Archive for the 'Rainmaking Problem' Category

Rain Making Problem #28: Are Phone Calls Obsolete?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Twice in recent weeks I have been told that no one makes phone calls anymore.  One person, who I will call Lenore, put it this way:

No one uses the phone just to stay in touch with old clients and maintain relationships anymore.  The phone is too intrusive, and clients prefer emails, which are more convenient for them.  They’re too busy to take calls.  Today, the phone is just for when you have something specific and important to talk about.

Is Lenore right in saying that the phone shall nevermore be used for staying in touch, schmoozing and developing relationships when selling professional services?  Or is this  just the latest in an endless list of excuses to mask call avoidance?

Rainmaker Problem #27: Pricing Work for Friends

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

A reader has ask for help with pricing work for friends.  He writes:

I am finding that I will probably be doing an increasing amount of business with long-time friends whom I have known long before we entered a potential client-consultant relationship. I have found it difficult to pursue value-based pricing in these circumstances. Some of these people work for larger public companies, while others work for private ones.

I don’t let friends walk all over me, but I am not sure if I am in a minority when it comes to both my discomfort and (perceived weaker ability) to charge more premium fees. I have often internally used a concept of “fair” pricing or “customer means-based” pricing (what customer can afford), but I have not seen this widely discussed.

How should I be pricing work sold to friends?

Five Ways to Avoid Making Phone Calls

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Rain making requires building a referral network by maintaining contact with people over the years.  That’s how most rainmakers sell accounting, actuarial, architectural, engineering, legal, consulting and other professional services.  Much of this work is done by phone, because phone calls cost less in time and money than do face-to-face meetings and because they allow conversation to flow to productive subjects in a way that email doesn’t.

But, something there is that does not love a call . . . namely me.  Left to my inclinations, I would use the phone only in emergencies and for ordering pizza.  I am, in fact, an expert at avoiding making phone calls.

Here are some things you can do to avoid even the most essential calls:

  • Tell yourself that the probability of anything good coming out of the call rounds to zero and give up immediately.  The statement of probability is true, which is why the tactic works so well.  Of course, if you make enough calls to enough people, the cumulative probability of something good happening gets quite high, but let’s not think about that.
  • Take a quick look at your email in-box before calling.  This highly recommended tactic almost always works, because you immediately surrender control of your day to responding to urgent, if not always important, matters.  By the time you are done, you must move on to something else and can put off calling until tomorrow, when you can repeat the process.
  • Tell yourself that your calls will be unwelcome and you will become a pest.  Years of personal experience and experience with hundreds of professionals show me that this statement is untrue, as long as you handle yourself properly, focusing on the other person’s needs rather than pushing a sale. Still, imaging myself being rejected for being pesky feeds my personal insecurities so effectively that it stops all effort cold.
  • Treat calling as if it is something you must squeeze in on top of everything else you must do.  That way it is the first thing that gets squeezed out.  For this to work you must never acknowledge that calling is equally or even more important to the firm and to yourself than the other things you are responsible for.
  • Repeat to yourself over and over that bringing in business isn’t really your responsibility or, at least, shouldn’t be.  Of course, this can be career limiting, but a dedicated call avoider won’t let that stop him.

There are other trivial techniques for avoiding the phone—sharpening a pencil, going to the bathroom, getting coffee; I have tried them all—but the five I have listed are the best for busy professionals.  Just recognize that when time comes around for promotions (or layoffs, for that matter) and your business development contribution is reviewed, these excuses won’t help you.

Rainmaking Problem #25: Selling a Service that May Embarrass an Entrenched Competitor.

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

I recently received a query from an old friend who is faced with a problem I have seen before.  In both cases, a firm has a service that will benefit clients tremendously by taking advantage of some relatively unknown features of the tax code.  In both cases, the firms find that prospective clients tend to vet the service with their auditors, before going ahead.   The auditors argue against hiring the firm, often on grounds counter to the facts of the tax code.  But also, they are probably embarrassed that someone outside their firms is bringing the fresh idea to their clients.  Though the firms with the new services can demonstrate that the auditors are misinformed about the objections they pose, the auditors’ resistance often kills client interest in going ahead.  Often, the auditors’ strong relationships with their clients and easy access to them weigh more than the logic of the firms trying sell over auditor resistance.

