Pete Potsos of Bill.com Shares How to Turn Your Tech Stack Vendors into Trusted Partners
If you’re tasked with helping your clients pay their invoices, you’re probably very familiar with Bill.com, one of the leading cloud-based business payment platforms.
Bill.com’s Pete Potsos, Strategic Account Manager and Client Accounting Services Strategic Advisor, recently joined our podcast with Vic.ai’s host Joshua Feinberg to review the initial steps all accounting firms need to take when they begin automating their clients’ accounts payable.
One thing in particular that struck a chord with our listeners was how getting the right accounting technology in place is only half the battle. Some important keys to success to using automation include developing and training your staff to better use technology, making sure the tech vendors you use are willing to truly partner with you, and beyond that, jumping headfirst into the pool and paying some client bills.
If you’re new to using Bill.com or looking for tips from an insider in the know, check out this episode and learn what more you can accomplish by moving your accounting practice to the cloud, embracing automation, and becoming an early adopter of technology that transforms your accounting team into accounting technologists.
This episode has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Journey from Accountant to Technologist
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So I am here with Pete Potsos of Bill.com and we're talking about Bill.com best practices for CPA firms and outsourced bookkeeping firms, for outsourced and virtual CFO professionals, and basically how to get more value out of the platform. Thanks, Pete, so much for joining me today.
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PETE POTSOS: I'm glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Cool. So I usually like to start these interviews with understanding a little more about how you got where you are - your journey, and what your role in your firm, Bill.com looks like. Can you give our viewers and listeners a little bit of background on yourself and how you fit into Bill.com?
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PETE POTSOS: Sure, yeah. So my journey is I'm a recovering CPA; I used to practice in public accounting, and actually had a practice myself. I went to work at a company called Thomson Reuters and helped firms with technology back in 2001. Then I joined CPA.com and we were working with them to build out firms that were just getting into virtual CFO, controller, business process outsourcing - all the different buzzwords there and helping firms do that. Of the two products that we represented, one was Bill.com, and so we were familiar in the early days with helping accounting firms use Bill.com as the way into a small business; everyone has bills and that's where you want to start.
And then at some point, Bill.com came to me and invited me to join their team. I manage some of our key accounts - so I work with firms that have hundreds and hundreds of clients using Bill.com and doing outsourcing work for them. And then I also help out with things like this in terms of helping firms build out their advisory practices and hopefully using Bill.com to do that. So that's been my evolution or story to getting to Bill.com.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So you were like a Bill.com power user before you ever joined the company?
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PETE POTSOS: Yeah, actually. It's funny, I could demonstrate Bill.com on day one and my biggest challenge was getting used to Gmail, because we use Gmail and I was an Outlook guy. So I've since learned how to get through all that stuff.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: It's funny how even right now that's still very much true; people get really set on using the Microsoft suite or using the Google suite, or even just on their laptop whether using Mac or Windows, or iOS or Android. You still have this like Coke and Pepsi thing.
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PETE POTSOS: Yeah, it’s the biggest challenge. What I love about G Suite is that it is cloud-based and you can take advantage of all the integrations that work with other products that we use, or tools that we use just like Bill.com and QuickBooks Online and different things work together.
You see that. And so I really like that. However, my biggest challenge is that everyone uses Bill.com for the subject line so when you nest conversations they all come in together. I'm sure you have that same problem. Everyone types in Vic.ai as the subject line, so that was really the biggest challenge.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: But with both brands’ names being nice and short, on a mobile device where you have scrolling happening about 35-40 characters in, you still have a shot of being able to see a little bit of what's going on in the message after that.
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PETE POTSOS: Yeah, for sure.
Drink Your Own Champagne
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Cool. So the first place I'd like to start is to get your advice on what you would tell somebody who is just getting started with Bill.com.
What's your favorite tip for a Bill.com beginner?
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PETE POTSOS: So first of all, I encourage firms to get to know Bill.com and use it themselves in their business. You've got your own bills to pay, and you're going to get paid from your clients. So it's important to drink your own champagne, so to speak, and so the first tip - start using it, as you're going to be suggesting this as a solution in your technology stack. And if you're not familiar with the ins and outs of it, then it's hard for you to recommend that they follow suit and do the same, so that's like, tip number one.
And then it's important that you have enough confidence when you're first starting out that ‘this is my technology stack. I use Bill.com. I use Vic.ai. I use QuickBooks Online.’ Whatever your tool is, stick to that. It's hard early on when you're in stage one of building an accounting practice, which is usually taking any client with a heartbeat. That's usually the first stage; you're desperate. You're trying to pay the bills. But it's important to think about where you're going to be in five years from now, or I'll use a 10x, with the concept being, ‘What would you do if you were 10 times bigger than where you're at today?’ So be very strategic about what tools you're going to use. Then make sure your clients use those and only accept clients that follow your processes.
The analogy I use is if you're a pizza restaurant you're going to get one type of pizza oven, you're not going to have three different types of pizza ovens, because you're not gonna have enough room in your restaurant for three different types. It's either going to be a brick oven or it's going to be one of those ones that you see at Domino's or whatever. So you’ve got to pick your tools and stick to those. Get your clients in line with the processes that you're going to use in your practice.
