Archive for September, 2007

Rainmaker Resilience Test

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

How would you react, if the following happened to you over the course of a month as you tried to develop new business?

  • Three unreturned phone calls to the same former client.
  • Being stood up for meetings two weeks in succession.
  • Learning that a former client has a new project only after it has been awarded to someone else.
  • Four losses in a row to competitors.
  • Realization that you have been calling and meeting with contacts at a large prospective client for a year without winning any business.

If you work at developing business long enough, you will have a month like this.  Events like these don’t bother rainmakers.  Where other people would blame themselves and get discouraged, rainmakers depersonalize such events.  They know that their luck will soon turn and they will start to win.

Opportunistic Rainmaking or Three Contacts

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

“You never know where the next piece of business is going to come from.”  I have heard those exact words from at least a dozen rainmakers I have interviewed over the years.  For all the targeting and prioritizing that we do when selling our services, there is still room for some healthy opportunism.  These unexpected opportunities remind us how imperfect our judgment is when picking targets and result in us winning some major assignments.  Here are three people who have unexpectedly given me opportunities and lessons to be learned from each.  Names have been changed.


If you passed Stephen in the street, you wouldn’t notice him.  He is short, quiet and lacks pretension.  He seems shy by nature, though he engages easily one on one and has taught himself to work a room. 

I first met him doing just that at an association meeting.  There he focused on other people, getting them to talk about something that interested them, so that later, reflecting on the conversation, I was more likely to remember the person doing the talking, than to remember Stephen.

On the last day of the conference we found ourselves the first to arrive at a breakout room to hear some speaker I have long since forgotten.  He asked me questions and, like others I had seen the night before, I was soon talking about myself and finding it a pleasant subject, while he sat there quietly, a twinkle in his eye. He suggested that we get together some time after the meeting.

That was twelve years ago.  I didn’t believe then or for quite some time that his firm would hire us.  But it did.  It took him four years to get us in, but he did it. Since then he has become a friend.  I have boundless respect for this man, as do many others.  Still, if you put him in a crowd, he will become inconspicuous, almost as if he had protective coloration that helped him disappear into his surroundings.

Lesson:  Stephen is a reminder that substance is more important than show, something we all know, but need reminding of from time to time.  He is also a good example of how valuable it is to have a sponsor in a client organization.


I also met Rachel at an event, this one sponsored by a team that consulted to law firms from a Big Four accounting firm.  Not having learned how to get a good seat at such an event (see posting of  June 2007, entitled Three Ways to Get a Good Seat.), I took pot luck by grabbing an unoccupied seat between two other participants.  Rachel sat on my left.  She worked at a mid-sized law firm as director of marketing.  The firm didn’t sound like one we would be eager to work for.  Still, she seemed a nice person, and to me that counts for something.

I sent her one of my books and called her a few times.  She wanted to bring us into her firm, but clearly lacked the influence to do so.  I put her into the call-twice-a-year category and went about my business.

Three years later, I answered the phone and it was Rachel.  She had moved to a prestigious firm and brought us in to what was a strategically important account.

Since then I have gotten to know her.  She has dealt successfully with things that would bring most people down, and remains irrepressibly optimistic.  She is truly heroic.  But it took me a long time to learn that.

Lessons:  People move around.  Someone who is a poor fit in one company may be a star at another.  You can’t always recognize a hero when you see one.


A partner at a large firm, Jake was under pressure to sell more work.  To help him, the firm put him into one of our programs, and I worked with him for six months.  He was openly skeptical, but did what we suggested.  He took direction, worked hard at developing business, and hung in there for six months.  But the business didn’t come.  Not long after our program ended all his hard work began to pay off.  I learned this from others and called to congratulate him, but he didn’t respond to my voicemail message, nor to any other message that I left him. 

I did a lot of work for his firm, and when I was in town would stop by his office.  When he was available, he was cordial, but undemonstrative, the conversation was stilted.  He left the firm and I called him at his new employer.  Again there was no response. I didn’t try again.

