Archive for the 'Rainmaker Story' Category

Rainmaker Story #7: David’s Breakfast or Get It While You Can

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

(This posting is adapted from the second edition of my book, Rain Making: the Professionals Guide to Attracting New Clients, which will be published in February of 2008. About 40 % of the content in this edition will be new.)

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Thanksgiving makes me think of big meals, and when I think of big meals, I think of David’s breakfast.

Opportunities to meet and spend time with senior executives don’t come often. You must take full advantage of them, when they do. David Nadler, the founder of Mercer Delta Consulting and now Vice Chairman of Marsh & McLennan Companies, tells this story:

I was asked to give a speech at a conference for a lot of senior executives at the Homestead resort in Virginia. I went down to breakfast the morning of the speech, went through the buffet line and sat down at a table with other people attending the meeting. We all introduced ourselves, and I found out that I was eating breakfast with six very senior executives. After we finished eating and got up to go, I realized that it would be a long time before such an opportunity came again. So, I went back through the buffet line and sat down at another table. I had three breakfasts that morning and probably put on pounds, but it was worth it.

Rainmaker Story #6: Jane’s Lunch, or A Lesson in Dominos Networking

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

(This is part of a series of rainmaker stories. To read the earlier posts, see the category Rainmaker Story.)

Would-be networkers find developing relationships with senior executives challenging. The imbalance in age, wealth and power makes it so. This is the story of one who rose to the challenge.

Each year, our firm coaches many professionals to help them become rainmakers. It is human nature to predict at the start which will succeed and which won’t. Over the years I have found myself to be, charitably, only a middling predictor. But there was never any doubt about Jane.

Jane is a young recruiter at an executive search firm, who specializes in searches for a glamour industry. In this industry where emotions run high and your future may hinge on a sudden change in consumer tastes, she stands out for her integrity, professionalism and a plain speaking manner that she learned growing up in a small western city. She is bedrock reliable, and her clients are loyal.

Like all young professionals she was challenged by the need to develop relationships with senior executives.

She solved this problem when faced with a smaller and more immediate one. One of these loyal clients asked her to buy a table at an association luncheon he was in charge of, and, of course, she did. Needing to fill six seats, she called a client, the CEO of a well-known firm, and invited her. To her surprise the client accepted and asked if she could bring a colleague. The colleague she brought was a dealmaker, who knew everyone in the industry.

With acceptances from two players in the industry, Jane felt more confident at inviting others. In the end she brought two highly visible CEOs, the dealmaker, a person out of work and looking for the next job as a president, the president of a smaller company and the head of human resources at yet another big firm.

This one event had many beneficial consequences. She got to know all of them better. Each one of her guests saw that the others respected her opinion, increasing their own opinion of her. She has become a true trusted advisor to two of them. And everyone at the event was curious about this young woman sitting at the table with so many heavy hitters. Many, who had never heard of her before, knew her by the end of the lunch. When the unemployed president found a job, she relied on Jane to do much of her recruiting. The deal maker has become a source of referrals.

So, what can learn from the story of Jane’s lunch?

First, senior executives find an invitation by a young professional to an association lunch acceptable and appropriate (plus, they might just come!)

Second, if they want to bring a guest, it is likely to be someone worth knowing.

Third, if an executive sees you with other senior people, it will improve his regard for you. If you are sitting with a group of senior executives, total strangers will want to find out who you are.

Fourth, someone who is looking for a job is especially appreciative of this kind of invitation that provides so many opportunities to meet people.

I am sure there are still other things to learn, but will leave it at that. I will conclude with one other piece of information: Jane got promoted the following fall.

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.”


Breaking the Rainmaking Rules

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

A few rainmakers break selling rules and still get hired more times than not.  They talk too much and too much about themselves.   They stress features rather than benefits.  They arrive late for meetings.  And they get away with it! One management consultant I know will tell his client that something is red.  No, the client says, it’s green.  Yes, I agree with you, replies the consultant, it is red.  And he gets away with it!  Another professional whom I observed many times would threaten prospective clients of the immediate failure of their business, if they didn’t hire him and march to his orders.  And he got away with it!