So that's usually the conversation we usually have with new firms, and over the years it’s getting them to follow your process.
A Single Technology Platform Can Help Your Practice Scale, But More Than One Might Make You Sink
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So first and foremost, use it yourself internally so you're really comfortable with that. And second, once you standardize your process, standardize your tech stack. Do not deviate from it; otherwise, it will slow down the whole growth efficiency profitability of the firm down the road.
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PETE POTSOS: Correct. Because once you get acclimated to everything, and you have your things in place, then it's about scaling your business. And how do you really grow it? Unless you're comfortable with 16 clients and that's all you want to have and you're happy – then ‘fine,’ right? But if you're really trying to scale the business, you've got a hold to it or else you'll deviate and it'll slow you down.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Now that sounds really helpful to be thinking ahead with that kind of timeframe. At the other extreme, I know you go to a lot of conferences and I’m sure you get a lot of people who, when they find out you worked for Bill.com and they've been using the platform for years - I guess there's probably people that pick your brain from time to time. They want to play ‘stump Pete’ and ask you a really difficult power user question. What's your favorite tip that you would give to somebody that's been using Bill.com three, four, or five years?
Find Your Technology Experts and Back Them Up
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PETE POTSOS: So again, it's about scaling – it's about trying to add your clients quickly and scaling up, and this is more of a process type question. And the solution is having someone dedicated to doing the setup and configuration and working with those individuals to know the ins and outs of the setup and understanding the workflow. And so when someone comes in and has a particular nuance to their product that they're using on the accounting side, they're able to get that part set up, because it's a one time event really, and it's very specialized.
And so oftentimes you have multiple people trying to do the selling of the client, the presenting for the client, and then doing the setup and the actual work itself. And sometimes you're wearing many hats.
But if you're really looking to scale up, you need to have someone dedicated to just learning the system and the uniqueness of all it takes to set it up. And then once you have that expert, you need to find that person's backup. You’ll want to get them to that level as well, because if that main person wants to go on vacation, or they decide that they're going to move on and do something else, or you promote them, or something happens, – that person could get stuck in that role and never leave. Or if they do leave, then you're stuck. So I've seen this with the very largest firms that rely on one person. That person decides, ‘Hey look. I don't want to do this anymore.’ And then they're stuck scrambling. And that sets them back.
That's not just a Bill.com kind of question; that can be with every other application - you’ve got to have an expert on that particular tool and then a backup so that they can have some relief as well. So now there's product-specific but the product is very simple to get going. The challenges that I've seen over the years - and now I'm going on almost 10 years with Bill.com - and you see the firms that grow and then someone that was pretty important leaves, and then you see them fall back, and then they bring in someone else and they quickly overwhelm that person. So it's this ebb and flow that could be avoided if they strategically plan out and hire and have these people in place and then a little separation of duties.
So I spent a lot of time working with firms that are kind of beyond the basics and then they start really trying to scale up. So those are the types of things that I talk about and work through at firms and conferences and so forth like that.
And If You Don’t Have Accounting Technology Experts on Your Team, Train Them
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: It's a combination of the workflow and a personnel issue of making sure that you have at least one person who is cross-trained now. Bill.com has a certification training certification program to help with that, right?
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PETE POTSOS: Yes, we do and that's kind of a segue into a follow-up question I was expecting you to ask. So I'll let you ask the question first, and then I'll answer it. But yes, there are lots of training resources that we have available. Certifications. One on one in particular areas. We have on demand, and we have live training that we can do as well for groups of people, or maybe with the firm and a client, so we have that type of support for firms.
Don’t Let Accounting Technology Intimidate You
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So regardless of whether someone's new to Bill.com or they've been using it for years, what across the board is the biggest mistake that you see people make when you're onboarding a new firm, talking to them about best practices?
What are like the top 1-3 things that just always tend to come up?
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PETE POTSOS: So the first thing is over complicating things. What do we do - we help businesses pay their bills. We’re the back office for firms that allows them to pay their bills and the data entry that's on a manual check is no different than the data that you're entering in the system. The data that you're entering into QuickBooks Online, if that's what you're using, is the same as what you're entering in Bill.com, so people tend to overthink it. And they hesitate and don't move forward with getting things implemented and they're worried about a lot of things.
And so that's like the biggest mistake I see, and understandably so. I think that with accounting firms, the analogy I use is that their clients are like their children. And for all of these different apps they want to do a full background check and investigation on that partner before they introduce it to their children. So, you know, we're going to be babysitting their kids and so security concerns and things like that I completely understand. Do your due diligence – and we certainly have been – we've been vetted by some of the biggest firms and we have an endorsement by the AICPA through CPA.com. That's safe but a lot of times it's like they’re overthinking everything. Just get in and enter a bill and pay it. And that's what we do.