Last year I got a call from someone in his firm asking us to come pitch our services.  The oman said that Jake was among their most successful rainmakers and had recommended us.  One of my colleagues went for the sales call.  Jake introduced him to the assembled crowd, saying that if they followed our advice, they would eventually win work, that by following our teachings, he could confidently generate the revenues he was equired to, year after year.  We got the assignment and are still working with his colleagues.  With that kind of endorsement, it is no surprise.

I called to thank him, and we had another stilted conversation. Since then he hasn’t returned my calls.

Lessons:  I am reluctant to say, “Expect the unexpected,” because you might puke.  Other than that, all I can say is thank you, Jake.  You may not have returned my calls, but you were there for me when it counted.  To the rest of you, all I can do is point out that you never know where the next piece of work will come from.

Guest Blogger: Gary Pines

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I have invited my colleague, Gary Pines, to write the following entry.  Gary has sold professional services for thirty years as an actuary and a consultant.  Among his clients have been some of the largest coporations in the world.  He has spent the last five years at Harding & Company, helping those who do and manage client work learn to sell it.

He has published articles on selling professional services in The Actuary and Consulting to Management.  He is a contributor to the second edition of my first book, Rain Making, which is scheduled for publication in February, 2008.

FEAR: The Obstacle to Rain Making Success

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

by Gary Pines

Mental barriers to doing what we must to bring in business hamper us far more than do lack of skill or time.  These mental habits are invisible parasites that suck away our vigor, making it hard to perform.   They attack us in many circumstances:

  •  I am about to make a phone call to someone I have not spoken to in six months. I go to the phone. I get ready to pick up the receiver … and then I hesitate as worries race through my mind.  She won’t remember me.  She won’t want to talk with me.  Why haven’t I called her sooner? I have no great idea to give her.  She probably won’t be there anyway.  I just remembered that I have to finish working on a project.  The phone call doesn’t get made.
  • I attend an association meeting intending to meet prospective clients.  The room is full of people chatting in small groups.  Again, doubts undermine my determination:  These people aren’t interested in me.  They will think that I am just trying to sell them something.  This will never work.  My thoughts are interrupted by a former colleague, and I spend the rest of the event with him.
  • During a three-hour flight my seat mate turns on her computer, the desktop has the logo of a company I have wanted to have as a client for years.  I think briefly of starting a conversation, but say to myself:  She’s going to think I’m weird.  This is such a long shot, it’s not worth it.  At the end of the flight, we go our separate ways without have shared a word.

There are many situations where we doubt our Rain Making intentions and hesitate; whether it be asking for a catching-up meeting, inviting someone to an event, asking personal questions about their kids and vacations,  or asking for the business.

So … why do we hesitate?  Why do we hear two voices in our head arguing with each other, the positive voice saying “Do it’” the negative one giving all the reasons not to. The simple answer to why we hesitate is … FEAR.  We all FEAR something bad will happen.  And if something bad happens, we will be in some kind of trouble.

Trouble can be as easily understood by using FEAR as an acronym:
 F … I don’t want Failure
 E … I don’t want Embarrassment
 R … I don’t want Rejection

Failure, Embarrassment And Rejection are a real problem if they interfere with your professional work.

