Highlights of my conversation with Saul Colt

  • Ruffling feathers by being interesting, original and fun: the story behind the cloud writing about a cloud company and the levitating man
  • Word of Mouth marketing insights
  • Marketing advice for accountants and bookkeepers wanting to attract the right type of client
  • How exhibitors can maximise their investment at the Denver Xerocon conference and beyond
  • Denver Xerocon 2015
  • Social media tools for professionals.

Subscribe to Episode14 of Cloud Stories on iTunes:


Heather:        Hello, this is Heather Smith here and you’re listening to Episode 14 of Cloud Stories. I’m very excited today because I interviewed Saul Colt who is the Chief Evangelist for Xero, so we have that interview coming up. I just wanted to quickly touch base with you about some of the things I’ve been doing since the last episode. I think I went down with a sore throat again which stops me recording the podcasts. I have just got back from Auckland Xerocon and it was in a stunning location on the wharf of Auckland.

Kind of interestingly, over Christmas I was on one of those massive cruise ships, The Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Sea, and we actually cruised right into Auckland and docked there which is kind of amazing to be able to dock right beside a main city. The conference was held at something called a Viaduct which was just to the left of the wharf, which was actually on the wharf just a bit left from where we were.

I actually stayed at an airbnb accommodation, so that was wonderful, sort of a lady letting out her studio apartment for a few days, and was able to walk to the viaduct for the event. It was massive, so much going on, the weather was wonderful and crisp and clear and beautiful skies, and there were so many things going on for the time I was there.

It was really interesting for me to see Xero in the Xero community as an Australian girl, the sort of New Zealand take on it, and not knowing New Zealand perhaps as well as people do, I did get confused by a few of the little things that happened. I think the Kiwibank had a dance video constantly playing, and on the first day of the conference was International Dance Day. I went up and asked them why they had the dance video playing and they couldn’t explain to me why they had the dance video playing. I said, “Well, maybe it’s for International Dance Day, and them and we agreed that it was for International Dance Day.

But it turned out that Kiwibank have something known as the Independence Dance which is a YouTube video sensation that is going viral. New Zealanders will know about that and maybe you want to go and check that out on YouTube. Anyway, if you’re interested in sort of my synopsis of what happened at Auckland Xerocon, you can go and read about it on Digital First. It’s called “An Aussie Girl’s Perspective of Auckland Xerocon 2015”. You can just Google that.

The other thing that has happened is I’m not guest blogging on the TradeGecko blog. TradeGecko are an inventory cloud software solution. I wrote an article for them on “Xero Inventory Management Versus TradeGecko Inventory Software”, which is very topical now that Xero has tracked inventory as a feature within their solution.

I talk about what does this mean for the inventory add-on solutions out there? Does it mean they’ve got tumbleweeds blowing through their office? Actually, my take on it, was this is actually a good thing, this is actually going to take people … step people up to the next level and they will use Xero tracked inventory but then they’ll sort of grow their business to actually need these inventory add-on solutions, and there’s a lot that they have to offer.

So please go and visit my blog there. It’s titled “Xero Inventory Management Versus TradeGecko Inventory Software”, and I shall be blogging with them on a monthly basis which I’m quite excited about. Of course, if any other person in the Xero ecosystem is interested in me blogging for them, please get in contact.

Finally, my other thing that I wanted to share with you is I’ve just uploaded two hours of free training on Australian Xero Payroll for Australia users. The level is basic. It’s all about setting up your payroll, and then I run through three pay runs. So please go to my YouTube channel which is called ANISE Consulting and you’ll see it labelled there, “Free Training in Xero Payroll”, which is subscribe to the channel and you can learn about Australian payroll if that’s something that you’ve not sort of dived into.

But anyway, let’s get back to my interview, my guest today, I’m very, very excited, today I’m speaking with Saul Colt. He is the chief evangelist for Xero, the co-host for the Xero Hour podcast, North America’s best word-of-mouth marketeer, and the smartest man in the world. I started by asking him …

My first question for you is if you could bottle something from your childhood, what would it be?

Saul:               That is a fascinating question. Before I answer it, I just wanted to actually give you a little tiny piece of trivia that’s Xero relevant. I don’t know if you know this but my very first day working for Xero was at Xerocon in Australia and you were the very first person that said hello to me and the very first person I sort of met in the Xero world outside of co-workers. So no matter how this interview goes, even if you make me cry, you’re still going to be one of my favourite people in the Xero world.

Heather:        Well that’s sensational. Thank you for sharing that.

Saul:               To answer your question, is there anything I would bottle from my childhood? I don’t know if I could fit it into a bottle but I had a really interesting childhood. I grew up in a family business so besides school and friends, my life revolved around our family activities in our company and like watching TV. I guess if I could put the 1966 Adam West Batman TV show in a bottle, I would probably do that or maybe The Munsters or I Dream of Jeannie. I would watch stuff that was 20 years before I was born but I think that’s just the stuff that I was drawn to.

