Article as seen on Inc.com
Don is the managing partner of his professional services firm. He’s had his eye on Susan, a senior associate at her firm–not a saleswoman. She strikes the perfect balance between personable and professional.
Clients love her. Susan has earned the respect of her clients and peers, and she feels it is her time to be elevated to partner within the firm. Don secretly agrees.
Most people in the firm refer to Don as the principle rainmaker. Don has that personality that just gets people to say yes. Don sensed a perfect opportunity on their upcoming trip together. Don saw a potential to broach a subject with Susan that he had been planning for some time.
After a long day with clients, Don and Susan ventured back to the hotel. They had dinner, and Don invited Susan to the lobby bar for an after-dinner drink.
As their second round of drinks arrived, Susan sensed that Don was about to cross the line and ask her to do something that, though it could advance her career, made her very uncomfortable.
You guessed it.
Don said with a smile, “Susan, I know you want to become a partner of our firm one day. We want to help you do that. For that to happen, I need something from you.”
Susan sat in anticipation, knowing that Don was about to drop the “S” word–an ethical boundary she swore she would never cross. “Susan, I need you to help us grow the firm and bring in new business. I need you to help us sell.”
There–he said it!
Susan gasped. Sell? No way! As she stared incredulously at Don’s request, Don asked “Why does that make you uncomfortable?”
Susan felt that salespeople were generally not trustworthy, pushed their own agendas, and would lie cheat or steal to win the deal. She had made a conscious decision since her days in college to never be “one of them.”
Don explained that Susan did an exceptional job helping clients solve problems better than they could themselves. He asked, “Would your clients be upset if you helped them solve more of their issues? Or if you helped one of their friends solve similar issues at another company?”
Susan answered, “Of course not.” Don continued, “That’s all we’re asking you to do. The way we sell in our organization is to put ourselves and our clients on the same side of the table to uncover their challenges and find the right pieces.”
What makes a sales rainmaker?
Most people think you need to be a master schmoozer to be effective at developing business. Though that attribute is often assigned to salespeople, it is a trait that rubs many the wrong way.
Customers want to find people who 1) understand their own situation; and 2) are likely to deliver tangible results. The first step requires the ability to ask great questions and listen carefully. These skills are often abundant with those in professional services.
Another great skill for top rainmakers is story telling. Why is this so important? Your clients may not realize how you can help them.
They may not be in touch with the challenges they face. However, great storytellers share examples of how you solved similar challenges for others.
Do you have to be in sales?
More and more, customers value subject matter experts who can advise them on industry trends, best practices, and techniques to overcome common challenges. As information continues to be readily available online, your top performers will be seen as subject matter experts instead of traditional salespeople.
Customers can learn about your generic solutions on your website. But, customers cannot determine how that solution applies to their specific situation just by surfing the web.
Where should Susan (or you) begin?
Susan has extensive training in her profession. However, few organizations spend more than a few moments teaching a repeatable, comfortable process for networking, uncovering opportunities, and business development.
Selling professional services, when done properly, serves the needs of your clients. When you discover that formula, business development should pose no ethical conundrum. You might just wonder why you feared it at all.