Sales skills are essential. Short video on how to become better at it.

November 8th, 2011 by Gary Pines

According to Gary Pines, a Principal at Harding & Co., we are in the Era of Rainmaking. Effective sales skills are an essential component of an executive’s business toolkit as well as a key determinant of career advancement. Gary speaks with Life, Optimized about how you can become a better sales professional.

Gary’s interview provides specific steps for evaluating your sales pipeline, building relationships and transforming relationships into economic value. The interview also provides viewers with tips on engaging with prospective clients, prioritizing listening and learning about a client’s needs over pitching them a service, and the importance of asking for the business. Rainmaking is no longer just the province of sales professionals, and Gary’s interview reminds us that all executives can be successful at selling. Watch the interview on Life, Optimized to learn more.

Life, Optimized is brought to you by Dignitas, a multi-family office. The site is a compilation of the latest trends and issues affecting the personal lives and careers of successful executives and entrepreneurs. If you have a great idea for our next interview, let us know by signing up at

Here is the link to the interview:

“Push Me Pull You” – Intellectual Capital or Just Intellectual Property?

October 20th, 2011 by Ford Harding

Many professionals talk about their intellectual capital when they should be referring to it as intellectual property. Ideas don’t become intellectual capital unless you can monetize them. In other words to qualify as capital, an idea must help you do one or more of three things:

• Get you in front of more buyers and so get you more opportunities
• Increase your conversion rate of opportunities to paid work
• Increase the amount clients pay you by allowing you to raise your fees or broaden the scope of your work

A lot of ideas generated by professionals are orphaned by their creators, who go back to their client work after publishing and posting the results of their research. The ideas are never used in a structured business development process and so remain just property, never gaining the stature of capital.

This link will take you to an article about dealing with this problem, entitled Push-Me-Pull-You. It is written by Ford Harding of Harding & Company and Bob Buday of The Bloom Group.

Rainmaking Performance Standards – Part 3 of 3

October 10th, 2011 by Gary Pines

In two previous posts, we described the importance of developing appropriate performance standards to succeed at rain making and provided examples of the kinds needed by professionals.
Again, performance standards are measures by which you can determine:
• The degree to which you are succeeding or failing,
• The degree to which you are on track to succeeding or failing,
• How your performance compares to others, and
• Where you should devote your attention to improving your performance, either by doing more or less of an activity or by doing something additional or different.
There are many consequences for insufficient appreciation of rainmaking performance standards. Here we will describe two of them.

The Build It and They Will Come Fallacy
This fallacy occurs when professionals rely on one event or series of events to produce the leads that they need. This can be giving a speech or series of speeches, writing an article, having an exploratory meeting with a potential client’s senior executive or in many other ways. Having had the event, the professional stops further effort and waits for the phone to ring.
Those making this mistake have poorly develop persistence standards (a subset of performance standard), They don’t realize that how low the probability of getting much work from a single event is. They need to understand that follow-up over weeks, months, and years, will probably be necessary to turn up business from the effort. Performance measures in this area might include numbers of relevant new people met through this process and the number followed up with over time.
Both of the authors can cite a few examples of leads obtained through one simple event, but many more from events that were only a part of a longer effort.

Get Them While They’re Hot Fallacy
This fallacy occurs when, after completing a marketing effort, professionals, focus exclusively on hot prospects that are generated, e.g. those who make positive statements of interest in hiring their firm, and ignore all others who showed milder interest. We have seen this often when professionals run an educational seminar for prospective clients. Those attendees who show immediate, keen interest in the relevant service get lots of attention, as they should. But that doesn’t mean everyone else should be ignored. There is often huge, if longer-to-develop, potential in others who attended and were favorably impressed by the workshop, but have no immediate need. A firm which tracks the steps taken to follow up with interested as well as hot prospects after running a seminar, will have more success at developing rainmakers.

Performance standards are a major, if underappreciated, tool for developing rain makers.

By Gary Pines & Ford Harding

Rainmaking Performance Standards – Part 2 of 3

September 20th, 2011 by Gary Pines

In a previous post, we described the importance of developing appropriate performance standards to succeed at rain making.

Again, performance standards are measures by which you can determine:

• The degree to which you are succeeding or failing,

• The degree to which you are on track to succeeding or failing,

• How your performance compares to others, and

• Where you should devote your attention to improving your performance, either by doing more or less of an activity or by doing something else.

Here we will describe three common types of rainmaking performance standard.

Time to Result
Time-to-result measures are common in many fields. In track events, for example, they can be the absolute determinant of success, such as time to finish line in a race, or a contributing factor to success, such as time to hand off the baton in a relay.

In selling professional services time-to-result can also be a potent measure. How long does it take to convert a potential client without an explicit need for your services (or, alternatively, with an explicit need for them) from the date of the first meeting to an authorization to proceed? Many would-be rainmakers underestimate the time required, and so become discouraged with their progress.

