen partners make?

Rachel:
Sure, so one is definitely not taking on those short-term wins and focusing solely on the long-term. Now, the long-term ones, they take up a lot of resources, a lot of energy, a lot of time. And I think another one is assuming that the first no is the final no. I tend to, if I get a no, I'm kind of like one of those little wind up toys with the little feet, and it hits the wall and it turns and it keeps going. That's kind of like me. So if I get a no, it's, "Okay, so that's a no for that. But what if we kind of changed our approach a little bit, spin to the side and keep moving?" And again, it's just keeping up that momentum, trying not to get too discouraged. And as I said, don't let the first no be the final no.

There have been lots of projects and situations here at Sage where it has felt like that's the end of the project, it's not going to happen. And yet, another connection within the same organization, or continuing the conversation but in a slightly different way, taking a slightly different approach has actually advanced the original mission. And don't ever burn bridges unless there's... somebody's suing you, whatever. But in the majority of cases, regardless of your emotions or regardless of what's going down, you never know who the people on the other side of the table are going to be connected to. Again, it's a no for now. But next year, there may be another opportunity that even if you burn the first bridge, you may not even have a chance at the second one.

Taylor:
So working in accounting, what is the biggest surprise you have experienced within a partnership ecosystem?

Rachel:
I guess the ecosystem that I'm in right now is kind of that accounting technology ecosystem. And so, not only do we have strategic partnerships with other organizations, with Big Four, as I said, or with Amazon, or Microsoft, or those things, but we also have a third party app ecosystem. So we've got tools that connect our accounting software and stuff like that. So we really have different levels and layers of ecosystem.

I think the thing that's surprised my probably is... So first of all, within accountants channel, accountants by nature can be very loyal. In fact, they say that it's the second most loyal profession next to your family doctor. So that's pretty up there. And I think what has surprised me the most is companies or organizations that don't really fully see the opportunities in an accountants channel. And I think we've gone beyond the days where they sit at their desk and are typing in data entry. And so, the only tool that they really need is their accountant core software. We're talking about completely paperless organizations where they need practice management software, they need client communication software, all of these tools that go into running a huge accounting practice. And so, I think what surprises me the most is how many of those kinds of software companies don't take the opportunity to really target and solve for that need.

In Canada alone, there's 215 000 CPA's, right? If you are able to not only tap into that network, but then also have some of these as advocates to their clients, that's an exponential level of growth. And of course, in the US, it's significantly higher as well, right? So it's just... To me, it's if you know that this profile is using your tool, how can you better target, better partner, and really solve for what they need?

Taylor:
Interesting, so I guess the final bit of partnership fun, do you have any parting advice for businesses or particularly start ups that are in their beginning stages of building a partnership ecosystem?

Rachel:
Well, because I come from an accounting background, I would say cashflow is king.

Taylor:
Absolutely.

Rachel:
Please, please, make sure that you are on top of your financials, on top of your cashflow, that you're doing effective cashflow forecasting, and that you'll be able to cover payroll next week, right? You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don't have a good grasp on the operations of your business and the viability of the business itself, then that idea could go to waste if it's not managed correctly.

Taylor:
We need people like you to get in there at the beginning and say, "Hey, hey."
"I know you want to buy all of these fancy chairs for the office..."

Rachel:
Exactly.

Taylor:
"But let's maybe start here."

Rachel:
Yeah, yeah, no kidding.

Taylor:
Thank you, so I'm going to kind of wrap it up on a note that's a little more vulnerable if you are comfortable going there.

Rachel:
Sure, let's go there.

Taylor:
In your career, what has been a moment in time that was very defining for you whether it was a promotion, a setback, a crossroads?

Rachel:
I think, probably the one that really changed my trajectory, I think, professionally, I was at home on maternity leave after the birth of my first daughter, I had always wanted to work towards my accounting designation and had been taking courses along the way and things like that. And so, finally, I'm like, "Okay, that's it, I'm doing it."

Went out, got my letters of recommendation, got my degree waiver, all set to go into an accelerated program which basically was like a four year designation program done in 18 months which was already going to be a huge challenge already with the baby at home, right? This was going to be an issue. And two months before that program was to start, I got notified that they were actually, basically shutting down that program, but I could do it in nine months. Well, I happened to finally get really motivated right before this happened.

Taylor:
Oh, no.

Rachel:
Yeah, and so they basically said, "Because of this change that's happening, we're not doing the 18 month program anymore. So either you can have to start from scratch again, or you have to do that four year program in nine months." And again, with the baby at home and with needing to work on top of that, I just thought... for as devastated as I was at that time, it really did make me stop in my tracks and think about, "Okay, well, then, what is it that I actually want to be? Where is it that I actually want to go with this? You know what? I don't want to be in Tax or Audit."

It was a personal, professional accomplishment to get those letters behind my name. But when you looked at what accountants were doing back then, that wasn't actually my life. I didn't want to kind of have that big firm life. It really made me revisit. I ended up then starting my own business, which is then what actually caught the attention of Deloitte, funnily enough. And then, from Deloitte, connected with Sage, and I've been here ever since. So, yeah, it totally changed where I was going professionally for sure.

Taylor:
Thank you so much for sharing that.

Rachel:
My pleasure.

Taylor:
To fully wrap everything up, do you have anything coming up that you're excited about you maybe want to share? And how, if our listeners have any financial questions or anything for you, can they maybe reach you?

Rachel:
Sure, yeah, no, I appreciate that. So it was actually just today that Sage has just announced the acquisition of actually one of our out partners AutoEntry, based in Ireland. So it's a very exciting day for us here.

Taylor:
Wow.

Rachel:
But to me, this goes back to, this is what's possible when a partnership is done well, when you find a team that works incredibly well with you, that is a great fit, not only from a technology perspective, but also, whether it's roadmap, whether it's cultural, whether it's all of the other elements that go into partnership. So, yeah, no, it's pretty exciting. And how can anybody reach me? So I'm on LinkedIn, of course, Rachel Fisch, or on Twitter @fischbooks, that's F-I-S-C-H-B-O-O-K-S.

Taylor:
Wonderful, and I will link both of those things in the podcast description so you guys can find her. Rachel, you have been an absolute pleasure. And your prowess and accounting savvy have been so useful and offered a really unique perspective to our conversation. So thank you very much for taking the time.

Rachel:
For sure, absolutely, my pleasure Taylor. Thank you for having me.

Taylor:
And to all of our listeners out there, thank you for listening. And be sure to tune in next week for even more exciting co-selling content. Now, go get your partnership on.

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