A laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden crate.

Shopping carts from the cutting edge: The other problem your next “tech-forward” app should solve

I love tech. I especially love new accounting, bookkeeping, and basically B2B services tech. I’m the person that will hear about a new calendar or client communication tool at a get together and immediately be only half-present because I’m on Google looking up ALL the things. I find it fascinating.

It’s not just what innovators manage to create, but also what drives them to attempt to solve one or two problems over all the others. How did they end up on THAT thing? And what makes THAT thing somehow land better with me or the larger community than some other thing does?

For a while now, I’ve been trying to put my finger on it: What makes an innovation stick?

Why does one app become the rock star, while another becomes that “obscure and obsolete original” that people bring up to demonstrate their deep industry roots? Is it a collection of things so intricate that it’s basically random? Is it hype? Connections?

I probably wonder because my own journey is more than a bit random. I went from using QuickBooks®, to owning my own business, to doing advisory. Now, I help others do QuickBooks, own their own businesses, and do advisory, with apps to assist every step of the way.

In real life, growth often feels like randomly tripping forward—sometimes finding yourself in a new and interesting place that you’d like to stay in for a while. And come to think of it, that isn’t a bad way to do it—if I’m honest, it’s probably what I like about it.

It’s that same built-in desire for the adventure of the unknown that probably makes me love exploring all those new solutions and new platforms. Sometimes, I don’t even realize that I have a problem until they fix it! The cutting edge of problem-solving, specialization, and integration in our industry are truly amazing.

But don’t get it twisted—something is waiting when you bring any innovation back with you from the edge.

Ever been casually shopping around a high-end specialty grocery store, moving smoothly and happily along? You head out after paying, with all your treasures in your frictionless cart, when suddenly … oof.

Cross that store’s invisible property threshold, and that cart feels like it’s running through mud and molasses. And good luck to you if your parking space is still some distance away—you’re going to be schlepping those bags yourself. Hope you didn’t buy ice cream!

Sometimes, cutting edge app adoption is like that. Whether the issues get tripped right at the automated sliding doors of our decision, or later as we map out how to locate the improved experience we are promised, they’re guaranteed to arrive. Every time. It’s not the application’s fault, as these are the hurdles that are built into change, transition, and the cart itself. Waiting. Inevitable.

With this, some important questions come to mind when it comes to my clients:

  • How will my clients react to this new thing, and for how long?
  • How will I need to handle this reaction, and for how long?
  • How will all that transitional pain affect my time and my ability to “just do the work?”
  • Oh, and for how LONG?

It often seems like the more cutting edge or innovative the solution, the longer these timelines are likely to be. But it’s not always about speed. It might be difficulty, hands-on time, or expense, just to name a few.

This leads to a larger question: What makes a transition through change a good one?

As much as I like the innovative edges, the potential, and the possibilities, my clients just want to get their stuff done.

Even if they are innovation fans like me, chances are they are gaga over a whole different set of cutting edges. So, unless our upgraded, automated, or extra-innovated choices lead them to change that affects them both positively and quickly, chances are they are not motivated to deal with the inevitable side effects. At all.

And who can blame them? Certainly not us! Don’t forget, we are usually the ones insisting that things be given to us in a very particular way, using a very particular method. Although I might like to rock my own boat, I certainly don’t want anyone else rocking it for me. Why should our clients be any different?

At the end of the day, what many of us sell is peace of mind. My clients are buying the ability to STOP thinking about this stuff—not having to dive into it more!

Bottom Line: When I change something that changes things for my clients, it’s like doing a recall on the product they love.

Every time I share an “innovation,” some aspect of whatever work they did to adjust during their first onboard is unraveling to some degree. Even if the effects are minimal, they still know they are coming. And they are worried about it.

No matter the outcome, they are having to think about things again … at least until they don’t anymore, again. And at least until the next time we “innovate” their process, again.