Heather:        Yes, I love all of those shows. I’ve always found the new wave of Batman confusing after growing up on Adam West Batman, which is just a sensational show.

Where abouts did you grow up?

Saul:               I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. I’ve lived here my whole life but I’ve always had jobs that have taken me either into the United States for large parts of the year, and now with Xero I’ve been very fortunate enough to go to Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Heather:        Fantastic.

You mentioned Sydney Xerocon right up front. What was your takeaway from Sydney Xerocon?

Saul:               I was blown away. I don’t know if takeaway or blown away are the same things but I had been to the offices in San Francisco, gone through the interview process, met everybody who I’d be working with directly and I got this amazing opportunity to sort of have my first day in Australia, and just the size and scope of the event because I had been going to conferences for a decade. They just weren’t on the same scale as Xerocon.

To think that this was a user conference and the excitement of everybody and see it … like we chatted very briefly at the awards dinner. I was wearing a cowboy shirt because nobody told me it was a dress up party but to see like 600-800 people in suits and ties and really, really happy to be there, that really set the tone for me on what an amazing company this is. I think my perception of everything was formed in the best possible way by going. I don’t know if I would’ve had the same sort of permission to dream on the same sort of scale if I hadn’t seen what Xerocon Australia really was.

Heather:        No, it is an amazing blow away event. I interviewed a few people who went from overseas and they said that it really, really inspired them, and able to take back that energy and passion from what they experienced coming to Sydney Xerocon, which is good because it’s spreading the word.

I know that I … because I knew that you had joined the company and I play this … I, for better or worse, attend a lot of conferences so I always play conference bingo. You were the last person on my conference bingo card. I spent all day searching for you, and in the end I had to go up to … because I wanted to just kind of find you but in the end I had to go up to Chris Ridd who is the managing director of Australia Xero …

Saul:               I know Chris.

Heather:        And he said, “He’s the guy in the cowboy shirt Heather.”

Saul:               He’s the guy inappropriately dressed for a beautiful party. Well I appreciated it more than you know. We had traded a couple of tweets at that time. It was just really nice to like actually have someone just sort of be super genuine and come and say hi, so I appreciated it.

Heather:        Cool.

You joined Xero as their Chief Evangelist in August 2014, how did Xero find you?

Saul:               I reached out to Peter Karpas who was the North America CEO at the time. It was a listed position so it wasn’t like they made the role just for me but I saw it and I was super attracted to the company. My background, I’ve worked for a very similar company to Xero and I had success at another accounting brand.

When I saw the role and sort of had Xero on my radar, you know, being in the space for a little while. I wish I could say there was a better story. I reached out. I went through the interview process like probably a hundred other people because this was a great opportunity and I just sort of got a little luckier than someone else.

Heather:        Excellent. Yes, I wasn’t sure that it was even an advertised role because the actual title “Chief Evangelist” is I guess from us coming in Australia, I’d never heard the role before. That’s very interesting.

Saul:               It’s not that I’m prevalent in sort of the San Francisco environment. A lot of tech companies have Chief Evangelists, at least in the tech community. If you want, for the sake of the show, I’ll make up a story and say that I dared somebody or I tricked people but the truth is really I just got a little luckier than someone else. But for the sake of this story, we’ll just say, “I raced Rod in a quarter mile drag race in cars, and I won so I got the job.”

Heather:        Okay, we’ll do that. That’s sensational.

What does your role entail?

Saul:               I do a lot of different things. I’m one of the faces of the company in the United States. I go to a lot of conferences. I speak to a lot of people. I have a very big network where I can tap my network of influencers, just sort of spread messages, and of course I’m really trying to build in our S&B community and our customers, build a lot of like amazing ambassadors and people who really love Xero.

You probably see it in Australia that people just love Xero and it’s just such a … I hate to use the word religion because religion sort of has a weird connotation but people really love the fact that they’re connected to this brand. My personal goal is to make that happen in the US. I have a lot of different tactics and a lot of different strategies that I use but the ultimate goal of what I’m trying to do is build the same love and fervour in the US that already exists in Australia.

Heather:        It’s difficult because does it organically grow or does it kind of get nurtured along that kind of love for a product, for a brand. But it certainly does feel like people have the kind of love for Xero as they do for maybe the Apple brand that it out there.

Saul:               So to answer your question, it does need to be nurtured to a point, and wherever that point is it’s hard to sort of point your finger at and say, “If you just get to here …” But it does require some nurturing. You almost have to tell people it’s okay to talk about the company and hear like some cool things that are going on and create some interesting experiences for them and create stories for them to actually share. But once you do hit sort of a point, if I want to use the word tipping point to quote Malcolm Gladwell, it does get a whole lot easier.