But, Failure, Embarrassment And Rejection are a natural part of being a successful Rainmaker.  You will not be successful as a Rainmaker unless you bust through FEAR.So … if you can break through the barrier of FEAR when developing business … and accept (and even celebrate) failures, embarrassments and rejections … then your chances of new business success go up.  But it takes practice.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Identify situations where FEAR takes over.  Some people fear making phone calls, some mixing in a crowd of people they don’t know, and still others something else.  Articulate to yourself clearly what situations bring out the negative voice of the parasite, FEAR.
  • Recognize and name it when FEAR inserts itself.  Now that you understand what brings out FEAR, when it comes, stop for a moment and acknowledge what is happening:  “This is irrational fear speaking.  It doesn’t always speak the truth.  Accepting its words as if they were true will set back my career.”
  • Do a logical assessment of the risk you face and use that to dispel FEAR.  Listen to the specific words of the little voice and assess their truthfulness.  If the voice says, She doesn’t want to talk with me, you might conclude We always got along well.  There is no reason to believe it is otherwise now.
  • Seek out situations where you can overcome FEAR.  Push yourself to test the truthfulness of FEAR in a situation where logic tells you that the little voice is not speaking the truth.  Once you have completed the action assess again whether FEAR was rationally justified.
  • Once you have succeeded in a slightly fearful situation, up the ante by seeking out situations which would cause greater FEAR.  Try again it a more fearful situation. And again assess the truthfulness.
  • Repeat the process.  Eventually, you will learn to manage FEAR instead of it managing you.

How unfortunate it would be if you let irrational FEAR stand in the way to your success.  Most of us have helped a child face and overcome unnecessary fear that stood in the way of his or her success.  We did it using a process similar to the one described here.  FEAR is not restricted to any age.  At any age it is best to face it, recognize it for what it is, an irrational, loudmouth bogeyman, who will not stand up to the light.

The Rainmaker and the BLIP

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

From Flip to BLIP: On Tuesday we covered The Amazing Flip or how a rainmaker can sometimes flip roles with the prospective client and get the client to try to convince the rainmaker of desirability of her firm as a client. Today, we will turn to BLIPs. BLIP is an acronym for Bottom Line Impacting Project, a term which some firms use to describe the largest opportunities they pursue, the ones most important to win. To classify as a BLIP, a project usually must have a fee above a certain amount.

One international firm limited BLIPs to those projects with fees expected to run over $4,000,000. A friend of mine, whom I will call George, was the head of marketing there. A smart man who knew a lot about selling professional services, George believed in the persuasive value of good data and he analyzed the firm’s sales data carefully. Every year he would determine the win-rate on BLIPs. This was an important statistic in a business where all projects were competitively bid, with four or five firms duking it out as finalists. In its best year, George’s firm won over sixty percent, an astounding number given the competitive nature of the business.

Then George did something interesting. He looked through the firm’s old lead lists, which management used to track opportunities the different offices were pursuing, for the date that each one of the BLIPs first appeared on it. He used this data, to determine how many months the firm was actively pursuing each project. He then calculated the win rate for each one and determined win rates by the length of each pursuit to see if there was a correlation. The results were stunning: For BLIPs the firm had pursued for more than a year the win rate was a jaw-dropping eighty percent. This is like a baseball team playing 750 ball; it’s so rare it’s hard to believe when it happens. In other words, the length of time that the firm pursued a project was a major determinant of success. In essence the analysis showed that if you only learned about an opportunity when the request for proposal arrived in the mail, your chances of winning were negligible.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has sold professional services for a long time, but I have never seen it so clearly documented. And, just as George had predicted, the data argued persuasively for learning about projects early. Why should this be so?

There are several reasons. Selling is done through an exchange of information. The buyer gives you information on his needs and you give back information on how you can address them. The more you know about the client’s needs, the more accurate the solution you can frame and the more persuasive the words you can use to describe it. This is because the firm that knows about a client’s plans to hire a professional has more time to find out about a need. The team from that firm can talk to more people about what the client wants and talk to them more often. They may even be able to help the client better understand his problem and the kinds of help the client will need to fix it. The client selects the professionals he wants to work with and justifies his choice with logic afterwards. A firm that has early information on a client’s need has more time to develop an emotional linkage.

Also, as the number of people who learn about a pending project goes up, the more formal and limiting becomes contact between the client and the firms competing to win it. This reduction in contact is required by regulation for government projects. Though less formal in the private sector, as the number of professionals want access to the client rises, it becomes harder for the client to get work done. To avoid this, many clients limit access as the decision about whom to hire gets closer.