A second example is measurement of the time it takes for an associate or manager selling $x amount to increase his sales to $y amount, with $y being the lowest level required of a partner. With this measure an aspiring rainmaker can determine if her originations are increasing faster or slower than others in her position. It can help the firm determine if the development of rainmaking talent is occurring fast enough to meet the its future needs. The measure can also help management focus on bringing high-potential professionals along faster, helping them generate more business sooner.

Routine Ratios
Routine ratios are the quantities of inputs required to achieve a desired result. In track, for example, marathon runners often talk about the number of miles a week they need to run in the months before the race to prepare them for the grueling event. A poor understanding of routine ratios is a major cause of discouragement and failure in aspiring rainmakers. Professionals usually underestimate the number of relationship development emails, calls and meetings they must make per week to generate sufficient leads.

Reliability Measures
Reliability measures indicate the deviation from a set outcome. A track team can better tolerate a sprinter with high deviation in performance, e.g. lower reliability, on solo races than on relays. In the solo event, where the runner competes with others on her own team as well as with those from the opposing team, a poor show does not preclude a win in that race by another member of the team. On a relay, a bad day usually results in a total loss of the event.

Aspiring rainmakers almost always go through a phase with low business generation reliability. This is because in the early phases of development they have few leads, so success or failure hinges on converting one to two opportunities into paid work. One loss can seem more devastating than it need be in this environment than it does to a rainmaker, who typically has a stronger lead flow and so more backup opportunities.

If you accept the importance of rainmaking performance measures, it is natural for you to want comparative statistics to help you develop performance standards for yourself or your firm. They are hard to come by. Just as performance standards vary from one track event to another (average distance per second varies widely by the distance of the race and its nature, e.g. sprints, hurdles, relays), so they do among different firms and even practices. For example, standards for a firm selling a lot of relatively small and short assignments will be quite different from one selling large and long ones. A practice that responds to event-driven needs (crisis management, competitive intelligence, residential real estate contracts) will require different standards from one that sells to an ongoing need (audit work, pension advisory). This means that most firms have to develop their own standards.

Reliability measures can include:

• Meetings schedule compared to meetings held: If cancelations rates increase, it may be the sign of a problem, such as a turn in the economy, a bad reference or weakening of selling skills.

• Time-in-stage measures, such as the time it takes to get from a first inquiry about your services to a meeting, from the first meeting to a proposal, from a proposal to presentation, and from presentation to resolution (win or loss): When time-in-stage increases, it can be a sign of insufficient attentiveness or weak sales advancing skills. (For a firm, it is also an important sign that the economy may be faltering.)

In a final post, we will describe some of the common fallacies that result from a poor understanding of performance standards.

By: Gary Pines & Ford Harding

Rainmaking Performance Standards – Part 1 of 3

September 13th, 2011 by Gary Pines

For many years, Harding & Company has studied rainmakers to learn what it takes for professionals to make the transition from doing and managing client work to selling it. One of the biggest reasons that some fail to make this transition is giving up too soon. There are many causes of this problem; one of the most significant is inadequate performance standards.

We define performance standards as measures by which you can determine:

  • The degree to which you are succeeding or failing,
  • The degree to which you are on track to succeeding or failing,
  • How your performance compares to others, and
  • Where you should devote your attention to improving your performance, either by doing more or less of an activity or by doing something else.

Of course, performance standards exist in countless fields. We use them when we evaluate our academic performance (grades, class rank, difficulty ratings of courses taken), play a sport, such as golf (putts per hole, making pars) or when we judge the suitability of something, like a car, for our needs (fuel consumption, acceleration, safety ratings).

We know from those fields that identifying and assessing performance against the right standards is critical to success. We know, for example, what we should be reviewing our child at home if she gets generally high grades in math, but fails a test on fractions.

We often forget that we have absorbed these standards from an early age. When faced with a new kind of activity that we don’t fully understand, there is always a risk of applying the wrong performance standards, usually adapted from some other area with which we are more familiar, to our detriment.

One of the authors remembers his first good hit in golf and recalls how satisfying it felt to see the ball sail straight through air right to the place he was aiming for. Without realizing, he applied standards he had learned in other activities, like riding a bicycle, where once you learn how do it you have learned it forever. He thought that he would make one good stroke after another. But golf doesn’t work that way. In golf, one good stoke is just that: one good stroke. It takes a lot of practice to do it consistently. He had to reset his standards for the new game.

The need to change expectations, like this, so that you can judge your own progress is certainly true for those learning to sell professional services. A big part of building the persistence and other habits, needed to succeed at rain making, is the development of the right standards.

In a future post, we will review some common rain making performance, such as time to result, routine ratios and reliability measures.

Post by Ford Harding & Gary Pines

Networking’s Other Side

March 22nd, 2011 by Ford Harding

Many people, including myself, extol the benefits of networking.  Networking is good because networkers spend much of their time helping others.  They remember birthdays and anniversaries.  They cheer you when you’re sick and they congratulate you when you succeed.  Networking is good, because it helps you meet people you want to know and to build relationships you want to have.  It gets you information you need for your business.  It is good because it helps you get you leads.   Good because it gets you new clients.  All of this overlooks networking’s evil side.