The reasons for these aberrations, I think, are specific to each case.  The red-is-green consultant is one of the most charming people I have ever met.  People want to agree with him.  The do-as-I-say professional sold effectively only to those clients which were paramilitary in style.  His talent was finding them—so many of them.

But most of us don’t have boundless charm and don’t feel comfortable ordering our clients about, or a reputation that puts us beyond questioning.  We must listen to what they say.  We must not be arrogant or imperious.  We have to follow the rules.

Has anyone else a good example of a rainmaker who broke basic rules of selling?

Rainmaker Story #4: The Personal Touch

Monday, July 16th, 2007

He charmed everyone.  He greeted you with a glint in his eye and a laugh. His first words showed that he remembered you and made you feel special.  Being with him gave you a lift.  Spend fifteen minutes with this man and you came away all charged up. 

He was like everyone’s ideal kid brother, smart and spunky.  That he stood no more than five feet, five inches contributed to the impression.  I remember watching him present to a prospective client and thinking, “I sure like that kid.  I hope he gets it.”  Yet I knew he was almost twenty years older than I was.

I used to wonder how anyone could be that charming. That isn’t to say that he wasn’t a tough businessman.  He was.  Or that he was flawless.  He wasn’t, any more than anyone else is.  But the charm was special.

One day we were working in his office, when his assistant announced over the intercom that Marie Smith (I don’t remember the real name) was on the line.  He walked to the phone, paused, and put his hand up to signal me to keep quiet.  He paused again, pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, closed his eyes and remained frozen for several seconds.  Then, suddenly animated, he reached for the phone.  He laughed lightly, “Marie! It must be almost a year to the day since we saw you at . . .”

He had paused to prepare these few words!  That was when I realized that the personal touch, which made him so special, was something he worked at.

So, if you want someone to feel special, pause for a moment to recall something special about them.

Rainmaker Story #3: The Stalker

Monday, June 4th, 2007

At a conference the other day I set myself the task of spending time with one of the speakers after a breakout session which was attended by about 40 people. At the end of the workshop, eight people lined up to talk with the speaker, and he gave each of them a minute or two of his time. Unlike the others, I spent almost twenty minutes with him, enough time to come up with a reason to follow up next week. And I owe it all to Dennis Donovan.

Many years ago, when I was transferred east to run the eastern regional office of the firm I was with, Dennis’s firm was our chief competitor. It was taking business from us left and right. But it wasn’t really his firm that was beating us; it was Dennis. During my first months on the job, I had my head handed to me seven competitive presentations in a row. Dennis won all of them.

So, I went to school on him. One of my first efforts was to attend a professional association’s annual meeting where I could meet a lot of clients. Dennis was there, too, and had obviously been coming to the meetings for several years. He could really work a room, but what most intrigued me was how he worked the speakers, who tended to be senior people with a lot of influence. This is what he did:

He would arrive early at the room for the breakout session and take a front row seat directly across from the speaker. During the entire workshop, he would give the speaker full attention. At the end of the session, when the speaker asked for questions and there was the usual awkward pause, Dennis would raise his hand. He said his name and the name of his firm and then lobbed an easy question that gave the speaker a chance to look smart.

At the end of the workshop, most of the audience shuffled out to get coffee and five or six lined up to talk with the speaker. But Dennis didn’t move. He sat patiently scribbling a few notes, until the last person in line got her time with the speaker. Then Dennis got up and added himself to the end of the line. When his turn came to talk with the speaker, the speaker saw that Dennis was the last in line and so felt no need to rush to get to someone behind him. So the speaker took his time with Dennis, and, still conversing casually, they would walk out of the room together. He did this with speaker after speaker.

And, I’ve been doing the same thing ever since. Thank you, Dennis.




Rainmaker Story #2: The Man Who Didn’t Get It

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Experienced rainmakers can have little patience for a rainmaker-in-the-making. They are a driven group and sometimes see the newcomer’s fumbling attempts as a series of lost opportunities.