Like right now in Australia, you guys … whoever nurtured it did such an amazing job because it’s so inspiring. When I look at it, I have such a clear idea of what’s possible. I know it’s possible and now it’s just get to that point.

Heather:        Absolutely.

Saul:               I agree with you. Apple is really the gold standard, any time that you can get people to put the sticker of your company logo on the back of their car or get a tattoo, that’s crazy but also amazing.

Heather:        So shall we put a tattoo … a Xero tattoo challenge out there for people. I know people who would do that, so that’s probably too scary, so draw back on the tattoo challenge.

Saul:               I’m going to see if the next time I negotiate my budget, if I can actually have a budget tattoo, and I’ll pay for a certain number of tattoos if people are willing to get it. This is not a call out to do that yet because I don’t know if I can actually pay for it yet but when I can, I will scream from the rooftops, “Anyone who wants to get a Xero tattoo, you should talk to me.”

Heather:        Absolutely.

So what gets you excited about work Saul?

Saul:               I’ve been working in the small business space for the better part of two decades. I’ve worked with different companies, different brands, different products but it’s always been around helping small businesses achieve their dreams and their passions. That really motivates me to no end. I love when someone can do what they love to do. I consider myself the world’s greatest ‘intrepreneur’ as opposed to entrepreneur. I love working inside of companies and I love … sometimes I’m a bit of a mud wrecker and it rubs people the wrong way and stuff but I really love to affect change and do amazing things inside of companies.

I don’t have the ability to do everything it takes to run my own business, although I have successfully built two companies and sold two companies but I love just doing the creative stuff and not necessarily the administrative stuff. So sort of pick your strengths or stick to your strengths, I love doing what I love to do inside of things but one of the things I love doing more than anything is really helping the people that love to do it all, be able to do it all, whether that’s mentoring, advising, offering … introducing them to a product like Xero where they can run their whole company through our platform and our add-on partners and things.

I get so much joy watching people do what makes them happy. Some people get bitter and resentful and say, “Why does that guy have a fancier car than me,” or stuff like that. That never comes to me. It’s almost like a power source for me when I see people doing what they love and happy and stuff like that. I’ve been there so I know it’s not happy every day of the week and stuff, so if I can make, I don’t know, one fifth of the time better than usual, I’m just thrilled by that.

Heather:        Absolutely, I completely agree with that and I think that if you can help small business, you just helped society as a total because people go home happy from work and they are then happy in society. I think it really starts at that small business level.

You used a term in there that I hadn’t heard before so I’m just going to ask you. You said mud wrecker? What’s a mud wrecker?

Saul:               I probably just made it up. It’s actually a journalism term but I kind of mean like I sometimes ruffle feathers and stuff like that. Yes, there’s probably going to be six more words in here that I’m going to make up on the fly, so just keep stopping and asking me and stuff like that.

Heather:        You can have your own dictionary, the Saul Dictionary.

What do you look forward to doing most then?

Saul:               I love doing things that no one’s ever seen before. We’ve done a couple really interesting things like we did sky writing because the idea behind sky writing and having a Xero message in the sky was no cloud based company to that time had ever used clouds to advertise their company. A couple people have followed suit since, and sort of being the guy that ruffles a little feathers, I tweeted our pictures with a timestamp and their pictures with a timestamp and said, “Hey, we did this a year ago but good on you guys.” But I love doing things that nobody has ever seen before.

Like when you said, “What gets me excited?” It’s really helping small businesses and doing things that are completely interesting and original and fun and exciting and get people talking about things. The basis of everything that I do is word-of-mouth marketing and that’s really creating experiences for people that they want to share. I get really excited when some of those messages actually take off because it doesn’t happen every time but when something does click, it clicks really well.

Heather:        Absolutely.

So since you’ve been at Xero, you’ve pulled off the sky writing stunt. We were here obviously in Australia when that happened, did that have a huge …

Saul:               Did you guys see it in Australia too?

Heather:        I saw it on social media.

Saul:               Okay.

Heather:        Obviously I didn’t see it in the sky.

Saul:               It was really long. It was like seven miles long because the message was so big. I thought maybe you guys saw it but okay, on social is good.

Did it have a massive impact on social media? Did you see that having a massive impact on social media and people asking questions, etc., about it? I saw it because I was interested in it but is that what you saw, the result with it?

Saul:               The cloud story, the sky writing story, is actually a really funny kind of story. This is consistent with kind of everything I do. You hope for the best and sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, and a lot of times just little happy accidents happen. The whole story behind the sky writing was that we did the sky writing on top of AT&T Park which is where the San Francisco professional baseball team plays. I thought we’d do something really awesome there. It was on top of TechCrunch Disrupt which is a major tech conference, as well as a baseball game. When you wish for the moon and the stars, I thought that the conference would stop and people would look up, and the baseball game would stop and everyone would look up, and we’d have this captive audience and it’d get on TV and all sorts of things. The most interesting thing that happened was nobody at the baseball game cared and about a third of the people at the conference cared. But like I mentioned, the message was seven miles long and they put it up 10 times.

