Archive for September, 2009

Rainmaking Problem #22: How often should you call?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I frequently get asked how often one should call a former client or other valuable business contact.  Professionals are deeply concerned that calling too often will annoy the contact.  Some err on the side of caution by not calling contacts at all, except they need to talk about specific business at hand.  Others call more frequently.

Like most people, professionals have contacts whom they can call at any time.  However, virtually all of us want to avoid bothering a busy client or contact with a drifting catchup conversation.  Some contacts are likely to drop you, if you abuse the friendship with too many pointless calls or calls transparently for the purpose of asking for more work.

How frequently to call someone is a highly personal decision, and heavily situational.  Still, I think that most of  us have some  rules we apply to making that choice.  What are yours?

(This is another of our Rainmaking Problems, which I post from time to time, because I am not totally satisfied with the answers I give, when questioned on the subject. In other cases, readers send me questions that they would like to get answers to from people with different perspectives.  If you have such a question, please send it to me at

A Fall in a Ditch Makes You Wiser

Monday, September 28th, 2009

I must thank Steve Shu for passing on this Chinese proverb.  For some reason I don’t fully understand, we learn more from our failures than from successes.  Does anyone know why?

Whatever the reason, we can learn lot more by putting some effort into it, asking others who were involved in the sale, both clients and colleagues what happened.  Here are just a few of the things I have learned over the years from lost sales:

  • That how you look and what you do in a sales meeting is often more important than what you say.  Specifically, the client informed me that our carefully selected team may have said that they worked well together, but sent a different nonverbal message.  For the next sale we carefully programmed their appearance and actions, so that they exemplified teamwork, and we won.
  • That a competitor was beating us by delivering a specific message more effectively than the firm I was with.  Because I then knew what to look for, a month later, when I saw the competitor present at a conference I was able to identify a specific slide that delivered the message.  Knowing what he was saying and how he was saying it allowed us to neutralize this advantage.
  • That my little firm could compete with big ones.  A near win and a follow-up debriefing with the client showed me that we could compete with firms much bigger and better established than ours.  This helped me set my sights higher.  Six months later, I had a big win with a big client, a sale which transformed the firm.
  • How to interpret body language better.  Early in my career, I came away from a meeting feeling it had been a big success.  My boss, who had participated largely as an observer, told me that we would never hear from this client again and why.  He was right.  He had read the body language better than I had.
  • That specific marketing materials were ineffective.  They needed an update, which we quickly gave them . . . and then started to win more work.
  • That debriefings after a loss may not always provide much insight, but doing them is worth it anyway.  Perhaps one in five post mortem interviews with clients provided real insight, but that one gave me so much insight that was worth all time spent on those that didn’t.
  • That a client expected things that we could not ethically provide and so we could walk away from the loss with our heads held high.
  • That the client would like us to bid again on future work.  The client had really liked us and wanted to find a way to work with us.  We just weren’t right for the current assignment.

For more on this subject see my post, Learning from Loss. What have you learned by debriefing a client after a loss?

Avoiding the Hard Work of Generating Leads #2: Not Knowing the Right People

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

(For over 15 years Harding & Company has helped hundreds of professionals make the transition from doing and managing client worked selling it.  Among our duties is helping the people we work with recognize it when they are avoiding the hard work on developing relationships and generating leads.  This is the second of a series of posts on the most popular avoidance tactics.)

Some people avoid the hard work of business development by convincing themselves that their efforts will produce no results.  That being the case, there is no point in trying.  The most common version of this tactic is expressed in words: “I don’t know the right people, so calling or meeting with them won’t turn up any new business.”

This statement must stand up to two questions:

  1. Is it true? In my experience it is seldom totally true.  Such universal statements seldom are.  Most of us know more people than we realize.  Also, people’s circumstances change over time.  Someone who was not in a position to hire you in the past, may be able to today.  Phil, a consultant, called a former client whom he thought would never amount to much.  Since they had last talked she had moved to another company.  It proved a better match for her, and her career took off.  She hired him for a small project almost immediately after his call.  I have many examples like this, including one critical to the early success of my own firm, which I have related in an earlier post.
  2. If it is true, so what? That you don’t know the right people will seldom relieve you of the responsibility for bringing in business to advance your career.  So, if you don’t know the right people, you must ask yourself how you can meet them.  There are many ways, including meeting more people during your client work, attending professional association meetings, conducting research that will require you to interview those whom you would like to add to your network, cold calling, to name but a few.

