Most professional services firms tend to have one or two people whom others look to with amazement and respect as those who can “build relationships and win work”. Typically called rainmakers, these individuals have the innate ability to build relationships and win business for themselves and their firms.
They are highly respected and often looked up to by their peers. However, while many would like to learn from them, it is not always easy to do so because their rainmaking skills seem to come naturally.
In my experience, I’ve heard rainmakers use phrases like “Just do what I do” or “All you need to do is be proactive, go out and meet people and the work will come.” This lack of useful or practical advice isn’t necessarily due to the rainmaker not caring, or trying to be difficult, or protecting the secrets of their success.
As mentioned above, it’s most likely because rainmaking has become second nature to them, and it is almost impossible for them to point to what it is they do that can be taught and learnt.
Over the years I’ve worked with and observed several of these rainmakers and can share some of their “secrets” to help you unlock your client relationship-building potential.
In this article, I will explore the secrets of successful rainmakers and provide practical tips to help you become one.
1. Make time for Business Development (BD)
The first step to becoming a successful rainmaker is to make time for business development. This means dedicating a specific time slot in your schedule to focus solely on BD activities. The best approach is to schedule a recurring appointment in your calendar, ideally at the same time each week, to ensure that your momentum is never lost.
This can be 30 minutes once a week, to do your outreach activities. I’d recommend doing this early in the week and in the morning. Most busy lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers etc. get busy with client work and deadlines at the back end of the week and will neglect BD if they schedule it then.
If a 30-minute slot is too much time to dedicate in one go, you can use an 18 or 15-minute slot once or twice a week and follow this guide on how to do BD in 18 minutes.
2. Identify Your Target Clients
To build strong relationships with clients, it is important to identify your target market. This goes beyond just identifying the organisations you would like to work with. You need to understand who the key decision-makers and influencers are within those organisations, as these are the individuals you need to build relationships with.
You also need to understand your contact buckets, which is simply – who your referrers are, who your clients are, and who your targets are. As per the infographic below:
3. Research Your Client’s Market
Ever wondered why a successful rainmaker raids the morning paper or spends the early part of their day on business, news, or social media sites? Successful rainmakers understand the importance of understanding their client’s world. This means staying up to date with the latest news and trends in your client’s industry. Take the time to read the morning paper or follow relevant social media channels to gain insights into your client’s business.
4. Share Things of Interest
When I started out in sales many years ago now, my first mentor used to photocopy stories of interest and post them to his clients, with a shorthand written memo. It was something I copied, fast. It was amazing how quickly this built trust and meant that clients looked forward to your calls, rather than dreaded them.
Sharing relevant and interesting stories, and industry updates with clients and contacts is a great way to build rapport (and even trust) with them. These could be an article from a trade publication, a blog post, or a news story.
The key is to make sure that the information is useful and relevant to your client’s business. Take the time to personalize the content and provide your own insights or comments.
5. Respect Everyone You Meet
Successful rainmakers understand the importance of treating everyone with respect and courtesy. This means being polite and courteous to everyone you meet, regardless of their status within an organization. Take an interest in people and ask them questions to build rapport and establish trust.
6. Strive to Make Your Client Successful
I remember chatting to a rainmaker many years ago who said to me: “I’ve never understood why you’d want to work for anyone who isn’t successful, be that organisationally or individually. I mean if they aren’t, and you can’t help them become successful, then what’s the point?”
Rainmakers understand that their success is directly linked to their client’s success. This means taking the time to understand your client’s business and their goals and working collaboratively with them to achieve those goals. Show your clients that you are invested in their success, and they will be more likely to trust and rely on you.
7. Make Time for BD (Again)
I’m repeating myself BUT it cannot be emphasised enough – if you want to become a successful rainmaker, you must make time for business development. This means setting aside time in your schedule to focus solely on BD activities and sticking to it. Here’s 4 daily activities you can start with.
8. Be Engaging and Have Fun
Rainmakers understand that building relationships is not just about business – it is also about having fun and building rapport. Show your clients that you are a person they can relate to by engaging in friendly banter or sharing a joke. However, it is important to remember that the most important part of any meeting is to provide value to the person you are meeting with.
A great meeting with a client or prospect might end with them saying something like, “Hey that was fun, I actually learnt some useful things today”.
9. Ask Open and Engaging Questions
Asking open and engaging questions is a key skill for successful rainmakers. This means asking questions that encourage the other person to open up and share their thoughts and ideas. This not only helps to build rapport and trust but also provides valuable insights into your client’s business.
How often do you ask a client about what else is important to them, outside of the work you are doing with them? It’s a simple question but all too often is overlooked.
Conclusion: How to be a Rainmaker
In summary, becoming a successful rainmaker requires a combination of skills, including making time for business development, identifying your target clients, researching your client’s market, sharing things of interest and then providing value in the time you spend with your client, which means you’ll need to think and plan for every meeting.