Anyone who has sold a lot of professional services knows this. I write this for those who haven’t, for those who see an RFP from a client as a much more promising opportunity than the longer and less direct pursuit of an as yet unidentified project by going out and talking to people who have not expressed any specific need, yet. In many cases the RFP is the illusion of an opportunity. The client has already decided which two or three firms it will choose from, and those firms have been pursuing the project for over a year.

Rainmaker Story #5: The Amazing Flip

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Most of us are afraid to turn down a client, fearing that if we do, we will never have another chance. I did, too, until David told me the story of the Amazing Flip.

David worked for a creative firm that I will not describe in detail, in order to protect its identity. I will call it Cool & Awesome. The firm was founded on the belief that to have the best firm you had to hire and retain the best people and that to get the best people you had to offer them the most interesting work. This belief was put into practice by allowing any professional in the firm to turn down work she disliked. This meant that before anyone sold a project to a client, he had to make sure he could find people willing to do it. Each project had to be sold twice, once to the client and once to the firm’s professionals.

David, who is among the most accomplished rainmakers I know, was new with the firm and still adjusting to this peculiar two-way selling, when I first met him. One day an executive from a Fortune 100 company called to discuss several projects he want David’s firm to do. As he listened to the descriptions of the projects, David realized that he wouldn’t be able to sell them inside. Still, it wasn’t everyday he got a call from a company that big from an executive that senior. So, instead of telling him no over the phone David flew to the client’s city and took him to dinner.

Over dinner he told the client about the firm’s unusual practice of letting its professionals turn down work. “For any of them being willing to do it,” said David, “it either has to be technically challenging, have high visibility, or do significant good to society. I don’t think I can sell your projects internally. I think you would be better served by going to another . . .” Here, the client interjected, “Are you trying to say that our projects aren’t cool enough?” All David could do was shrug his shoulders.

A week later the man called David, asking to meet with several of the key members of the Cool & Awesome professional staff. The day of the meeting the man stood before the Cool & Awesome talent and put up his first slide. It read:

Why XYZ Corporation
Wants to Work With
Cool & Awesome
And Why
Cool & Awesome
Should Want
To Work With XYZ

That was the Amazing Flip: Roles had reversed. The client had become the seller and the professional firm had become the buyer!

Having learned that saying no can make you more attractive, rather than less, the very next week, I called a client and told them we would not be pursuing work with them that they had asked us to bid on. The client paused for a moment and then responded, “Well, if you don’t want to work with our New York teams, let me tell you how it would work in Boston.”


What Does a CMO Do?

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Suzanne Lowe consults to professional firms on marketing. Because Harding & Company consults to the same market on sales, our practices naturally complement each other.  Her book (Marketplace Masters: How Professional Service Firms Compete to Win) and her blog ( are must-have resources for marketers of professional services.

Our services don’t neatly abut each other.  Rather, they overlap.  This is hardly surprising given our market.  The distinction between marketing and sales remains murky at most professional firms.  This is complicate by the avoidance of the S-word at many professional firms, where “marketing” is often a euphemism for “selling,” and where the distinction has been complicated further by the injection of the term, “business development” into the mix, at first to replace the S-word.  Since its appearance the meaning of b.d. (as it is commonly abbreviated) has morphed.  Depending on the firm and context, it can now refer to selling, marketing and selling, lead generation or parts of all of these.

All of this makes it impossible for me to avoid meddling in Suzanne’s business.  She tolerates it, as the good soul she is.  So here I go again.

Suzanne is fighting to make the top marketing person (chief marketing officer, if you will, because every function must have a chief these days) as strategic a player in professional firms as is commonly the case at product companies.  She has been joyously stabbing and hacking at this windmill for quite some time: it’s a big windmill and her energy is boundless. 