Heather:        Oh my goodness.

Saul:               So while my dream of having the baseball game stop didn’t come true, it was literally … and I couldn’t imagine or plan this, it was literally seen in every corner of the city and we saw like Twitter kind of erupted for about four or five minutes, which may sound like nothing, but if you know how noisy Twitter is, to own Twitter for four or five minutes is pretty crazy, and Instagram, there was about 200 or so images on Instagram. A bunch of them were of me because I was so happy that this was actually coming to the thing but people we’d never met before were talking about it.

There’s a great story … in the San Francisco office, we still have a fair number of people from the New Zealand office and the Australian office that visit all the time, and people got text messages for people vacationing from New Zealand who happened to see it in the sky, and they were texting all sorts of people back home saying, “This is really like fun and you will never believe how big Xero is here in San Francisco.”

So while my dream of having everyone at the stadium stop and take a picture didn’t come true, I got a better reaction than I ever imagined from everyone else in the city. People from Oakland, which people listening to me … and I realise it’s over a bridge, it was one of the rare super clear days in San Francisco and literally like a happy accident that you couldn’t have planned. When you do things like that, you kind of hope for happy accidents, and half the time they happen and half the time they don’t. We’re just really kind of lucky that we got a happy accident that day.

Heather:        Yes, I can imagine. So many things could go wrong but it did look perfect.

You also had a levitating man outside a competitor’s conference, just obviously to stress some people out, do you have …

Saul:               You would think it was to stress people out but the real idea was I wanted to do a polite disruption. Yes it was a competitor and yes you could go in full boar and kind of be kind of jerky about things and really cause a scene but I wanted to do something really neat.

So when I talk about happy accidents, I apologise for cutting you off, I just get real excited about this because I really love this idea. But the whole idea, and one of the things you’ll learn from just chatting with me a little bit, besides the fact that I get really excited by doing fun stuff, is there’s actually a lot of strategy behind it. It sometimes just looks really flippant and silly and stuff but there’s reasons for kind of doing everything.

We were there to support our add-on partners, so a lot of add-on partners that used Xero also used our competitor of the event we were at, so we were actually giving out cards telling people once they were inside, go visit our add-on partners, show them some love because as a platform for Xero, we love our add-on partners. We would never tell people to be exclusive to us. I don’t imagine we’d ever tell people to be exclusive to us because just like I love helping small businesses, we are there to help our add-on partners grow and have thriving companies based on our platform.

So we were there with a specific purpose, and it wasn’t to be bad people, it was actually to say, “While you’re inside, go show some love to people we really care about.”

Heather:        Sensational.

Saul:               And we just happened to have something really interesting and photography worthy and stuff like that to sort of get people to stop so we could have that conversation.

So are you going to share with us the secret of the levitating man?

Saul:               Yes, he studied with some of the finest Buda’s and monks and things, and they taught him how to shift the air under his body to levitate, at least that’s how I assume it was done.

Heather:        Sensational.

Do you have something spectacular lined up for Denver Xerocon?

Saul:               You know, Denver Xerocon is going to be spectacular without any additional things from me. I’ve had some little parts of making suggestions and things like that but you know what, it really doesn’t need a spectacle because it is a spectacle. It’s going to be such a great event. It’s not going to be in the same size as the Melbourne one, the Australian one.

Heather:        Sydney, yes.

Saul:               But it’s going to have a lot of the same heart … as Sydney, sorry. It’s going to have a lot of the same heart and it’s going to have a lot of the same excitement. I am super excited. It’s about a month away. I don’t know when this podcast will be posted but if people are listening to this, in the area, that they can attend, it’s really going to be a great event, and people who are in Australia, New Zealand, UK, wherever else they’re listening to this, they should really follow it online and look at the videos and look at the pictures and stuff like that because there are so many people doing such amazing work to make this happen. I almost wish it was tomorrow because it’s going to be so much fun.

Heather:        Sensational. I know a few of my Australian friends are actually coming out for it, so I’ll tell them to come and say hi to you.

Saul:               Please do.

You describe yourself as North America’s best word-of-mouth marketeer, what does that mean?

Saul:               When people talk about themselves and what they’re good at, a lot of people say they can do everything and they’re generalists and stuff like that. I never wanted to be a generalist. I wanted to be the best at the world at one narrow skillset. So anytime anyone needed that skillset, I was the only person you’d think of where when you think of, “Oh, I need someone for SEO,” or something like that, there’s a thousand people you could go to.