Remember, even if your base of contacts is not as strong as you would like, it is always better to be talking to someone in the marketplace than to be talking to no one.  If you are talking to someone, something good might happen.  If you are not talking to anybody, the probability of success is infinitesimal.

CRM Systems: Asset or Burden?

Monday, September 21st, 2009

(This is one of a number of posts on The Perfect CRM being published today.  Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this one.)

I am not a technology expert by any stretch, but it doesn’t take an expert to be shocked at the frequency with which professionals complain of their firms’ CRM systems as burdens, rather than touting them as assets.  I have worked with thousands of professionals at well over 100 firms and do not recall one instance of a general rave for a firm’s systems.  I can’t recall one endorsement of a firm’s system by a user.  But unsolicited complaints are loud and constant.  This is true of professionals who lack technological sophistication, but also true of technology consultants who are in a position to assess a CRM system both as technologists and as users.

Some of these complaints result from conflicting goals of firm management and those of the individuals professionals who use the systems daily.  For management, the information captured in the CRM system represents a major asset that must be carefully protected.  Though the individual professionals may share this view, for them it must be a real-time, flexible tool for their business development efforts.

Also, problems can arise when a system designed for dedicated sales forces is applied to the professions.  The management of the sales force of a product company differs from that of a professional firm.  In a product company sales people report to sales managers who report to the head of sales.  In a professional firm, the most productive sellers are senior partners who don’t necessarily view themselves as reporting to anyone, and certainly not to a sales manager.  Staff marketing, business development and IT personnel are often, albeit wrongly, seen as second-class citizens.  These factors complicate implementation a CRM system and enforcement of its use.

Here are some of the more common complaints that a perfect system must address:

  • Barriers to changing data:  A professional must be able to add, delete and change information about a contact rapidly and easily.   Systems requiring that all changes flow through a central point to control quality, create an impossible barrier to effective use.   The better systems allow professionals to change data at will for contacts assigned to them.
  • Inability to blind sensitive information: A professional needs to be able to post sensitive information on the database without fear that it will be seen by other users.  When a client provides the professional with a home phone number or other confidential information, the professional needs to be able to store that information on the database where it is accessible to him with confidence that it will not be as accessible to all.
  • Learning barriers:  If the system isn’t easy to learn, busy professionals won’t bother with it.  With a half-hour of instruction, a professional should be able to get basic functionality from the system.
  • Clumsy data manipulation: The user should be able to sort by any major field; such as by last name, company, location, area code or zip code; and that sort should bring up just the relevant contacts.  It should not result in a list of all contacts listed alphabetically by field, requiring busy professionals to scan through many lines of data to find what they want.
  • Difficult data management: Accessing the database; making changes to it; adding notes; scheduling follow-up calls, meetings and reminders; associating related documents such as proposals; and similar activities must be easy to do with a minimum of formal training.  Professionals are busy people focused primarily on serving their clients, not on tinkering with a CRM system.  Time spent wrestling with the system is time away from clients and selling.
  • Adjudicating primary contact responsibilities:  Many professionals feel proprietary about their contacts.  They resent others in the firm calling or meeting with their contacts without their consent.  Sometimes they resist sharing a contact, even though they haven’t done anything to maintain a relationship, themselves.  A good system will remind a professional that he has not made contact with a specific client in, say, nine months.  It will then remind both the professional and firm management, if he has not made contact with that client for a year.  The timing of the reminders should be modifiable, depending on specific circumstances.  This allows management to reassign contact responsibility, when the current relationship manager has been inattentive.

Perfection may not be possible.  But CRM systems could be better adapted for the needs of professionals than they are.

Post Epilogue

The Perfect CRM is a series of essays by industry experts on the topic of client relationship management tools. Each expert will draw upon years of experience to outline their vision of the perfect CRM system. This exercise will provide you with new insights into what works, what doesn’t work, and what you should consider when implementing a CRM system.

