Thinking Strategically About Sales Tax
Learn how to build a long-term sales tax strategy that accounts for key internal and external factors to improve efficiency and adaptability while reducing risk.
Companies with complicated sales tax requirements can hire skilled professionals to manage them all. Skills are one thing. The ideal is putting together a sales tax team that anticipates company challenges and needs AND works together seamlessly. This is another thing entirely.
If you reach this ideal of departmental excellence, your sales tax team might look something like the one at 14 West Administrative Services.
14 West Administrative Services is the business services arm of a conglomerate of more than 30 media companies. Sales tax is one of the key services. Servicing 30+ LLCs means there is plenty of sales tax work to go around and a robust strategy is required.
Three talented and driven women at 14 West, Andrea, Robin, and Valerie take this challenge head on, leading state tax compliance efforts with support from senior manager, Wendy.
“I think a sales tax team has to be a well-oiled machine because there’s deadlines, things are always changing, and I think our group has done that well.” – Wendy Mancini
They run a tight ship that is built upon a culture of trust.
Senior Tax Manager
Internal consultant. Department architect. Team supporter.
“What I really enjoy about [sales tax] is that it is complicated, and I love to research things. It’s like an endless research project. You find the answer to one thing and it leads to something else.”
State & Local Tax Manager
Research extraordinaire. Master reconciler. Internal auditor.
“I was a nerd when I was younger. I loved to research what states require what. We live in a country with these 50 individual governments, it is a lot. When you really look at it and study it, it’s like a little puzzle. I love researching and trying to understand everything in my own words. I love seeing how everything ties together, and watching how as we evolve as a society, that’s really exciting.”
Technology queen. IT liaison. System synchronizer.
“I really enjoy the technology element of my job. While technology is challenging, it helps to mitigate specific issues that may impact the company and makes it possible to navigate the various mandates of the global digital economy. My knowledge of tax, accounting, and technology allows me to work effectively with my team on tax research, compliance and audit projects. As well as contributing to IT and accounting projects.”
State & Local Tax Accountant
Compliance guru. Registration lead. Sales tax enthusiast.
“With sales tax, every day is something different. It constantly changes and you have to stay up to date on those changes. The excitement of it all keeps me coming back. Sales tax work gives me self-gratification. I feel great about what I do.”
Sales tax is unique in that you must have a holistic understanding of your company’s business to do your job well. You need to learn all of the details of how everything from contracting to marketing to invoicing to manufacturing processes (and beyond!) is run to understand the sales tax implications.
Tax department leaders at 14 West invest a lot of training time upfront for new hires so each member of the team fully understands the ins and outs of the company’s operations. That way, each team member can hit the ground running with their daily tasks and can work autonomously.
As a general rule, the 14 West team divides up work based on each team member’s specialty and strengths. However, the tax department also places an emphasis on cross training for certain skills so everyone can confidently jump into projects to provide additional support. This builds upon the strong foundational training everyone receives.
This approach fosters an atmosphere of collaboration and makes the sales tax group more agile in tackling the projects that come down the pipeline. It’s a winning formula.
Wendy specializes in project management, Andrea in reconciliation and research, Robin in technology, and Valerie in compliance. Each team member spends most of their time within their specialization but is never out of touch with what the rest of the team is working on because their work is deeply connected.
To divide up work, the sales tax group assesses each person’s capacity to take on new projects and works together to prioritize outstanding projects, never hesitating to lend each other extra support as needed.
Trick headline! Each member of the 14 West team will be quick to tell you that there is no such thing as a typical “day in the life” in sales tax. And they are absolutely right!
You never know what kind of local/state/national/international law change or change in the business will pop up and require immediate attention working in sales tax.
The 14 West team takes every day in stride.
“Nothing is repetitive, not at all. [The work] is challenging but if you understand how to manage it, it’s really exciting and worthwhile. You’re learning something new every day.” – Andrea Ansah
Any routine tasks revolve around keeping up with the latest in sales tax and moving projects forward. Valerie checks Bloomberg Tax updates and other law updates daily. Robin touches base every morning with the team and IT on projects to see if she can lend her expertise.
Daily sales tax work at 14 West is largely project based. Here is a taste of the types of projects the sales tax team undertakes.
A day in the life of a sales tax team member at 14 West guarantees variety which keeps everyone engaged and energized to show up to work each day. Each day also promises collaboration with teams outside the tax department. The 14 West team does an excellent job educating other teams about sales tax requirements to ensure activities across the company support compliance efforts.
The sales tax team members at 14 West all agree that organization, trust, and communication are the cornerstones of maintaining a smoothly run operation. These three key qualities promote open mindedness and flexibility in the office, so everyone can work together to meet deadlines with ease.
One way the team promotes efficiency is through department wide organization. The 14 West team keeps a guide with every affiliate and every state they are registered in, as well as instructions for instruments to use to login and look at accounts, current returns, inactive states, filing dates, etc. But, sometimes supporting each other goes beyond guides and instructions and becomes “emotional support” like trust and communication.
“Having someone in your corner and trusting your coworkers is key.” – Andrea Ansah
The members of the 14 West team recognize their jobs are interconnected, so to stay in sync they keep in constant communication. This commitment to collaboration fosters an environment of trust. Andrea knows that if she has too much on her plate, Valerie and Robin will be ready to step in and help. All she has to do is ask!
All in a day, Robin might help Valerie with the technological software, Valerie and Andrea might work together to manage outsourcing of returns, and Wendy is always just a holler away.
“If we have to jump in to assist with some problem, we have no qualms in reaching out to whoever we need to in order to get the assistance we might need.” – Robin Lee
When thrown the curveball of going remote, their strength as a team flourished because they were already so open with communication. They can pick up the phone and call each other anytime, whether it’s to talk through a project roadblock or to catch up as friends. Similar to understanding sales tax, functioning as a team is like a puzzle. It is essential to learn how each team member’s contributions tie together to form a well-oiled machine.
Wendy, Andrea, Robin, and Valerie are veterans in the sales tax field. Each worked their way up from entry level to finding their passion and carving out a place for themselves in a supportive organization.
Investment in education and continual on-the-job learning has been key. Each team member has attended outside sales tax schools and seminars to sharpen their knowledge and skills. We’re lucky that the 14 West team has chosen the Sales Tax Institute for training on multiple occasions!
“I attended a workshop for taxes for a week after getting my first sales tax job. A light bulb went off. I learned how everything fit together. When I got back, I rearranged my priorities and my whole approach to sales tax. I learned just how much there is to it.” – Valerie Price
Everything you learn builds upon itself. The 14 West team advises a thorough review of new information. Read things more than once, and “research, research, research.”
A career, of course, is more than technical skills – personal connections can make all the difference in getting to the next level in your career. To reach a managerial level in the field, Andrea encourages burgeoning professionals to go out and network. The sales tax world has evolved a lot since her foray into the field. Opportunities to meet other sales tax professionals at conferences and educational events have multiplied. “Figure out who’s who in the sales tax world,” Andrea says, “because it’s a growing community.”
Sales tax pros are often departments of one. If you crave a different environment with a supportive team full of sales tax nerds that rally around each other, you must be ready to leap when an opportunity presents itself.
Commit to your daily education, tend to your technical skill set, and cultivate relationships. It just might land you a spot on a well-oiled sales tax team.
“Remember that you’re never fully prepared for your role. It’s going to change every day. You have to be flexible and you can’t have too much pride. Ask questions, look at new tools, and take advantage of learning opportunities.” – Robin Lee
A huge thank you to the 14 West sales tax team for letting us have a window into their world!