I’ve been laser focused in saying, “This is what I do better than anyone else. If you have a need for that, I will make great things happen for you but if you don’t have a need for this, I’m probably not the right person.” I want to just be very clear with people right from day one, “I’m a really unique guy who can do really amazing things but you kind of have to want me to do amazing things because if you put me in a box that I don’t fit it, probably neither of us is going to be really happy,” and stuff like that. That’s worked for me and against me throughout my career.

Heather:        Yes, I can imagine … it’s difficult sometimes to work in a huge corporate environment when you’re kind of larger than life itself.

Saul:               But I don’t think I’m larger than life. I cry myself to sleep just like everyone else.

Heather:        But you have like this massive … I call it papier-mâché model of yourself?

Saul:               Yes, I have a mascot, a professionally made mascot head of my face because before I joined Xero … like I said, I love doing things that no one’s ever seen before, so when a really unique opportunity comes up to do some interesting work, and I can’t believe I’m saying this on a podcast, this will live for infamy and I’ll get haunted by it for the rest of my life, but if something is so interesting, I’m not so worried about being compensated.

So someone came to me with like a really interesting project and they were like, “Hey, I could make something for you in exchange for paying you,” and they made me this head and I love this thing to death. It’s so great. So while I didn’t get compensated financially, I have something that, to me, a million times better than a little cheque or something like that.

I’ve been in Times Square, in New York City, wearing my mascot head, standing next to the guy in the dirty Elmo suit, trying to get people to take pictures of me, and it was the most humbling experience ever because at least the guy in the dirty Elmo suit, people knew that was Elmo. Me they just assumed I was like this lecherous strange creature that they didn’t know, and nobody would even talk to me. It was very humbling.

Heather:        Oh no, ouch. It sounds like a massive thing to transport around with you, around the country.

Saul:               It’s not easy but it’s worth it.

With your expertise as a word-of-mouth marketeer, what advice do you have for the accountants and bookkeepers wanting to attract the right type of client?

Saul:               There are a lot of things you can do. Everything I say is going to be very general because there is no cookie cutter formula for anything you do. If you want to do really amazing word-of-mouth, sort of the real general things I could say is, really understand who your clients are that you want to attract.

It’s easier … just like I said with never wanting to be a generalist, an interesting thing to try for accountants would be, have a specialty with your practise. Don’t be just a general … be an accountant and bookkeeper for the music industry or for artists or for creative people or for retail because then you can actually target all of your things, all of your messaging, all your everything to those specific people, and if you know exactly who you are trying to attract, one of the hard fast rules about word-of-mouth is to create memorable experiences.

The way I tell people to create memorable experiences is know where the line is. You know when people say, “You crossed the line. That’s not in good taste,” or whatever, if you know where the line is, you take one baby step over the line so that one baby step over the line isn’t going to offend anybody but that is where the memory is going to be made, where you’re going to create something that someone’s going to be like, “Wow, that’s just a little different. I didn’t expect that.”

But the problem is, you have to really know where that line is because if you don’t know where the line is, you may take 10 steps over the line and people really get offended or hurt feelings or something.

I’ve got a bunch of weird little skillsets but one skillset I have, is really understanding people. You could put me into bunch of different groups and I’ll know where that line is within a reasonably short amount of time. I’m always trying to push the line as far as possible but it’s really like when you cross the line is where the memories are made. But like I said, you don’t want to cross the line too much because then you’ll just end up with no clients. Does that make any sense?

Can you give me an example of an accountant taking a baby step across a line?

Saul:               There’s a firm in Denver called AccountingProse. AccountingProse is Christine Garza.

Heather:        Yes

Saul:               It’s her Twitter handle. I think she does one of the best jobs ever. She’s so unique and so amazing, and she really … I would even give her so much credit and say like she’s being authentic to herself. She’s got tattoos. She’s got piercing. This is her. She’s saying, “I’m really good at what I do so I’m not going to let you down on this professional side of things but this is me and this is how I am.” When I say taking a baby step over the line, she dresses up a super hero when she goes to conferences or goes to community events. She wears a cape and she wears tights. She wears latex or spandex, whatever the material is, but dresses as a super hero.

That would scare a lot of people if you were to say, “Hey, my accountant is wearing a cape. I don’t know how to handle that.” Yet she’s just being really authentic and saying, “This is what you’re going to get. Oh, by the way, I’m also really, really good at what I do.” So she’s creating a memorable experience and she does it in a super way. I just think the world of her. I think she’s amazing.

Heather:        That’s a really good example, yes. I actually think she probably attracts a whole group of people who are actually attracted to that, who actually are going to feel a lot more comfortable with her being like that than being in a grey suit. I’m not one of these people who attacks the traditional accountant but yes.

Saul:               But being in a grey suit is okay too.

Heather:        Absolutely.