What would you recommend these firms do?

Rainmaking Problem #24: Why are Small Firms Doing Better than Large Ones?

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Several friends have noted that many small consulting firms have come through this recession much better than large ones.  I have seen quite a number of small ones prosper and grow, even though they are selling similar services to similar markets that the large ones are.  Why should this be?

Revenue Implosion from Market Failure

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The most common reason for revenue collapses during the past two years has been market failure.  Clients reduced or stopped buying specific professional services.  As is typical during a recession for reasons I have described elsewhere, this happened suddenly.  One month a firm had more work than it could handle and numerous prospective assignments moving their way towards a sale.  The next, clients were cancelling projects and prospective assignments evaporated.
Now that the worst seems behind us, we would be wise to take lessons from this downturn to reduce the impact of the next one.  Prior to downturns, some professionals feel immune to revenue collapses for three reasons that prove to be unfounded:

  1. My market is different:   In the late 1990s professionals selling services to the telecommunications industry argued that with the rate of increase in data communications, demand for their services would keep increasing for the foreseeable future.   They failed to realize that short term imbalances in supply and demand can create a short-term bust in a generally upward market.  Firms selling heavily to the healthcare industry, which had come through earlier recessions unscathed, took a beating in this one, when many hospitals cut their spending.
  2. My client is really many clients:   All markets go up and down.  The classic way to reduce the impact of such swings is through diversification.  But we must be wary of false diversification.  Over the years I have heard professionals who were dependent on one client for most of their revenue claim that the client was so big and they were working in so many parts of it that it was the same as having many clients.  When several big financial institutions failed over the past two years, some professionals learned how untrue this was.
  3. My firm already has a diverse client base:  Sometimes professionals believe they serve diverse markets, when they don’t.  A dot com consulting firm, whose three biggest clients were an airline, a credit card company and a hotel chain, went belly up after September 11, 2001, when travel nosedived, and all three clients canceled projects.  Management of another firm convinced themselves that their top three clients; a credit card company, an insurance company and a bank; were so different that the firm was effectively diversified.  In this downturn, they learned that a credit crunch crunches all lenders.

Always be skeptical of it-can’t-happen-to-us statements.

Rainmaking Problem #23: What to Do with Mooch

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

A friend of mine brought me the following problem.  What would you recommend that she do?

I’ve known Mooch (name changed) for many years.  He has implied that he helped meget work at two clients.  In both cases I have strong evidence that others helped me get in, but no direct evidence of Mooch’s help.  Because he is not clearly stated that he helped, I tend to discount the possibility.

I like this man.  He is smart and cheerful.  He also has unusual family obligations which must create great pressure for him.

As a networker, I have stayed in touch with him over the years, checking up on how he is doing, without any sales motive in mind.  Several times he has been out of work and called me for help.  Those are the only times I remember him ever calling me.  He is good at what he does, and I have recommended him to several people who interviewed him.  When I have not been in a position to help, he wheedles, asking me for more introductions repeatedly, if indirectly.

I once said to him that I, too, would like some introductions to potential clients from among the many people he knows.  Nothing was forthcoming, until the last time he came to me for help, when he offered to give me an introduction to a client that I did not think was likely to hire my firm, it was so small.  Then he asked for help finding a job.  I explained to him there was no quid pro quo for my help, just to keep in mind when he was talking with people might benefit from my services.  I then tried to introduce him to someone, who declined for reasons unrelated to Mooch.  He didn’t seem to understand my explanation.

I did not hear back from Mooch for several months.  He left me a message yesterday.  I know he is still looking for work and I know what he wants.  What should I do?

(This is another of a series of Rainmaking Problems.  If you have one that you would like other readers to comment, please send it to me at fharding@HardingCo.com.)

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 fharding@HardingCo.com.)

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?

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 fharding@HardingCo.com.)

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?