My true product—peace of mind—is torn up, if not gone for a bit. Every. Single. Time. And the more I do it, the less that client’s peace of mind rebounds, until one day when it’s just gone.

What does this have to do with cutting edge apps? If I’m going to change something about how I produce that product, I’d better replace it with an experience that is either a lot easier, a lot faster, or benefits them in some other way they can recognize, preferably in advance! It gives them that peace of mind.

No matter how much we think our clients love us and the results that we produce, we need to remember to limit the amount of time they have to deal with us “recalling” our products.

And this is where our needs, and those of our clients, collide. Here are some questions that come to mind:

  • What makes an innovation sticky in a good way?
  • What makes an app’s transition cart sticky in a bad way?
  • How can I avoid another recall of my product?

I think these answers are all related. I think they are the answers for each other, to the point where it’s almost a chicken-egg situation, like this, for example:

“That app is failing because their onboarding is the worst because it’s very disruptive to the clients because the app is failing so it’s disruptive to clients, so their onboarding is the worst.”

The problem is the cutting edge. To be innovative means to be out where no one is yet, trying things. It’s disruptive, unmapped, and misunderstood by definition. If it’s not at least a little bit of all these things, it’s most likely not “the cutting edge.”

But this also means that anything innovative is beginning at a disadvantage of sorts, with all of us, because it’s not familiar.

So, what explains those innovative solutions that take hold, and even go viral, in our industry. What differentiates the applications that literally change the landscape by fundamentally altering what everyone expects—not just from them, but from ANY solution? What makes apps sticky in the best way?

I think it’s because they keep in touch with what I call the “before times,” or the world before the cutting edge.

This is the part that many apps forget. Their tech is fantastic, and the innovation will absolutely change things, but they won’t be the company to do it. Why? Because adoption of their solution is just too hard, with the gulf being too wide.

“Oh, not for us; for our clients,” they say. We simply can’t get our cart across that parking lot before the ice cream melts.

Just because something is cutting edge doesn’t make it necessary. In fact, to be truly cutting edge in our space most likely means that it’s not “necessary.” Yet. Necessity comes from getting more people to adopt, until tech has hit a kind of tipping point. So, ultimately, it’s the innovative solutions that reach back who win.

Being cutting edge or innovative doesn’t automatically mean you are “leading.” To lead, there has to be a way for most to follow, not just the weirdos like me.

I have realized that the apps I like best, and actually end of using, are the ones that are doing just this. Yes, they are solving a problem I have, but they also solve the problem I am for sure GOING to have—the shopping cart problem, the client buy-in, and transition arc problem.

And, let’s face it, we are JUST like our clients. When we search for, test out, and buy into tech, what we are searching for is a solution to concrete or anticipated problems. What that is, at its heart, is peace of mind.

We do NOT want to have to think about that tech any more than half as much of the time it saves us thinking about something else. Period. We don’t mind putting a lot of work in on the front end, whether it’s a complicated set up or something else, provided the payoff at the back end is giving nice, cold ice cream to our clients. We want the peace of mind that their peace of mind is fundamentally intact, and that our product is intact and still shiny~!

Here are three solutions that I think are doing tech-forward right:

1. QuickBooks® Onlinethe original sticky innovator: I mean, this kind of goes without saying in general. But in this case, I am thinking of something specific—the acquisition of Mailchimp by Intuit®.

When I first heard about this, a meme of a dog cocking its head quizzically at a weird noise came to mind. But, really, why not? Because unless you are a media maven or in the accounting industry, I’d hazard a guess that the thing small businesses need help with most next to finances is, in fact, advertising.

So, in this case, being cutting edge is not about making QuickBooks more than what it already is. Instead, it’s about making the work that your client has done to get acclimated to, and keep up with QuickBooks, more translatable to something else!

This one doesn’t recall any kind of product that you are offering clients. Instead, you get to give the happy news that because they’ve kept up their vendor and customer list, and done their billing through QuickBooks, they now have the ability to yield extra benefits in terms of advertising their business. Not to mention shortcutting the process to do it! What client doesn’t want to hear that their efforts can count for double?