Saul:               The thing that’s great about her is she’s being authentic. So if your comfort level isn’t to do anything ridiculous, it just means your line is going to be in a different place than another person. Maybe your line is something as simple as using conversational copy in a piece of marketing collateral, like using words like ‘hey’, ‘wanna’, ‘gonna’, like whatever. It’s just speaking somebody as a human instead of using hard and firm professional copy and just beating people over the head with, “We are this accomplishment or that accomplishment.” It could just be really speak to somebody as a human if that’s the base of where your comfort level.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being conservative and being suit and tie and any of that stuff. It’s really knowing where your comfort level is and where the comfort level of the people you want to attract are because if you’re going outside of your comfort level, you’re going to be uncomfortable and not happy. If you’re running your own business, the whole point of it is to find joy and just feel good about things.

Heather:        Absolutely, that’s really good. I’ll get in a lot of trouble if I don’t mention this. There’s a team of management accountants/bookkeepers called GoFi8ure based in New Zealand and they dress up as super heroes as well. They have a telephone box in their reception area so they can change into their super hero costumes. You’ll have to go and visit them next time you’re in New Zealand and get a video of yourself changing in their room. It is interesting what you say about specialising. In Sydney we have a guy called Nick … in Sydney or Melbourne, we have a guy called Nick Hazel who runs a business called Café Bookkeepers. You can work out pretty quickly what he specialises in. He says that the accountants just know, café clients, we’re just sending it to you. It’s just easier to send it to you because we know that you know that world.

Saul:               But that’s really interesting because accountants are referring people to him because they know that he’s a specialist but also people who are also going to feel a lot more comfortable going to him whether they’re referred or find him directly, because they’re going to say, “He’s one of us,” or, “They really understand our business.”

He will not only receive referrals from accountants, he’ll also receive referrals from other people in the industry because he could really … and I’m just making generalised things but there’s a chance he could lock up a whole industry because he’s like “the guy” who knows them better than anything.

Even when you’re going and looking for clients, if you pick one or two verticals to specialize in, you know where they are because you can go to their trade publications, you can go to their industry events and you’re not spreading yourself so thin where you’re going to 20 different things on 20 different days and speaking to 20 different types of people. You could actually like create a target list with a computer and say, “I’d love all these people to be my clients.”

Heather:        You could put it in Xero and filter it out through constant contact. I think that’s the ad into Xero with the email lists there. Yes, it does seem to simplify your business, and both you and your client win from the efficiencies and the expertise that you’ve gained from the experience. But people have different feelings on that out there. I think it seems to be a good idea.

My next question is, again, with your expertise as a word-of-mouth marketeer, what advice do you have for the software solutions that are within the Xero marketplace, the add-on solutions, however you want to call them, to actually get in front of small businesses, to get in front of the Xero advisers, and to shine at conferences such as the Denver Conference because those guys are going to be … anyone who’s at the Denver Conference who has put up a stand has made a significant investment. How can they maximise that? How can they really get in front of people?

Saul:               This is going to sound so over simplified and everything. I’ve been to two Xerocons and I’ve seen people do some amazing things inside of their booth. People have such great imaginations and they put a lot of time and effort but the thing that really, really works the best is having meaningful conversations with the people who are attending.

I’ve spoken to a couple of the different providers and I love all our add-on partners so I’m not going to single out anybody specifically, but I will say I remember the meaningful conversations more than the gimmicks. The gimmicks are great and I love gimmicks and nobody does more than me, I’ve built a career on gimmicks, but once you get somebody to stop and talk to you, whether that’s with a cupcake or a postcard or a joke or whatever, you really have to back up the sizzle with substance.

Have the absolute best people in your booth. It doesn’t matter who they are, what their role is, you want people to know your product backwards and forwards and really be genuine and take time. You don’t want to be the guy whose eyes are darting looking for the better opportunity or someone who’s waiting. If there are three or four people waiting, just invite them in for a circle, and don’t treat anybody poorly and don’t blow anyone off because you never know who you’re standing in front of, even if you know where their name badge and stuff like that.

It’s really like all the sizzle things and the costumes and the dressing up like a puck and doing all sorts of things may get someone to stop at your booth but you really have to follow it up with really meaningful content and not just hand someone a postcard and send them on their way.

Even the most important thing, like bigger than anything, it’s all about the follow ups, follow ups are where business really happens. You’ve got your fish bowl or whatever where you’re collecting 100 business cards, if you don’t reach out to every single one of those people, you haven’t used your money properly to get the booth because the booth is really just to meet people, get some contact information but it’s really the two weeks after where all the gold is going to come from.

You really have to spend a lot of really important time with the follow up because that is like the most important thing, besides attending. Attending is super important. Please come and support all our Xerocons but once you’re finished and you’ve gone home, make sure you follow up because without the follow ups it’s just a social event.

Heather:        Yes, at the Auckland Xerocon, what they did was all of the attendees wore like a blue watch. It wasn’t a watch but it was like a blue watch, and then all of the stall holders had a phone that was like a Galaxy phone. We would put the two together and that would zap, and I would then extract their contact details from it. It was actually really good, so we didn’t need to do the business card thing.