The experts include:

  • Tim Klabunde, Author of the CRM Chapter in the Marketing Handbook for the Design and Construction Professional
  • Bernie Siben, Author of A Horse of a Different Color: Marketing in the Public Sector
  • Bobby Darnell, Former Director of National Accounts at Reed Construction Data
  • Mel Lester, Owner of the Business Edge
  • Matt Handal, Contributing Editor of SMPS Marketer

Visit these sites by clicking on the names to read each expert’s take on the perfect CRM.

Rainmaking Problem #22: Team Selling for the First Time

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

(This is another of the rainmaking problems I post from time to time, seeking reader opinions.  If you have a problem you would like help with from this blog’s readers, send me an email describing it at

The first time two professionals from a firm team with each other on a sales call, it can be tough, especially if they are peers. They don’t know each other’s style in a sales meeting. They don’t share the same expectations about what will happen and the easy sharing back and forth that comes from having gone on a few calls together. What should professionals planning to go on a sales call together for the first time do to ensure that their efforts are coordinated and that the meeting goes well?

Avoiding the Hard Work of Generating Leads #1: Never Say No and Never Delegate

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

(For over 15 years Harding & Company has helped hundreds of professionals make the transition from doing and managing client worked selling it.  Among our duties is helping the people we work with recognize it when they are avoiding the hard work on developing relationships and generating leads.  This is the first of a series of posts on the most popular avoidance tactics.)

Time shortage is a real problem.  It becomes an avoidance tactic when you book yourself so full of other activities that there is no time left make calls and having meetings.  People who use this tactic never say no to additional client work or to requests for help on internal projects.  They protest that it is impossible to say no and impossible for them to delegate any of their work to subordinates.  Yet, others we work within the same firms do both.

If you think you may be falling into this trap, remember that if, five years from today, you are doing exactly the same type and mix of work you are doing today, your career is stalled.  Selectively, you must say no and in the overwhelming majority of firms you can, if you can legitimately claim that saying yes will reduce your business development efforts.  For that claim to be accepted as legitimate, you must demonstrate call and meeting discipline.

If you never delegate, you’re holding both yourself and your subordinates back.  No matter how you feel about it, eventually firm management and your subordinates will recognize this fact, placing you at a vice.

At some future time, when promotion or retaining your job depends on your success at business development, your arguments that you did not have time for it will not help you.

Joint Posting on the Perfect CRM

Monday, September 14th, 2009

One of the key tools in any Rainmaker’s arsenal is a great Client Relationship Management (CRM) system. Unfortunately. many rainmakers and their firms struggle to successfully implement these systems.

On September 21, 2009, a group of rainmakers and experts will provide their own unique perspective to answer the question, “what is the perfect client relationship management system?”

Each expert will draw upon years of experience to outline their vision of the perfect CRM system. This exercise will provide you with new insights into what works, what doesn’t work, and what you should consider when implementing a CRM system.

The experts include:

  • Tim Klabunde, Author of the CRM Chapter in the Marketing Handbook for the Design and Construction Professional
  • Bernie Siben, Author of A Horse of a Different Color: Marketing in the Public Sector
  • Bobby Darnell, Former Director of National Accounts at Reed Construction Data
  • Mel Lester, Owner of the Business Edge
  • Matt Handal, Contributing Editor of SMPS Marketer
  • and me.

Join us on September 21, 2009 by reading each author’s post at the sites listed and contributing by commenting with your own thoughts and experiences.

Rainmaking Resource #10: Two New Books

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Two new books of interest to aspiring rainmakers and managers of profession service firms came out this summer.

The first is The Integration Imperative by Suzanne C. Lowe [Professional Services Books, 1990].   It deals with what I believe will be the single biggest issue in business development at professional services firms in coming years, the integration of sales and marketing.  Professional service firms are well behind traditional product firms in this area.  This results, I suspect, from two major causes.    First, selling was a forbidden word in the professions for many years and still is at a few firms.  If you can’t talk about it, you can’t manage it.

Second, marketing has been a poorly defined term in the professions, in part, because it was often used as a euphemism for selling.  When not referring to selling, marketing has been used vaguely to refer to a collection of activities, including public relations, advertising, running seminars and the like.   This is a far cry from the sophisticated understanding of marketing found at product companies where the term refers to the selection and positioning of products in carefully selected markets and the way a company goes about taking those products to the  markets.

