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How not to win business: a guide for professionals

17 June 13

No 5 in the series: rainmaking is not a voodoo art, but needs understanding

by Stephen Gold

“You can train a turkey to climb a tree, but it’s a lot easier to hire a squirrel.” (Anon)

Labelling yourself as “better behind the scenes”, or “not the selling type”, is a brilliant way not to win business. It is also very efficient; failure is, literally, effortless.

Successful rainmakers come in many guises. The stereotypical driven extrovert, with a smooth line of chat and a steel liver, is an endangered species. In the process of creating long-term trusting relationships, quiet thoughtfulness and modesty have an honoured place.

Some may take more naturally to rainmaking, just as they may to litigation, property law, or skateboarding, but with the right commitment and support, everyone can do it. This really matters. If the sales performance of the average lawyer was raised by even 10%, the cumulative effect on the firm’s bottom line would be transformational.

“Rainmaker” is an odd term. Why describe such a vital role with words resonant of voodoo and mystery? I think it indicates two things. First, business development is an arduous and unpredictable pursuit. Rainmaking is personally challenging in ways that legal work is not. One has to deploy personal rather than technical skills, and so rejection can be painful.

Secondly, there are some people who seem to find rainmaking easier than others. They appear to have a “secret” inaccessible to the rest of us – a perception which rainmakers themselves, not usually short of an ego or three, do little to discourage. Understanding is not helped by the plethora of business improvement “gurus” offering conflicting and often fatuous advice. As Peter Drucker, one of last century’s finest business thinkers, observed, often we use the word “guru” because “charlatan” is too long.

There is no “right” way of rainmaking, but successful rainmakers share a number of things:

  • They acquire deep knowledge of their markets – local, national, or international.
  • They understand human behaviour, have an empathy with others and a genuine interest in their needs.
  • They communicate in ways which exude their integrity and inspire confidence.
  • They are resilient, patient and persistent in pursuit of their objectives.

Finally, they develop methods which play to their strengths, and they plan. It may be that “men plan, God laughs”, but He laughs even louder if they don’t. Planning need not and should not be complicated. Start, for example, by listing:

  • Your top 10 clients – what other work can you do for them?
  • Your top 10 referral sources – how can you strengthen and get more from these relationships?
  • The top 10 clients you would love to act for – how best to approach them?

Working that list properly could take up 12 months and beyond. Are you a turkey or a squirrel? The answer is up to you.

The human race has got this far because of our infinite adaptability. Use labels for boxes by all means – just don’t climb in.

Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds Solicitors, which grew from a sole practice to UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and adviser to firms nationwide. e: stephen@stephengold.co.uk; t: 07968 484232
“If the sales performance of the average lawyer was raised by even 10%, the cumulative effect on the firm’s bottom line would be transformational”

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