Saul:               That’s cool.

Heather:        Then we got sent to database at the end of the day and everyone would just come up to you and say, “Just take my details and contact me,” and put their watch in front of you. It was very cool. But that’s good, the follow up is where it happens.

Saul:               But even with the watch, and the watch is a crazy cool idea and stuff like that, at the first Xerocon I was at we had the lanyard, the badges that had the RFID chip and stuff like that, all that stuff’s amazing but you still want to have those meaningful conversations because if they get hit … anyone of these people get hit with 20 follow up emails on the same day, they’re automatically going to gravitate to the people they remember and the people that they enjoyed spending time with.

The others they may look at like spam or something like that. I will always be very polite and more eager to someone who I’ve made a connection with, like meaningful wise, I will respond to those people first.

Heather:        If you’re going to have those meaningful conversations, as you said: best people on the stalls but probably going to need to actually have a few people on the stall there as well because I found that when I’ve done it, you just get overwhelmed, so you probably need to have a few people on the stall to really maximise the opportunity and maximise the return on investment there because it’s …

Saul:               Of course.

Heather:        Thank you for that.

You’re also sort of very prevalent on social media, what social media tools do you think professionals, operating in the Xero eco space, should spend their time on, and in terms of spending their time, what are they going to … sort of the return on time invested, where abouts are they going to maximise that?

Saul:               Again, like I said, there’s no cookie cutter answer but you really want to spend time where your customers are. I always recommend people, at the very beginning, if they haven’t built a community yet, is dabble in Facebook, dabble in Twitter, dabble in LinkedIn, and see where you get the most engagement because there’s no hard and fast rule that says you have to be on Facebook or you have to be on LinkedIn.

You should be but if you only have a minimal amount of time, you want to spend it where you’re going to get the best return for your time. So if you see people going crazy with everything you do on Twitter – that should be your number one thing. If you see that people are going crazy with everything you say on like some crazy small internal trade message board, then maybe that’s where you’re going to find the best bang for your buck and stuff.

As far as tools, if you do find that Twitter is really helpful for you, Hootsuite is really amazing as far as your profile managing, your feeds and setting up scheduled tweets and things like that. Buffer is also really good for scheduling a bunch of tweets and things like that. Facebook, you should have a fan page and all sorts of things like that.

Facebook has sort of changed the rules over the last few years, so to really amplify messages costs money but that could be money well spent, you should test it, see what’s happening, and that may be a gold mine for you where you get your return of $3 for every $1 you spend, or maybe it’s not fruitful for you. It’s really about dabbling and finding who your individual people are going to respond to.

All of these social properties, it’s really curated by the person that is … their profile, depending on who I follow on Twitter, really depends on what the Twitter experience is for me. It’s not like going to New York Times where we’re all seeing the same things over and over and over.

Heather:        Absolutely, yes.

Saul:               The way I look at Twitter is 100% different than the way you look at Twitter because you’re on the other side of the world, you’re following different people. My Twitter feed is really … I only really see four subjects.

I see entertainment, sports, small business and the relevant things to my industry and role and profession and stuff like that, where you may get people who, Twitter, for them is the greatest stamp collecting website in the world because they only follow people who are talking about stamp collectors. That’s the really interesting thing about Twitter that people don’t talk about a lot but it’s really just a mould of clay and you make it into whatever you want it to be.

Heather:        Yes, absolutely. For someone who does a lot of writing, it’s really useful for niching and focusing on different subjects because you suddenly can just research astronauts for a day and find out what they’re all saying and talking about, etc. Then you can actually interview them if you need to.

Saul:               But the interesting thing, sorry to cut you off, I’ve done that now twice, the interesting thing though, when you talk about accountants and bookkeepers, you’d think, “Oh man, no one would ever search for that,” but it’s a pain point to people’s business life and their real life, so you’d be amazed how many people are actually searching for that on Twitter and searching for it in Google and searching for it all over.

So being an accountant and a bookkeeper is actually like good to have some sort of social presence and doing it in some way because people are … when you can solve a pain, it’s one of the not only greatest feelings in the world, it’s one of the best things to build a business off of because people look for pain remedies. They want the Tylenol. They don’t want the bandaid. You’ve got to be there and tell them that you’re the Tylenol and not the bandaid. People are looking for accountants and bookkeepers every day.

Heather:        Absolutely, completely agree with that.

With your insight and experience into the North American markets, and as we’re speaking today I think yesterday Xero was named, for the second year in a row, Forbes most innovative company, which is amazing. It’s very exciting.

Saul:               That’s incredible. It’s like winning it once is such an honour and to win it twice in a row, it’s amazing.