Professional firms which successfully integrate sales and marketing will have a big advantage.  Some already do.  Lowe has sought out a number of these firms and studied what they have done.

The book is divided into three parts.  The first covers why integration of marketing and sales is important and the second provides guidance on how to do it.  These are both well worth reading and studying.  Still, it is the third part that I found most interesting.  I am a sucker for case studies, and Lowe has outdone herself in this section by providing detailed studies of eleven firms across the professions.

The second book, Winning the Professional Services Sale by Michael W. McLaughlin [Wiley, 2009], neatly complements the first by providing an in-depth look at how professionals should handle a sales meeting.  It covers both the strategy and tactics of face-to-face selling from how to prepare, draw out the client’s needs, deal with surprises, prepare proposals, present, negotiate and set up the second sale.  McLaughlin also addresses critical subjects that are infrequently written about, such as when to walk away from a sale.

McLaughlin provides practical advice that is clearly based on a lot of personal experience.  For example, early in the first chapter he states that in a sales meeting every client has three burning questions of a professional:

•    Do you really understand what we need?
•    Can you do what you claim?
•    Will you work well with us?

Anyone who has sold professional services knows that these are the fundamental questions.

Though I may not agree with everything McLaughlin says, his arguments are well worth reading and a valuable check on opinions that all of us hold about selling.  This book is a good choice for anyone learning to sell professionals services and also for those interested in refreshing and sharpening established skills.

The Care & Feeding of Clueless Business Developers

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

In an excellent recent post, Jeffery James writes of the mistakes experts make when teaming with a salesperson to sell a complex technical product.  They are all too true; so true that they make me cringe.  I could cite a few more.

In fairness, though, there are also mistakes that clueless salespeople make when teaming with a management consultant, accountant, engineer or other professional to sell a professional service.  These include:

  • Believing that a good salesperson can sell anything and trying to sell a complex service as if it were a widget.  Some salespeople are good at selling professional services and some aren’t, however good they are at selling something else.
  • Not respecting the expert’s expertise.  I have seen more than one salesperson try to structure a service without the expert or ignoring the expert’s advice.  This most often happens when the salesperson tries to negotiate a reduction in scope for a client that wants a price decrease without the expert’s input.  They may make the sale, but the results are seldom pretty.
  • Not recognizing when it is inappropriate to sell.  Professionals are in an advisory role and there are times when it just isn’t appropriate to try to sell something.  A consultant whose firm was acquired by a technology company arranged a meeting with the skeptical CIO at one of his clients to explain how the change in ownership would improve his firm’s service.  Not recognizing that this was an educational meeting and probably never having met with a C-Suite executive before, the salesperson tried to sell the CIO something.  The CIO felt tricked into a sales meeting which was not what he had agreed to or expected.  I could cite several analogous cases.  This kind of behavior can cost the firm a client.
  • Not respecting the expert’s relationship with the client.  The expert has a qualitatively different relationship with the client than most business developers will ever have.  Not necessarily better, but different, because it is based on the client’s respect for the professional’s knowledge and advice.  Some salespeople act as if the relationship between the professional and the client didn’t exist, even though the client and professional have known each other for years.  I have known cases where the client told the professional that he didn’t want to see the salesperson again.
  • Not keeping the expert informed.  Business developers will sometimes run with an opportunity without keeping the expert informed, even when the expert is working at the client and turned up the lead.

Of course, many business developers don’t make these mistakes.  To avoid these problems with those who might, a professional firm should:

  • Hire the right kind of salesperson:  Those who would sell professional services have to be smart, curious and eager to learn about the nuances of the service in question, and respectful of the professional’s expertise.  They should also be tactful on-the-job sales trainers.  When possible recruit some of your business developers from your professional team, using a few years in full-time sales positions, as a part of their career development.
  • Set ground rules for every meeting.  Make clear what the client’s expectations are for any meeting and what behaviors are appropriate and what are not.
  • Set ground rules for every pursuit.  The same can be said for every opportunity pursued.
  • Assign primary and secondary relationship responsibilities for key members of a client organization.  Both business developers and firm professional staff members should have such responsibilities.

When a sales-savvy professional is teamed with a professions-savvy salesperson, they can work wonders.  It’s a combination worth striving for.