And Intuit? Now they get to be central to solving yet another one of your clients’ major concerns. Talk about sticky!

2. Lisciofree range transition: They are really good at this. In a lot of large and small ways, Liscio is designed to make the transition and buy-in for clients much easier both for them and for us.

There is the fully operational mobile functionality, rather than an anemic phone app that can make clients feel like they are the problem child of nearly every situation. There’s also the ability to build up momentum in the app, as you and your clients see fit. And don’t forget their low-key magic that’s easy to take for granted—in Liscio, your clients learn by doing. There doesn’t have to be one stop/start transition day from some other solution. It can just evolve.

Actually, it was a recent announcement from Liscio that got me thinking about the topic of what the cutting edge leaves behind. A lot of Liscio’s message has been that email is completely outdated and not very efficient or effective anymore, especially in our industry. Enter Liscio: the antidote to email chaos. So, what happened when they announced that you can now deal with email in Liscio? Again, ALL the question marks.

Then, I realized that they are bringing the non-tech forward along. This is making it easier for me to introduce people to Liscio, without them having to change their operational worldview, or me having to drop my processes.

Before this, anyone who didn’t use Liscio, or who isn’t appropriate to invite into my client’s Liscio, had been left behind. Rather than their continued innovation of widening the gulf between users and non-users, Liscio recognized the issue. So, they turned an innovative eye towards solving it. In short, they didn’t let their prior brand messaging of beyond email and a cutting edge tech “leader” eclipse their ability to actually encourage people to move beyond email by leading in reality!

3. CollBoxrecall eliminator: First of all, even the original value prop CollBox offered was, and is, incredible. I am sure that no one looks forward to chasing after overdue invoices. But I know NO ONE who doesn’t wring their hands over when it’s time to pass the collection process over to the pros. And CollBox is plug and play. So, in this case, the solution was so valuable for customers and the implementation so easy that the shopping cart just breezed right out of the store. Sort of.

I mean, who wants to admit that they need a whole app for money that they haven’t collected? I think it was the psychology that might have been a barrier for some. Plus, although CollBox was helping with that last step on the lonely collections detour, it was not helping anyone with what they really wanted—avoiding the detour! Solving short-term anxiety will get you lots of thanks, but it’s a tough road when your customers really want to avoid having to talk to you again.

Recently, CollBox really took advantage of a pandemic hibernation, and got busy potentially putting their collections solution out of business. They created an assisted accounts receivable solution!

Just like Liscio, they chose to get real about the limits, and even downsides, of their existing product, as well as the resulting business model and potential customer pool. Rather than eat a tub of Nutella in their pajamas, they took the hiatus as an opportunity to double down on their brand. They chose to be a brand based on solutions, rather than a brand based around a problem.

So, now their product, Assist, is, in fact, the collection solution to the question that people search for the most: How do I not let this happen again? The app that solved disruptions to your client’s peace of mind now has the answer for avoiding them altogether, which is great for how much time their peace of mind (and yours) spends in recall.

It should be painfully obvious that I love talking about the ways that tech is moving forward, as well as how it has streamlined my practice and, frankly, my life. Who hasn’t felt just a tiny bit giddy at the prospect of finding a solution to a problem that’s costing you time and money?!

But thinking through these issues lately, I feel like I can’t “unsee” this realization. So, I also hope our industry will spend more time talking about how tech is finding ways to bring in the uninitiated and build in their way forward inside of cutting edge solutions. It’s at least as valuable as the innovation itself. Because, without buy-in, what good is the tech?

No matter what problems we solve for our workflows and our practices, the problems at the threshold of change and through transition will ALWAYS show up—squeaky, squirrely wheel, and all.

Now, who wants ice cream?

Editor’s note: Kristen Nies Ciraldo co-authored this article.

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