Many firm leaders at mid-size service organizations have a big concern. It’s called Rainmaker culture and it goes like this. A few people at their firm have the Midas touch. They can turn to gold anything that they touch. These people make it rain. It’s a good-news bad-news scenario.
The good news is that you have some people who know how to generate and close business. Every company needs that. These people often account for a very large percentage of annual revenue – sometimes more than 80%. Rainmakers are worth their weight in gold. That’s the good news.
The bad news is a bit more complex and has multiple parts. Rainmakers limit firm growth. Rainmakers create unhealthy dependencies on them and their ability to perform. In some instances, rainmakers can hold a firm hostage.
CEOs, managing partners, founders and presidents of medium-size service firms see the results that rainmakers produce. They see the outcomes – new clients, new revenue and new deals. But they often don’t see how rainmakers make the rain. They don’t see the steps that rainmakers take to get that deal, client and new revenue. That lack of visibility often makes them very uncomfortable.
I have some good news here. You can break the grip of rainmaker culture and produce an environment of nearly unlimited growth potential for your firm. But to do this, you have to position the right way. You have to make the right promises. You have to tell the right stories. You have to have the right process. Let me show you how to do this.
The sale actually starts long before the prospect begins talking to a business development person. The sale starts the minute the prospect visits your website.
Should You Make This Change?
Before I show you how to realize that unlimited growth potential, I want to pose a key question that I believe you must ask yourself. If you have rainmaker culture today, should you try to change it? For a lot of firms, rainmaker culture works and it may not be wise to make a change.
So before we go about fixing something that isn’t broken, I want to help you think through some criteria to decide whether or not this change is right for your firm. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Over the next 24 months, will the majority of new revenue we need to generate come from existing clients or new clients?
- Over the next 24 months, how many new clients do we need to acquire to achieve our growth goals?
- How many people do we reasonably need in business development to acquire those clients and what are the skill-sets of those people?
- How confident am I today that the people we have in business development will achieve the goals we’ve set? Do they have the right skills and processes?
- How complex is our new client acquisition process and how many steps are involved in this? Are these steps clearly understood by the business development team? Do they have a demonstrated history of producing the outcomes we need to see?
If you don’t have large new client acquisition goals or if you are confident that your current team and approach will work – then fixing rainmaker culture may not be right for you. You can probably achieve your goals without needing to change your business development culture. These changes can sometimes be difficult and it’s often not wise to make this change unless you have a compelling business reason to do so.
However, if you need to acquire a large number of new clients, if you need a number of highly skilled people doing this, if you are not confident that your current approach will work – then changing business development culture is probably necessary.
What’s Wrong With Rainmaker Culture?
Before I talk about how to improve business development, I want to explore the pros and cons of rainmaker culture so we can understand the best approach. Here are the pros that I see.
- It works. Medium-sized service firms get a lot of money flowing through the front door because of rainmakers.
- Rainmakers are typically some of your most confident people. That confidence is infectious and can inspire others in the company to act with greater confidence.
- Rainmakers are usually experts in their field. They know the industry, the needs of prospects and the competitive landscape.
- Rainmakers are typically very good at positioning your services in front of prospective clients. They are masters at creating a bridge between prospect’s needs and your capabilities.
- Rainmakers have a clear sense of the ideal client profile. They know who they serve and what those clients need.
- Rainmakers are very good at managing sales campaigns. They know the steps that need to be taken to find decision-makers with budget authority, discover needs, develop a scope of services and close a deal.
These are the attributes that make rainmakers really effective. Now let’s look at the cons of rainmaker culture.
- Rainmakers are often unconsciously competent. They are very good at what they do, but not so good at explaining to others how and why they do what they do.
- Rainmakers are often not good teachers. They often don’t like to share their secrets with others because they are concerned that this might weaken their influence inside their firms.
- Rainmakers are very busy people. They are in demand. This means they don’t have time to spend with others who could benefit from their influence and wisdom.
- Rainmakers can be high maintenance and difficult to work with, especially with firm leaders.
The worst part about rainmaker culture, in some instances, may be the way they hold their company hostage. Rainmakers can throw tantrums and get away with it. They can be disruptive to operations. They can even be abusive. I’ve seen this more than once.
