So You Want to be a “Rainmaker”
If you look at who is really successful today in business, it is NOT the most brilliant or capable professional, the smartest lawyer or cleverest accountant. That key person, who makes far more income than the top practicing professional, is the person who possesses that unique ability to bring in business – the “rainmaker.”
While the following “best practices” focus on techniques used by many successful rainmakers, it’s important to understand that rainmakers come in various shapes and sizes. Jeffrey Fox, founder and president of Chester, CT-based Fox & Company, Inc and author of “How to Become a Rainmaker,” explains: “It matters not if your rainmaker is a prima donna, an independent loner, or difficult to ‘manage.’ It matters not if your rainmaker doesn’t play by the rules, is indifferent to your policies , or is always late with expense accounts. What matters is the rainmaker’s ability to ring a cash register, to put money in the till, to bring in new clients. As long as the rainmaker obeys the laws of God and man, and stays within budget, you must let him make rain.”
Ford Harding, founder and president of Harding & Company, Maplewood, NJ, points out in his book, “Creating Rainmakers,” that many different personality types succeed as rainmakers. Among descriptions of rainmakers that Harding has been able to observe include: “he was impressive…immediate magnetism and attractiveness; he was unimpressive, very ordinary; extremely personable and charming; he had a gray personality…looked like an engineer with a pocket protector; he was a gambler; he was cautious; he reminded me of a used car salesman; above all else, he was a gentleman” and Harding’s list goes on and on.
In addition to the vast differences in appearance and personality that successful rainmakers possess, there is one common very important common denominator – rainmakers are tireless workers who adhere to discipline. They do the grunt work that brings in business. They prepare, rehearse and exercise untiring determination to achieve their objectives. If you want to be a rainmaker, the successful ones will tell you to be prepared to work harder than anybody else, to sacrifice and to be able to get back up on your feet after being knocked down again and again.
Luck? “Sure there’s luck involved in getting business,” says Lee Flaherty, the 74-year-old entrepreneur who founded and still is the leader of Flair Communications Agency, a leading Chicago sales promotion firm. “But I prefer to consider luck as the convergence of opportunity and preparedness,” Flaherty adds.
Beyond the brutally hard work, intense determination to succeed and the ability to handle rejection, Fox, Harding, Flaherty and others provide some insight into 10 best-practices technique used by successful rainmakers.
- Build a large referral network. According to David A. Nadler, chairman of New York-based Mercer Delta Consulting, a March & McLennan company, “I maintain a large network of people I have gotten to know and I stay in touch with them. An old mentor told me: there is always an opportunity to make friends. I spend a lot of time meeting people because I enjoy it. I stay in touch with them. I send them things. Some of these contacts don’t pay off for many years down the road.”
- Meticulous preparation. According to Fox: “Some successful rainmakers pre-call every single sales call in writing. They write down their sales call objective, they write down who they are going to meet, how to pronounce their names, what are the goals and objectives of the call, questions and objections they anticipate and how they intend to answer those questions and objections. How they plan to close and ask for the business. What are they bringing to the meeting, how long does it take to get there, directions, how much money is needed for the toll booths. Rainmakers are like pilots. They never wing a sales call.”
- The art of ‘dollarization.’ Fox continues: “Many successful rainmakers have mastered the art of ‘dollarization.’ They find the relevant benefit to the customer and dollarize the value. For example, the salesman who wants to sell a $15,000 backyard tennis court might tell the customer how much weight he/she might lose. Customer is not interested. How much value they will add to their house. Again, customer is not interested. But when the salesmen learns the parents have a talented tennis player daughter, the salesman asks ‘would you be interested in improving the playing skills of your daughter so she can earn a college scholarship worth maybe $100,000. This makes the sale.”
- Active empathy and ‘walk-through-walls enthusiasm.’ “An effective rainmaker has the ability to put himself in the shoes of the customer or potential client,” says Harding. “They are empathetic to other people’s situations and they show it. They also have walk-through-walls enthusiasm. They always see the opportunity in every situation. The glass is always half full not half empty.”
- Intense focus. According to Rob Wentland, managing director of Navigant Consulting, Inc., a $480 million Chicago-based company with 1,700 employees that provides a variety of consulting services including dispute resolution: “I have found the most significant factor is focusing 100 percent on the success of that person you are meeting with. You are gaining their trust. Their time is valuable. This is critical to your developing a long-term relationship. Continue to be available, responsive and honest. If you have all that combined, you will be a successful rainmaker.”
- Discipline: According to Gary Pines, Chicago-based associate of Harding: “Have a discipline and a routine just like working out, learning to play the piano or golf. Use this discipline in creating and nurturing relationships and following up.”
- Relentless Pursuit. Flaherty tells how he lost a client and sought to replace that client with another company in the same industry. The problem was he couldn’t get to first base with the CEO of the target company. He marshaled all his resources and contacts to learn as much as he could about this person – his background, education, interests, work experience. This detective work yielded a highly creative idea of how to get through to this prospect, which eventually resulted in a major piece of business for Flaherty’s company.
- Modesty. According to Fox: “great rainmakers are so customer oriented, that it oftentimes is an invisible sales call. The customer does 80 percent of the talking. The rainmaker just asks relevant questions to draw out the customer. He/she keeps his ego outside the door. The rainmaker doesn’t overwhelm the customer. The rainmaker wins.”
- Seeks a Competitive Edge. Rich Hamed, Detroit-based owner of a manufacturer’s rep company in the auto parts business tells about how nurturing contacts with the sales and marketing departments leads to finding the purchasing agent’s needs. He then puts this knowledge to work by creating value-added benefits for the buyer. Judith Nitsch, an engineer who owns a Boston-based engineering firm, seeks opportunities to put clients and prospective clients on panels at industry meetings. “It’s a matter of finding ways to help your clients and prospective clients and when you give, your clients and customers are eager to find ways of giving back to you.”
- Plain Hard Work. Dennis Simon, founder and CEO of New York-based Xroads LLC, a turnaround company. Explains: “I’m a throwback to the pre-Second World War lower middle class work ethic. I lead an unbalanced life. My belief is that how hard you work and how often you work is directly proportional to your rewards. I come in earlier than anybody else and I stay later. And, although I am an educated person (Harvard MBA) I am a plain-talking individual because people want to hear plain talk that makes sense to them and helps them solve their problems – I’ve found they are not interested in statistical analysis or some esoteric thesis.”
This article also appeared in Executive Decision (XD), May/June issue for 2005.
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