Rain Comes In Many Forms
One of the common misconceptions we encounter in our work in the CPA profession is the idea that all partners must be real rainmakers. Many Managing Partners, Directors of Marketing and line partners lament the lack of true business development they see from their partners, lumping them all together and expecting “something more” than they are getting. Further, up-and-comers are often told that they have to be rainmakers to make it to partner. Unfortunately, the up-and-comers look at the current partner ranks and see a disconnect between this stated expectation and the business development acumen of the incumbent partners, leading to confusion at best and feelings of hypocrisy at worst. In this Leadership Lessons article, we’ll explore realistic expectations for rainmaking and identify different forms of rainmaking roles we see within firms.
If you’ve hung out with any of our team members, you know we believe that job expectations should be “one–size-fits-one,” which means that any expectation that is applied universally to an entire group is usually going to go unfulfilled. The sooner we can accept that each of our partners and team members has unique talents and abilities, as well as their own special deficiencies, the sooner we can begin tailoring expectations, playing to our people’s strengths and defining roles and goals that allow people (and the firm) to win.
There may be no place more important to apply the idea of “one-size-fits-one” than to rainmaking, sometimes called business development, personal marketing or selling. It is the art of identifying someone with a need the firm can fulfill, matching a firm service to that need and enabling the firm to gain an engagement as a result. Rainmaking takes many forms within firms including these four roles, presented in order of their rarity within firms:
- The Supporter – this person assists with opportunities generated by someone else. They support sales activities, including following up and qualifying opportunities, helping to scope, size and propose engagements and ultimately learning to close opportunities on their own. They support the firm in developing its network by attending networking functions and engaging in social networking to build their connection base to those inside and outside the firm. This person is often learning business development and is not able to generate new business without the support of the Sourcer (see below). It is usually most difficult to measure the results produced by the efforts of the Supporter.
- The Server – this person focuses on delivering services and adding value to existing clients. They develop business by developing real relationships with existing clients and uncovering new opportunities to serve them. True Servers grow their client base without adding any new clients. Sometimes, effective servers also close new business by adding new clients referred to them by existing clients. You can measure the rainmaking results of the Server by measuring their client retention rates and the fee growth for their assigned clients year over year, net of fee increases (if they are selling more to existing clients, it should be a net positive number, even with normal client attrition).
- The Seller – this person qualifies opportunities (either sourced by them or by others), builds rapport and trust with prospects and closes new business regularly. They are seen as someone who can win engagements, and Sourcers trust them with leads they generate because of their proven ability to close. Being able to consistently qualify and close opportunities is rarer within firms so the Seller is special. Their results can be measured by the dollar value of closed new business associated with opportunities assigned to them on the pipeline.
- The Sourcer – this person is engaged in a variety of personal marketing activities that generate prospect opportunities. A powerful Sourcer is usually positioned as a thought leader or community leader and is “out there” building both personal and firm brand in various ways like association involvement, speaking, board service, networking activities, referral source meetings, blogging, social networking and targeting specific accounts (as discussed in this issue’s Practice Perspectives), public relations or other activities. These activities put them in proximity to decision makers and they uncover opportunities as a result. The Sourcer is super special within firms, and having more than one “super-Sourcer” is very rare. The impact a Sourcer has is measured by the dollar value of business closed from opportunities they brought in and added to the pipeline – whether they are the Seller or not.
To establish realistic expectations, incent organic growth and focus your precious rainmaking resources:
- Recognize that each individual manager and partner may be capable of one or more of these roles, depending on their gifts and inclination, and then develop individualized personal marketing or rainmaking plans for each
- Realize that some people will be proficient in one or more areas and others will be off the charts in one or more areas
- Expect partners to be at least proficient as Supporters and Servers
- Tie rewards for Servers to net growth within their client base
- Track both the person who Sourced an opportunity and the person who acted as the Seller on their sales pipeline. Understand that this can, and ideally will be, two different people
- Reward your Sellers and Sourcers for new business closed and pay them well above what others who do not sell engagements receive, sending a message that those who can close new business are very important to your firm
- Focus your Sourcers on their special gift of attraction and encourage them to do more sourcing (given its rarity) and less of the other three roles (and less overall client service) – even though they may be very capable of all four types of rainmaking and much more
- Pay your Sourcers for sourcing new business and expect that your most significant Sourcers will be the highest paid partners in the firm – regardless of billable hours, book of business or other traditional measures. This frees the Sourcers up to transition clients to Servers and pass on leads to Sellers so they can keep on generating new opportunities
So, what rainmaking role or roles are you most suited to? How does your firm recognize differences in rainmaking ability? Who are your firm’s biggest Sellers and Sourcers? Are they as focused on using these gifts as they could be? If not, what could you do to help them spend more time selling and sourcing?
Recognize the unique abilities of your individual partners (and others) and channel your efforts in the areas where you can most succeed. When you do, your firm will enjoy the benefits of more rain.
For more information on developing rainmaking expectations and abilities for partners, managers or others in your firm, contact Jennifer Wilson at email@example.com or (402) 933-2900.