But even if rainmakers are wonderful people, there is still a problem. In many instances, the founder of a firm or a very senior executive is also a rainmaker. They are responsible to do their day job – running the firm – while also producing revenue. While they may hold the respect and admiration of everyone around them, they are still limited. There are only so many hours in a day.
Have you ever heard the saying – if only we could clone them? This is often what senior leaders at mid-size service firms say about rainmakers. If only everyone could do what John does? If only everyone could produce like Sally? But they can’t.
The biggest challenge with rainmaker culture is that it’s not scalable. And because of that, a service firm is limited in how much it can grow.
How To Fix Rainmaker Culture
Let me say for the record that I don’t believe it’s wise to try to replicate rainmakers. These are people and they have their own style, their own approach to doing things. If you try to make John like Sally, John may not like this and Sally probably won’t like John tagging along on her client calls. Usually the counsel – “be more like Sally” – just doesn’t work.
But here is what does work. Rainmakers are usually crystal clear about a few things:
- They know who they serve. They have a clear sense of their ideal client profile and only talk to people who fit this profile.
- They know how to get to decision-makers who exhibit the 5 sale-ready characteristics: need, budget, timeline, reason and willingness to engage in dialogue.
- They manage multiple deals at the same time. They are not just working on one deal at a time. They know where people are in the overall process.
- They are very process driven. They know that a deal comes at the end of a long set of steps. They know exactly what those steps look like and how to pull prospects to the next step.
- They know how to avoid time wasters. They can smell a deal, or not, very quickly.
- They know what promises to make and how to prove that they can deliver against those promises.
- They know what questions to ask in discovery. They understand that not all questions are equal and some will have greater impact than others.
- They are very good listeners. They take notes and often reflect back to prospects what they heard. They are also good at hearing and articulating unspoken needs.
- They know what stories to tell to make their advice really effective. They are able to turn conversations into mini case studies where their counsel is given great credence.
- They know how to build a bridge between a prospect’s needs and their service offerings.
- They have very good people skills. They know how to work with a variety of personality types.
- They know how and when to close a deal. They don’t leave things hanging, but they also don’t ask for a piece of business at the wrong time. They have an impeccable sense of timing.
While it may seem like rainmakers were born with these skills, that’s not true. Rainmakers are made, not born. But more importantly, for your organization to realize unlimited growth potential, you have to create an environment where these traits are understood, continually practiced and turned into a process.
So let’s break it down into some key steps that nearly anyone in your organization can put into practice:
- Be crystal clear about who you serve. Develop a profile of your ideal client. Understand their demographics: age, race, title, industry, education. Understand their psychographics: goals, opportunities and challenges.
- Make the right promises, both before and after you engage in dialogue with prospects. The sale actually starts long before the prospect begins talking to a business development person. The sale starts the minute they hit your website.
- Understand the 5 characteristics of sales-ready prospects and commit to only spending time with people who exhibit all 5 characteristics: need, budget, timeline, reason and a willingness to engage in dialogue.
- Develop a discovery questionnaire that contains your most powerful questions. Use this guide to get to the heart of what matters to prospects.
- Document the overall stages of the business development process and the questions you need to ask to encourage a prospect to go to the next stage.
- Create a mini library of stories you can tell at key moments in the business development process. Practice telling these stories so they are ready to go when you need them.
- Practice active listening and note taking. Reflect back to people what you hear.
- Formalize your scope of service documents so they are easy to replicate from one deal to the next.
That’s it. This is what works. Anyone can do this who has a decent understanding of your industry and your services. You can demystify the rainmaker process and give your firm unlimited growth potential by putting these practices in place.
What’s Missing From This Advice
I know what you’re probably thinking at this point. You might say: Randy that’s all well and good once someone is leaning in to us. But it’s the reputation of the rainmaker that gets people leaning-in in the first place. When prospects come into dialogue with us, they want to talk to the rainmaker who is a high-profile figure in our industry.
Guilty as charged. There are some things that cannot be replicated by rainmakers who are not visible experts in their industry. However, the goal of most mid-size service firms is not so much to do away with rainmakers as it is to replicate their success. The goal is to transfer the capabilities of the rainmaker to other people in your organization.
If rainmakers can learn how to work with a team to deliver an experience that is deeply satisfying to prospects, then your firm can grow exponentially. You can’t do bait and switch, where the rainmaker disappears from the relationship. But you can learn and practice a team approach to business development that gives you nearly unlimited growth potential.