Heather:        Yes, I’m astounded, thrilled, excited for them. I’m completely blown away to win it twice. You just think you’re never going to be in the market to win it again but they certainly are in what they do and I think it’s really incredible. That’s kind of why I’m on this journey with them.

What do you think, with your knowledge of the North American market, what do you think Xero needs to do to crack the North American small business market?

Saul:               I think we are cracking it.

Heather:        It’s cracked.

Saul:               It’s not that we need to do … well, we’re not at the finish line yet but we have made enormous strides over the last year, year and a half, and I believe we’re in probably the best position we’ve ever been in. what do we need to do? I don’t think we need to do anything that different than we’ve done in the last year. We just need to do more of it.

Maybe the one thing that I think … we’re so deserving of a little bit more attention in the PR world, so if we could crack sort of the impression of some of the writers and stuff like that, that would be the thing but as far as product and customer growth and all the amazing things that makes Xero such an amazing business, I think we are doing such an amazing job in the US that there’s nothing glaringly obvious I could point my finger to and say, “We need to fix that.”

Heather:        Excellent. Great, that’s really interesting. Thank you for that. I’ve got two more questions for you.

Saul:               Okay.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? Which I think you’ve probably already answered in terms of … but do you have anything else to add to that?

Saul:               I’ve already told you like if I were to say the one greatest thing (I have a 1 and a 1A), so the one greatest thing that is so rewarding is spending time with our customers and helping if I can help or solving problems but I love hearing their stories. I would be a jerk if I said I’m fighting the fight with them because I’m not. They’re the ones doing the hard work but if I can apply some expertise or give them some advice or anything like that, that is so rewarding to me.

I get so much joy out of seeing them grow their businesses and doing some cool things. We have some really, really cool companies using Xero. It’s just like people making super cool stuff and solving problem. It’s like that’s really enjoyable.

So that’s sort of something that I get a lot of joy from but professionally speaking, it’s really rewarding to work with some super smart people. You go through the list. You’ve got Andy Lark and Rod Drury and in the US. We’ve got Jamie Sutherland and Russel Fujioka and … just everyone, Marie Chung and Sagil, it’s so amazing to be challenged by these people and to brainstorm with these people.

It’s very rare … I’ve had a couple bumpy stops on my career path and a couple that have been extremely successful, it’s rare to be with a team of people that are so conditioned for greatness and do some cool things. It’s a real treat.

Heather:        Yes, it certainly sounds like it. it sounds like you’re kind of living the corporate dream almost in terms of what it’s going to do and what it’s going to achieve just on this journey.

Saul:               And if I’m ever thrown out of this place, you can play that clip and … I don’t know, just kidding.

Heather:        Yes, play it back to them. I actually forgot to ask you but I always ask this of people.

What is the internet connection like in Toronto?

Saul:               Like speed wise and stuff?

Heather:        Yes, speed wise because I speak with people all over the world and I think unfortunately, one of the things Xero relies on is internet connection, so I need to ask that question of people as I go around the world. That’s one of my standard questions.

Saul:               We have as fast as imaginable I assume.

Heather:        As fast as imaginable.

Saul:               Yes, I don’t know. I like stream movies, do all that stuff.

Heather:        Cool.

Saul:               It’s pretty sophisticated.

Heather:        Excellent.

Saul:               It’s on par with the US.

Heather:        And I would expect that being in Toronto.

Saul:               Yes.

Heather:        One final question.

Is there anything you would like to share with the audience Saul?

Saul:               I think we’ve covered some amazing things. You’re an amazing interviewer. I really appreciate this. No, I’m being sincere. I’m not being sarcastic. I really appreciate you inviting me on the show. One of the things that got me excited is I am a real fan of podcasts. I listen to podcasts. I love podcasts. Besides television, it’s my second favourite form of entertainment and distraction, things like that.

If there is one thing I would add is I would invite all of your listeners to come and take a chance on the podcast that I do for Xero. It’s called The Xero Hour. We’re about I think 10 episodes in. It’s small business focused but it’s not like a how to although we do have a couple how to episodes coming up but it’s really just long form interviews of interesting people telling their story, dropping some tidbits of information. It’s not very Xero intense.

It’s really more … I like to think of it, and I’ve never said this out loud, but it’s almost like business group therapy where you can just sort of hear things that other people are going through and hear how they solve problems, hear that they’re … struggles they’ve had and stuff like that. It’s really just an opportunity for me to speak to some really, really smart people.

If you check out The Xero Hour in iTunes or on Stitcher or in Sound Cloud, I’d love feedback from people and let me know what they think of it. Again, being really sincere, I really appreciate you having me on the show because this was a lot of fun.

Heather:        Thank you so much. I will drop the link to the Xero Hour podcast, which I do avidly listen to and enjoy, in the show notes so people will be able to find it that way but as well, you’ve been given the guidance for finding it. Thank you very much for sharing your insight, your wisdom. We really, really appreciate it Saul.


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