Treat Your Technology Vendor as a True Outsourced Accounting Partner
And then the second thing is, it looks very intuitive. Some people just want to jump right in and start using it. However, the second mistake is just going it alone. I'm going to offer you some support to sync it up and make sure that you're good to go, and I'm going to help train you on how to do these things on your own.
So let me help you; let me guide you on that and take advantage of this and then do the same for you when you're training your backup person as I mentioned before, and don't go it alone.
One of the other things that leads to a successful partnership is engagement and
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PETE POTSOS: working with your account representative or whoever's working with you. When they call you, I mean yeah we're trying to sell you and do things, but also - your success is my success. I always say that I'm an off balance sheet partner for you. It's like every time you add a client, it's a win for you and it's a win for me. So I'm very interested in making sure that you're successful as well. So I can help - just let me.
Use Accounting Technology to Go From “Accountant” to “Digital Transformation Specialist”
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: It sounds like it's a combination of keeping it simple, not overthinking it too much, and just getting in and starting. Then it’s making sure that you're truly open to change and open to help and letting Bill.com’s internal resources be that help.
Yeah, so the final question that I want to make sure that we cover today is how you see the overall business opportunity for the accounting firms whom you work with. What should they be focusing on now? Where do you think the industry is headed in the next three to five years?
If you’re like most accounting firms, you don't have a product manager. That's something typically that SaaS companies and tech companies usually have, but if you were the person responsible for figuring out what the mix of services should look like in a midsize or large CPA firm, and they bring you in to help them brainstorm - what kinds of things are you talking about?
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PETE POTSOS: Yeah, so I've been working with firms going back to 2001 in the technology space, and I spent a lot of time helping firms kind of get into the cloud or get paperless. That was the first thing - get paperless - and then eventually get into the cloud. And we've seen all the benefits from that. Being able to have firms that work remotely and not have everyone in one office, and the overhead associated with that, we've done a really good job of understanding and using technology for our own benefit.
But now there's an opportunity to become, as the title says, ’a digital transformation specialist’ for your firm. That's much more exciting than being an accountant. And if you look at the top 10 jobs that are going away – it’s like accountants somehow are on the list twice. And one of the most exciting jobs being sought after is digital transformation specialist. So my advice is just drop the other title, become a digital transformation tech specialist, and do that now. Take all the things that you've been doing for yourself and your firm and your business, and now do that for your client.
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PETE POTSOS: And it's not just about the financial statements. It's really about transforming their business, getting information to them faster, and being able to do that anytime, anywhere. So I don't want to date this interview, but we're at a time right now where we thought that digitally transforming their business was years away, and then COVID-19 shows up and it's like the wrecking ball that that comes in and it's like, ‘Oh, I guess we need to do it now.’
And so many firms - I've heard from their clients – are so thankful for getting them away from the addiction to paper. A term that I use - paper is like a boat anchor to any business. Paper is the place where you have to go to get information. And if you eliminate the paper and you get it digitized, then you're not physically attached to anything. And so there's a real opportunity to digitally transform businesses and eliminate paper.
I think it's still out there. It's still a challenge and it's a way to help them make decisions faster. It's not just about the financial statements anymore. It's about information and decision making and enabling your clients to do things faster and more efficiently.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: That sounds like a really high level. If you had to sum it up in one word, it's transformation. Future, speed, efficiency, cost structure, not being location dependent, agility, flexibility.
And so the question is the tools and the tech stack and adopting all of that to make it a reality. So it's not just copywriting on the website or in the brochure and it's truly something that can deliver on.
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PETE POTSOS: Right. Got it.
Rely on Those Who’ve Gone Before You
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Cool. This has been super helpful. Is there anything else about Bill.com that you think would be really useful for viewers, listeners, and readers to know?
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PETE POTSOS: These are exciting times. We have lots of resources available. We’re very focused on accountants and we’ve got a wonderful resource center for accountants. That's part of, joining the program so you can feel like you're not going it alone. You're not the first one to go through this. You have many, many people that have blazed the path in front of you.
So come in, talk to one of our specialists, and we’ll be glad to help you begin to transform your business – and then, your client’s business! So, lots of exciting things are going on.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Where's the best place you'd recommend someone to go if they want to learn more about signing up for Bill.com as an accounting firm? Where’s the best place for someone to connect with you?
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PETE POTSOS: We have a website dedicated to accountants. If you go to Bill.com, it's really easy. There's an accountant section. We have an Accountant’s Resource Center which is accountants.bill.com, and you can go and learn there. And then as far as getting a hold of me, I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter. I’m on social media all the time. So, the easiest way – @PetePotsosCPA is my handle on Twitter. Or go to Bill.com and you'll be in the right place.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: This has been amazing. It’s been super helpful getting your insight on the biggest things a beginner should be thinking about, what power users should be thinking about, and how to avoid inevitable mistakes with overcomplicating and messing up the staffing. Then there is your overall view of where the whole industry is headed and being super focused on transformations. Thanks so much, Pete. I really appreciate you taking the time.
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PETE POTSOS: You're welcome.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: This has been a discussion with Pete Potsos of Bill.com. Thanks again.