Too many years ago, a professional in his mid thirties was put in charge of a practice when the former head moved up to take over an office. He was smart and decent and at least once I had heard him described as a Superman-look-alike. I will call him Clark. His boss had been a rainmaker of monsoon proportions and had built up a practice made up of professionals who looked to the practice head to flood them with work.

And Clark tried to. The practice had an enviable reputation, resulting in many unsolicited requests for proposal. It also had a first-rate business developer, who ferreted out opportunities. Clark would pursue these leads vigorously. Returning from each client meeting, he would say how good it had been. Every presentation, he would say, had been a whopping success. Then the client would call to tell him that they had picked someone else. Clark would go to the next meeting and again report on a near win. But it wasn’t. Not once. For almost a year.

“He just doesn’t get it,” asserted one of the best rainmakers in the firm, and he certainly seemed not to. The description stuck to him; he just didn’t get it. The end of some long-term projects was in sight, increasing the pressure on him to find more work for his team.

He hung in there for pitch after pitch remaining upbeat, always sure he would win the next one. And eventually, he did get one. And then he got another and over four or five years became a rainmaker himself and eventually the president of the firm.

There were several reasons for his ultimate success; I will make a point of one here. What saved Clark was his boundless optimism. His ability to rebound from every loss was unlike anything I had seen. He may not have gotten it (whatever “it” was), but if he had he might have become discouraged. Most people would have. I would have.

Ever since then, when looking for rainmaker material, I have looked for optimism. And when I have been asked to help young professionals learn to sell, I have sought to help them be more optimistic. And in doing so, I have become more optimistic, myself.
You should have been with me this morning on the sales call. It was fantastic!

Rainmaker Story #1: The Gamble

Monday, March 26th, 2007

I recently learned how a management consultant I had worked with four years ago (I will refer to him at the New Rainmaker or NRM) brought in almost $20 million in new revenues in one last this year. This was ten times more revenue than he had produced in any other year and at a firm where a million dollar project is considered big. Many factors contributed to the spectacular increase. Let’s look at one.

Over two years ago NRM went to firm management and said he wanted to devote his full attention to one client where he was working on a small matter and where he saw huge potential. He had a number of reasons for assessing it a good opportunity. He saw focusing his attention on one account as his best chance to bring about a major jump in sales. Management cautioned him that if he focused exclusively on this client and it didn’t give him more work soon, it would reduce his bonus. He took the risk.
The prediction came true; his bonus declined for two years. When I saw him a year ago, things weren’t looking good. He had several proposals in to the client and no one was acting on them. Unbeknownst to him, the client was planning a major change that captured everyone’s full attention. He continued to invest time and effort in the client.The client’s big change was announced and work on it completed. Management returned its attention to the issues addressed in NRM’s proposals. They signed these proposals and asked for more. The dam had burst. The bet NRM had made on getting work from this one client had paid off. It had paid off big.

NRM had been able to make this bet, because he recognized that he had crossed a major financial inflection point. Most people are in a poor position to absorb a major drop in income. If you live in an expensive city and earn $80,000, a thirty per cent drop leaves you with $56,000, a sum that would be hard to live on for, say, a family of four. People whose living costs are high relative to their incomes are naturally income risk sensitive. This is where most of us start our careers.

This isn’t true of someone who earns a lot of money and has kept family spending under control. So, a person earning $800,000, who takes a 30 percent cut, still gets $560,000. If she lives on $200,000 a year this results in no reduction in life style. It just reduces the amount she saves. Wealthier people can accept risk that results in a short-term decline in income but offers a huge payoff a few years later. They are more likely to become risk takers with at least some of their income.

NRM had figured this out and realized that (though he earned nowhere near $800,000) the level of his income relative to his living costs had risen to a point where he could risk a decline for a year or two, if he could get a large enough payoff in the end. Though there were unnerving moments, he won the bet and will reap a stunning financial reward. A lot of people never recognize when they no longer need to be so income risk adverse and make bets accordingly. They sometimes miss big opportunities.