How many people work in sales tax at your company? So often we hear from sales tax professionals that they are a department of one. Without full time sales tax colleagues, the work can seem even more daunting and isolating.
If this sounds like your situation, it’s time to get connected! Developing your network of people to call on when you need advice – both in and outside your company – can change the game.
We all know “networking” is something we should generally do, but it’s hard to make the first move. Keep the big picture in mind: the “soft” skill of networking can translate into immensely useful technical help from your connections down the line. Moreover, you may gain sales tax department allies and friends for the rest of your life.
It’s almost impossible to measure the value of the knowledge of others when you need it most. Plus, networking is a two-way street – you have a lot of sales tax savvy and experience to share in return!
Sales tax is multidisciplinary by nature, yet few people beyond the tax department understand it much less know how to leverage it to the company’s benefit.
As a sales tax professional, you have a number of specialized skills that can benefit other departments. Establish working relationships with teams outside the tax department to ensure your company is taking full advantage of the latest opportunities in state tax. Sales tax pros can create great collaborative connections with groups like legal, contracting, purchasing, and IT.
One idea is to create a “lunch and learn” session and have representatives from the sales tax department teach a sales tax concept to another department. This becomes an opportunity for tax staff (even if it’s just you!) to meet others from key company groups and share how sales tax should be accounted for beyond the tax department. The lunch and learn can also work in reverse. You can ask other departments to teach the tax department something key about company operations that would help you understand the business better. It might even bring to light opportunities to bring dollars to the bottom line – a win-win for everyone!
Poke your head out from your desk once a month to pop into another department to ask questions. Volunteer for a cross-departmental project – you’ll get to know people outside your department, learn what they do, and explore ways you might collaborate in the future.
The connections you make can build the pool of resources available to you and the network of people you can rely upon. Troubleshooting issues related to sales tax becomes a whole lot easier when you have specific people in across different departments you feel confident and comfortable calling directly.
If you’ve developed sales tax expertise and work for an accounting or consulting firm, growing your internal network by spreading the word about the importance of sales tax could actually extend to growing the business. Sales tax services could nicely complement your company’s existing services.
Shara Sumnall, a Sales Tax Institute student, was able to help start a sales tax practice in her CPA firm through her realization that clients needed help to correctly manage automated software because they were creating sales tax compliance messes.
The ability to leverage an established internal network can help with buy-in to build a new sales tax service model.
Even if you don’t work for an accounting or consulting firm, if you’re well connected in your organization, someone from an external department will know to approach you if something sales tax-related could provide value to a customer.
Outside conferences, seminars, workshops, and courses may seem like the perfect opportunity to meet other sales tax professionals. Unfortunately, many general state and local tax conferences are more heavily focused on income tax and finding sales tax professionals to connect with at these events can be difficult.
Sales Tax Institute student and 2019 Sales Tax Nerd Award winner, Cherie Julius, ran into this issue repeatedly. She recognized the immense value of having a network that can act as a sounding board for each other for sales tax issues. Instead of waiting for someone else to develop the sales tax-centered events she craved, she decided to create her own initiative and network of sales tax pros.
Today, Cherie’s Indirect Tax Executive Forum brings together indirect tax professionals in the Chicago-Milwaukee area together twice a year to collaborate and share experiences and ideas about key sales tax issues.
Cherie’s model is worth highlighting because it’s replicable and the benefits can be exponential! To build the network, Cherie simply used her LinkedIn connections as a starting place. She quickly found that her indirect tax connections were eager to connect with their peers and discuss best practices and new ideas just like she was.
Engaging with a sales tax-specific network like the Indirect Tax Executive Forum allows you to leverage others’ insight on things your company is going through from audits to automation implementation.
If your company has never been under a sales tax audit, a head’s up from a connection about the state’s process or working with a specific auditor can be invaluable. Given the fact that your company is now registered in many more states than where you might have facilities, you never know if someone in your network can give you a golden nugget to keep your audit running smoothly. You might even find someone that can help you solve a challenge with a tricky software integration or navigate the new Oregon commercial activity tax.
When you build your external network, you not only access a growing base of technical knowledge but also a network of humans that can truly relate to the ups and downs being a sales tax professional. Genuine and reliable professional relationships and friendships are built on shared experiences.
Even just one sales tax connection outside your company can make all the difference.
Putting the right heads together, whether through a new inter-departmental relationship or a new external connection, can generate ideas whose impact trickles all the way down to the bottom line.
Sales tax touches so many aspects of a business. Within your company, don’t shy away from acting as an internal sales tax consultant. Help your colleagues and bosses understand the many ways a sales tax pro can help shape more efficient company processes and be an asset to special projects.
Put on your extrovert hat and join groups where you can meet other sales tax pros – or start your own! Find people with the same passion and enthusiasm for the same sales tax topics. The support and collaboration among external allies will be beneficial for years to come.