Yes, networking can be used to work for world peace, fight cancer and abolish poverty.  More prosaically, it helps us sell work.  But, it can also be used to fence stolen goods, sell illicit drugs and arrange for a hit man.  Or, as we have recently seen, it can be used to trade stocks on insider information.

The trial of Raj Rajaratnam for allegedly using insider information to beat the odds in the stock market provides all networkers a cautionary tale. Whether innocent or guilty of the charges, Mr. Rajaratnam was a major node in elaborate network of people sharing information on companies and their stocks.  He allegedly did all of things that a good networker does. . . and more.  He allegedly helped his contacts, when they were in trouble, even giving large amounts of money when one person was in a crisis.  He, again allegedly, gave advice and tips freely and also, if wanted, payments to an overseas account.  More subtly, he gave them respect and treated them like players and friends, at least to their faces.

Several members of the network have already pleaded guilty to insider trading, including a senior partner with one of the most prestigious consulting firms in the world, a firm  seen in the business world as the exemplar of propriety.  The well-known, internationally respected, former-managing director of that firm faces civil charges for insider trading with Mr. Rajaratnam.  Both consultants had built stellar reputations on the basis of their professional work and active contributions to charity.  That people like these can become entangled in such a tawdry affair suggests that we should be none too confident that we are above it.

This is all a good reminder that networking is a tactic, an ethically neutral tactic that can be used for good or evil.  Sooner or later, someone in your network will ask you to do something unethical or illegal.  More subtly, an unethical person may do things for you and ask your help in return.  Even if you do nothing wrong, you risk having your name sullied by association with theirs.  Giving in to such people, even if you feel an obligation to them, puts you on a slippery slope.   So, when you run into such people, remember that a good networker will neither ask for unethical favors nor do them for others.  No matter how obliged they feel, they won’t let anyone use  that feeling to compromise their ethics.   They won’t try to persuade you to do something by telling you that everyone does it or that that’s the way the real players do it. Rather, they will make it clear that they want no such thing or they will advise you when you might be at risk of  unintentionally doing something wrong.

When I was a young consultant, a client, recognizing my naïveté, cautioned me that I had just heard information only known insiders and that it wouldn’t be wise to trade in the company’s stock six months or so.  That man was a true friend and a good networker.

Compensation isn’t all that drives business development behavior

February 2nd, 2011 by Mimi Spangler

You don’t have to pay your staff tons to market!  While it has to be fair, it doesn’t drive all behavior.  We have found the same.  Hay Group’s recent study on “Three incentives that actually work” captures this point to some degree.  The article will make you step back and reflect – - are we doing that?  Follow this link for the study:

Don’t miss your speaking opportunities for small groups

January 26th, 2011 by Mimi Spangler

When you are asked to speak to a small group of executives in an association what is the first thing you do?

A.  Review some of your other presentations to see if you can reuse some of the material

B.  Begin thinking of a topic that would best showcase your expertise to the executives

C.  Brainstorm topics that the participants find most challenging

While there is no “right” answer and it is likely that most presenters would eventually do all three to some degree, the first step that rain makers would tend to do is “C”.  For a small group, a stand up presentation to potential prospects is a lost opportunity.  Facilitating discussion among the group around a significant topic will likely yield higher participation, greater satisfaction for participants and more follow on discussions with you.

Defining a sales culture

January 23rd, 2011 by Mimi Spangler

Our research has shown that identifying the characteristics of a sustainable sales culture is complex.  To better understand the best processes and variables that would provide the most useable data for firm leaders, I solicited the help of my dear friend, Farha Ghannam, Associates Professor of Anthropology at Swarthmore College.  Her knowledge and guidance in social anthropology and studying different cultures was amazing and inspirational.  Two of her definitions of a culture referenced from prominent social anthropologist  were most moving – “a pattern for all thoughts and actions”.   Simple, yet highly insightful!  “Shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a population”  Useful to dissect.  More to come this year.

“If I wanted to sell something I would have gone into sales or marketing!”

November 3rd, 2010 by Mimi Spangler

Technical professionals chose college majors that are highly analytical and shied away from more customer-facing fields such as business or marketing oftentimes because they never wanted to sell anything.  In life, being perverse, these professionals are then confronted with their greatest fear as they approach their peak earning years.  They are told by firm leaders that they must sell to advance to the ranks of Partner.  The thought of selling gives many seasoned professionals significant angst.  This angst is a result of their association with sales being opportunistic, pushy and deceptive.  Reframing this association with selling to be more synonymous with helping is the first step towards building acceptance of the tasks required to be effective at business development.  The earlier in a professionals development that you can reframe a negative sales perception, the sooner the professional will begin exhibiting effective business development behaviors.  In the next two blog posts we will share some ways to do this but also wanted to solicit our readers to share their experiences with this too.