By Stephen Rosenhek
Illustration: Mike Constable
Rainmaking skills in a professional services firm are critical to the firm’s growth and success
CAs have the responsibility to make it rain for their firms, that is, to generate new revenue and exploit the full potential of client relationships. Everyone, from apprentice to seasoned veteran, must strive to improve their skills in the art of business development because without rainmakers, a professional services firm cannot prosper and grow. And becoming a successful rainmaker may be intuitive and easy for a lucky few, but for most it is an intimidating challenge.
To help accountants improve their business development skills, CEO of Nashville-based The Rainmaker Academy Troy Waugh, CPA, has developed a two-year intensive sales, marketing and leadership-development program exclusively for accountants and financial-consulting professionals. The program is designed to equip new partners and managers with key client-service tools and essential rainmaking skills. Known as the rainmaker of rainmakers, Waugh offers insights on the key traits of a productive rainmaker.
What is a rainmaker?
TW: A rainmaker is a professional who has the skills and motivation to develop significant amounts of revenue for the organization he or she represents. A professional services firm should have a strong contingent of rainmakers, as obtaining new clients and additional business from existing clients is critical to its growth and success. Long considered a quality above and beyond what is normally expected of a CA, sales and business development skills have become highly valued core competencies.
How much revenue will a rainmaker develop?
TW: Depending on the size of the firm, a rainmaker will bring in between US$50,000 and US$500,000 of new business a year. A mist maker will generate some business, but less than $50,000 a year, whereas the business development efforts of a storm maker will produce new revenue in excess of $500,000 a year. Most firms have a few rainmakers and many mist makers.
What characterizes a rainmaker?
TW: Two words: “fascinated” and “disciplined.” First, they can best be described as interested introverts who are very good at what they do. They are interested in their clients and their businesses and fascinated by what they are doing. They seek to develop in-depth expertise in their clients’ businesses by reading industry publications, attending specialized seminars and researching key topics.
Second, the most successful rainmakers are disciplined enough to do something related to business development 250 days a year. It’s second nature for them — part of their day-to-day to-do list. The compound effect of their daily efforts has an enormous impact on their business development results.
What are the most important habits of a successful rainmaker and what is your advice to our readers?
TW: From our experience, all exhibit the following behaviour:
Are CAs good rainmakers?
TW: Yes, of course. We have two training academies ongoing in Canada, and the typical graduate will generate $150,000 a year in new business, which I consider to be excellent results.
Business development is much like golf: you must play to improve your skills, and most of us will have to take lessons to improve our game. The combination of education and experience creates the required savvy, which must be applied with great discipline.
At the academy, we provide professionals with the opportunity to acquire this discipline by applying the business development skills they have learned in our classrooms in the context of a 21-day revenue action plan. Every four months, they must make 21 appointments with prospects, referrals or existing clients. And because of these face-to-face meetings once or twice a week, they get new business.
Can rainmaking be taught to professionals who are introverted or shy?
TW: We meet lots of accountants like that. The idea is to get under the covers in order to understand why they are afraid. They often do not know what to say, what questions to ask or how to listen. It is important to know how to introduce yourself in an interesting way, how to shake hands and pass on your business card. Once they see how it’s done and they stick a toe in the water, they usually overcome their apprehension. And when they are successful at signing a new client, they find that it’s very satisfying professionally to create a client for life. Success then breeds further success.
Passing on your business card is difficult at an event with a drink and a plate of food in your hands. How and when do you do this? Are there any other techniques to get the most out of events?
TW: The most important advice is to have the right attitude. You should act as a host, not a guest. If you’re attending an event, you are going there to market, not to eat, drink, or listen to the speaker. You may of course do those things, but they should not be your focus. A host will always have one hand free, will stand near the door to meet people and then make eye contact and speak to them. Attempt to meet at least five people. Get their business cards and give them yours. It is important to prepare for the event by making sure that you are properly dressed and look your best, and that you have business cards. Have a few questions ready about a person’s background and interests that will enable you to transfer from a social to a business context. Follow this up the next day with a handwritten note to each of them, expressing how much you enjoyed meeting them. If a particular interest was mentioned at the event, enclose a relevant firm brochure or article, or some specific information that you were able to find. A few weeks later, call them to ask how they are doing and take it from there.
If you don’t have the time to do this, why bother attending such events? Shaking hands and getting a few business cards will not bring in new business. Attend fewer events but follow them up appropriately.
How can CAs differentiate their firms’ services to make an impact?
TW: When talking about your firm to potential clients, you should emphasize the aspects that make it different from others. This could be its size, a niche or particular industry expertise, the quality of its services, or its pricing and the terms of its services. For example, you could describe your firm’s focus on client servicing and the extensive customer service training that all employees receive. An up-front guarantee can also be a differentiating factor, reassuring the client that if your firm makes a mistake, you will return to correct it.
When given a chance to talk about your firm, you should begin with something unique and interesting that distinguishes it from the competition, such as: “We’re a leading accounting firm that works with many contractors and real estate development firms to help them grow their businesses.”
Is it alright if the more technically oriented partners do not attempt to become rainmakers, as other partners will succeed in developing sufficient new business for their firm?
TW: My experience with medium- to large-sized accounting firms indicates that most will want their partners to excel in four areas:
As technical competencies represent only a part of one of these four areas, a partner who focuses solely on the profession’s technical aspects may soon be searching elsewhere for employment.
Are business development activities that are taken for granted, such as sending holiday greeting cards or organizing client conferences, still justified?
TW: Absolutely, as it will typically take nine marketing interactions before a prospect decides to do business with your firm. The selling cycle, which is the time frame from first contact to new client, is very long. It can be anywhere from one to three years. But because a client will generally stay with a service provider for seven to 12 years, investing in a marketing system that focuses on attracting new clients is a sound investment. It must be managed with discipline in order to develop and gain momentum over the selling cycle. Tax season should represent an especially promising opportunity to market your firm’s services, as many CAs tend to hibernate during this period. So take advantage of your competitors’ hiatus and go visit your clients and prospects.
Stephen Rosenhek is the co-managing partner of the Montreal office of RSM Richter. He is also Technical editor for Practice management