I would hate to see her give up, because it is a worthy cause.  Her thoughtful analyses, practical experience, and hard work have helped her define the eleven competencies of a competitively-effective professional firm which a CMO is supposed to help them develop.  I don’t question the desirability of getting CMOs to this level, but getting there from here will be a neat trick. That’s because of the four conflicting roles a top marketing person at a professional firm must play if a managing partner is relying on him for serious work.  (The other option is the marketer-as-gopher role, which I abhor as much as Suzanne does.)

The roles are:

  • The marketing strategist:  In this role, the marketer conducts research on markets, clients and competitors and serves as a sparring partner and motivator to the managing partner and the marketing committee, if there is one.  This is the role of the expert and deep thinker.  To play this role, the marketer must have resources and access to the managing partner and relevant committee members and practice or studio heads.  To play it successfully she must be seen as an intellectual equal to the partners.                                                  
  • The marketing service provider:  In this role, the marketer provides the various partners, practices or studios, with marketing support to their sales and marketing activities.  She takes orders from the heads of teams pursuing specific markets or clients. She and her team help make brochures and other marketing documents, qualifications packages and proposals.  This person and her team must work late into the night on every client submission because the professionals are always late handing in the parts of the documents they are responsible for.  This is a service role in which the marketer must treat the partners as customers.
  • The brand and marketing police:  In this role the marketers demand, chide and threaten to keep others in the firm from damaging the firm’s brand. To this end, they read all proposals, press releases and anything that hints at being a marketing document to make sure they don’t hurt the firm or muddy its brand.  It is not a role that endears them to others in the firm.
  • An extension of the managing partner:  When a conflict arises and the managing partner must attend two meetings at the same time, she will sometimes send a staffer to represent her at the less important meeting.  In this role of borrowed authority the marketer has substantial power, but must use it adeptly.  If the managing partner feels that her head of marketing makes too many mistakes when representing her, she will stop using him this way.

It is virtually impossible for one person to fill all four roles.  A person can’t be the loyal, marketing service provider working uncomplainingly to 1:00 in the morning because an inconsiderate partner failed to get his portion of a proposal in until just before midnight and then be the tough brand police officer and extension of the managing partner’s power the next morning.

In big firms the problem can be reduced by assigning these functions to different people in the marketing department.  The many small firms don’t have that choice.  The only choice they have is which of the four roles do they most need fillerd.  Unquestionably, that is the thankless job of getting proposals out the door.  That is also the lowest status marketing job, preparing neither the firm nor the proposal polisher for a marketing organization with a strategic role.

Cross Selling A Colleague

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Inexperienced at selling, some professionals struggle to find the words to use to introduce a colleague. Of course, given enough time they could, but the opportunity usually comes unexpectedly, offering no chance to prepare. Once it passes, the professional forgets the need to prepare in the frenzy of client work, until, too late, the client springs another opportunity on him.Here is some language you can adapt to your needs. Once you have revised them to better fit your circumstances, practice them five or six times over the next two days. Then review them once a month until the opportunity to use them with a client welds them to your memory:

Sample Language #1

I sense this is important and urgent. Could I make a suggestion? Two of our partners are extremely knowledgeable on this subject, having helped such companies as A, B and C. You’ve been a good client, and I would like to arrange a meeting with one or both of them to share with you some of the experiences other companies have had and what they learned about dealing with it. Of course, they would very much like to work with you on this matter, but both take the long view about marketing and would want you to come away from the meeting feeling glad you spent the time, regardless of whether you chose to work with them or not.

Sample Language #2

On this matter we can do a better job for you if I bring in Richard Sanchez from our XYZ Practice. He is extremely knowledgeable in this area and, I think, would fit well with your people. I will bring him with me next week, if that’s okay with you.

Sample Language #3

Part of my job is to share with you things that we see in the marketplace that it might benefit you to hear about or about which we can bring a different point of view. Kathy Kelly of our XYZ practice has developed some fascinating insights into the recent movement towards ABC. Would you be interested in hearing what she has to say?.

Is there any language that you have heard or that you use that works well and that you would like to share?