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The biggest benefit to attending an accounting technology event is the convenience of having many vendors, thought-leaders and your peers in one location that also provides CPE credits. These events provide the perfect opportunity to problem-solve, learn and investigate technology during a condensed timeline. Whether you have a project planned or if one is on the horizon, being able to talk to your peers and multiple vendors at your next accounting technology event is a convenience and may shorten your investigation time.

Consider these tips to get the most out of your next accounting technology event.

  • Prepare your list of projects or technology interests.  Define your project and identify potential solutions and vendors. Aim to assemble a list of 3-5 vendors to compare for each type of technology you are investigating.
  • Research vendors before you go. Depending upon your experience, you may or may not know the players in the space. Talk to your peers and do research online using keywords. You can also use social media to ask for recommendations and to learn more about a technology provider.
  • Seek out technology user groups and join them. Join user groups now to learn about vendors before you get to the event. These groups provide invaluable insight into the technology issues users are working through. You might ask questions or simply observe user conversations.
  • Read organic product and company reviews. Look for reviews that occur organically (e.g. CrowdReviews.com, Google Business Reviews, etc.).  Organic reviews are created by your peers who are real users working in the trenches daily. Reviews written by a commissioned reviewer are typically assembled using information from vendors’ websites. Product demos are rarely if ever done, and the commissioned reviewer may not be an accountant. A quick search of LinkedIn should reveal the commissioned review writer’s expertise in the channel.
  • Prepare your list of questions for vendors. Get your deal-breaker questions ready – questions that need to be resolved before you invest any additional time with a vendor. A deal-breaker question might be related to the level of integration with one of the technologies your firm relies most heavily on (e.g. tax software, bookkeeping software, accounting software, etc.) or product issues (e.g. user groups, independent reviews, etc.). Make notes for each vendor and prepare your questions ahead of time.

At the vendor’s booth, you will be talking to a sales person, the software developer and/or implementation specialist. Take advantage of the time you have with them to ask about integration, the impact on your existing processes, training, hardware requirements, implementation, migration of data, customer care, product updates and upgrades, add-on modules, and more.

Vendors may avoid discussing where product improvement is possible or needed. This information should have already revealed itself in the user chat groups and on organic product review sites, but it is nice to hear a vendor’s position.

  • Prepare your process list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Consider the possibility a vendor does not understand your process and needs, especially if the vendor serves more than the accounting channel. It is not automatically a negative factor when a vendor serves more than one channel. It is common.

You may need assurances they understand your business processes. Prepare a list of must-haves, good-to-haves, and nice-to-haves; a features-and-functions list from every department that will use the product or service. This checklist will provide points of comparison when investigating multiple vendors.

  • Plan your booth visits. There will be hundreds of attendees walking the exhibit hall with you; prioritize your list of vendors and plan your route. Check to see if the conference app will allow you to make appointments so that you can skip the line and guarantee you get time with your top choices.

The vendor may have an assortment of employees and leadership team members at the event (sales, development, implementation or training specialists, CEO, VP, etc.). They will likely welcome meeting for morning coffee or at the event luncheon for a deeper-dive. Ask them to introduce you to a current client at the event; use coffee breaks, luncheons and social mixers to ask real users about their experience with the vendor. If the vendor is leading a session, attending the session might lend additional insight.

Looking for new technology partners to help you stay on the cutting edge? Practitioners Symposium and TECH+ Conference, one of the six conferences at AICPA ENGAGE, will be held June 12-15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Attend virtually or in person to learn from industry experts and meet with vendors.

Leslie Garrett, PhD, Marketing Executive, Accounting Edge Marketing. Dr. Garrett is a marketing executive and industry analyst with expertise in marketing, public relations, search engine optimization, lead generation and management. She is instrumental in leading Edge’s corporate consulting and Search Engine Optimization website analytics services.

This article appeared in AICPA Insights on May 9, 2017.