Ford Harding of Harding & Company has recently published Creating Rainmakers: The Manager’s Guide to Training Professionals to Attract New Clients (Wiley, 2006). His work is based on interviews of more than 300 rainmakers from professional service firms including management consulting, law, accounting, architecture, engineering, and search. Ford spoke with rainmakers who both “sell and do” (deliver/manage work) about the factors that make rainmakers. Traction was interested in his experience using this knowledge so “rainmaking grabs hold” in the firm.
Traction: Your book benefits individuals and firms that both sell and perform or manage the work. In your experience of implementing rainmaker programs in a firm of more than 10 professionals, what are the biggest challenges?
FH: It really depends on the market cycle the firm is in. When the market is good and everyone busy leading projects, developing business and staying in touch with relationships just are not given the importance they have in a less robust market.
However, the probability of creating and maintaining relationships is not an activity left to an economic downturn when business is bad and everyone has time.
Successful rainmakers have a system they follow religiously to schedule time to talk with their network in both good times and bad. Depending on the relationship and client, they will reach out to a contact maybe once a year or monthly. Many professionals don’t do this because they suffer from “call fear” dreading to pick up the phone. They are heavily biased toward maintaining contact by email, which seems less intrusive and safer. Of course there are times when you should send an email, but mix your contact techniques.
Email is no substitute for voice-to-voice or face-to-face interaction.
My advice on email is ask yourself, is sending an email the right thing to do or are you doing it because you’re “chicken.” When it’s “chicken,” it’s time to pick up the phone. Like any skill, individuals get better at phone calls and meetings the more of them they do. In voice-to-voice or face-to-face meetings you learn things you are unlikely to pick up in an email exchange.
One consultant I know recently took a day off from billable work to drop by an old client, whose office was located an hour away. The client looked haggard and distressed, so the consultant offered to come back another day. “No, I’m just worried about x,” the client said. X was something the consultant knew a lot about, and he came away from the encounter with a million dollar assignment.
This never would have happened in an email exchange.
When a client wasn’t satisfied with work you did, it’s particularly critical to reengage after things have cooled down. You may never get more business from that source, but you decrease the chances of having someone actively bad-mouthing you.
Traction: Can you provide an example of a successful program?
FH: The most successful programs help potential rainmakers develop and build business development and working a network of buyers and influencers into their daily routine.
Awareness programs or even two-day skill building or “dunking” sessions rarely develop traction and often run out of steam—even when participants are enthusiastic initially. Rainmaking requires attention and discipline.
Techniques to stay in front of others vary. We have been unable to identify any specific approaches that are required: Some rainmakers give speeches and some don’t, some work through professional associations and some don’t, and so on. Your target market will help determine the approach you use.
For example, if one is consulting in a niche like oil and gas exploration that is very centered in a few places, like Houston and Calgary, so that you can get maximum face time with prospective clients, by allowing you to schedule visits or meals with them. However, if one is working with power companies, which are scattered all over the map, you will need a different sales approach, because frequent face-to-face visits are too costly and time consuming. Individual strengths and interests vary, too.
It’s important to get out in the market place at least once a week and practice your business development skills. Let’s face it, you learn more from applying skills to actual situations as they develop than you do sitting in a classroom.
Who takes to rainmaking is less predictable than one might think. High potentials sometime fizzle and the most unexpected succeed. We’ve found one-on-one coaching and mentoring with a select few yields much higher long-term payoffs.
Traction: What about programs that flounder? Are there common reasons?
FH: Yes, there are several common factors that undermine rainmaking efforts.
1) Forcing everyone to participate in the program, results in it being seen as just one more thing that management is making busy consultants do.
2) Placing individuals who are low potential in initial programs that have not yet produced successful rainmakers, because that sends a message the program is only for underperformers.
3) Not creating a cache’ or exclusivity of the program. Creating early success breeds more success—and attracts committed individuals. I suggest that individuals volunteer initially, so that you attract the most motivated people. Once this group starts to succeed, word will get around and everyone else will want to get into the program.
4) Not getting management alignment around the program. If a consultant’s immediate supervisor is not a rainmaker, himself, but rather a good project manager, he may actively discourage younger consultants from engaging in non-billable activity, like relationship development calls. That will undermine the program.
Traction: Can you provide examples of people who no one expected to become rainmakers, who did?
FH: I can cite many such cases. Two come to mind. Both consultants were introverted and shy, and didn’t stand out as likely to make it as rainmakers.
The first, sole rainmaker in the firm’s oil and gas practice quit and a senior consultant was given an opportunity to re-build the practice—with no guarantees of keeping his job if he failed. In one year, he increased practice revenues from $800K to $5M. He did this by 1) personal commitment and relentless effort, 2) being reliable and liked by his clients 3) quickly identifying those few areas where his firm had a competitive strength in his market and focusing his efforts on these offerings 4) identifying a technique that would allow him to meet many buyers quickly and then staying in touch with them once he did.
The second consultant was young and had a slight speech impediment. He took advantage of a rapidly expanding market, and so was in the right place at the right time. He was rock-bottom reliable with his clients and worked hard to develop a network. He absolutely relentless about meeting and staying in touch with people and found that his speech impediment often resulted in clients wanting him to succeed.
Traction: Are there common factors that go into being liked by clients?
FH: Not in the sense of style or a “winning” personality. I worked with one individual consulting in information technology. He came across like an android—you’d expect to find circuits, not tissue if you scraped off his skin. He found a network of individuals just like him and was very successful.
There are common factors to success. 1) Talk to people 2) find ways to meet new prospects 3) know what advantages you offer 4) have a reason to stay in touch that is not perceived as pushy. There are a variety of ways to approach these needs. If anything, our experience has taught us not to be doctrinaire. I’ve seen cookie-cutter firms where everyone fits a common profile and there is one firm wide approach to going to market – and they succeed. More common are one-of-each-kind firms where rainmakers have different approaches to winning new business.
Traction: If a professional service firm is considering a rainmaker project, what factors do they need to be thinking about? How would they best judge if this is an approach for them?
FH: The initial factors are clear goals of what the firm wishes to accomplish coupled with the commitment to provide the participants the support they need. A two-day “dunking” is unlikely to have a lasting impact.
About the author. . . Ford Harding is the author of Creating Rainmakers (Wiley 2006) and the founder of Harding & Company, a firm which helps professionals learn to sell. He has spent almost 30 years in consulting and can be reached at fharding@Hardingco.com.
What's your experience? Have you had experience with "Creating Rainmaker" projects? How did you get those or did they grab hold in your organization? Comment below or email me directly.
Professional service firms where individuals sell only. In professional service firms where individual sell (but don't do the work), the same needs for internal networks may be as important as external networks. Especially in organizations providing services that "pull" other products or services, developing offerings across divisions may be more challenging than working opportunity networks or managing accounts. Ford's comment about stage in business cycle is particularly interesting here.
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