Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hiring the Right Rainmaker

As the economy continues its slow recovery, many A/E firms are thinking of hiring someone to help them generate more sales. It's an option worth considering, but one that is not without risk. In my experience, more rainmaker hires disappoint than meet expectations. And the fault is usually shared. True, good rainmakers are hard to find. But firms often unwittingly create obstacles to achieving the sales success they desire. 

Below are some recommendations for making a rainmaker hire work for both parties:

Ideally, hire a technical professional with demonstrated sales skills. While there are many successful sellers in our business with limited technical expertise (I was one!), the preferred choice is someone who has an engineering, architectural, or other relevant technical background. Why? If you lack the expertise to help clients solve their problems, what value are you bringing to the sales call? Clients are growing less tolerant of listening to sales pitches or helping salespeople "get caught up" with the client's latest developments. They want something useful in return for their time. Can your non-technical rainmaker deliver?

Find someone who embodies your firm's culture and values. There's a reason most technical professionals are uncomfortable with selling: They've been on the other side of the traditional sales transaction. They don't care for the seller's apparent self-centered motives or approach. So the solution for some firms is to hire someone to do the dirty work for them! Unfortunately the client still has to endure the other side of the transaction. A better choice is to hire a rainmaker who is client-centered and service-oriented, who focuses on building mutually-beneficial business relationships rather than just making sales. At least, I'm assuming that kind of approach is consistent with your firm's values. Don't hire someone who fits the stereotype; hire someone clients will love. 

Develop a team approach; avoid the solo seller. Some firm managers hire a rainmaker essentially to wash their hands of the sales responsibility. Some rainmakers find it frustrating to try to get their colleagues involved in sales, so they tend to minimize the interaction. The solo seller is a bad idea in our business. That's because what is being sold is essentially the people who will do the work. The best rainmakers don't reduce the time their technical colleagues spend on selling; they increase it. They are matchmakers bringing the client together with the expert solution providers. They also help their coworkers develop their sales and client skills.

Give the rainmaker access to existing clients. Failing to do so is a common problem because many professionals are reluctant to share their client relationships. Yet the relationship is strengthened when others are engaged in meeting the client's needs—both before and after the sale. The best rainmakers understand how to grow client relationships and typically help increase sales from existing clients. Limiting the seller to developing new clients is often a recipe for failure because the lead time on new client sales is much longer. Also, temper expectations regarding the rainmaker bringing his or her previous clients to your firm. There are many reasons why this often doesn't happen as quickly or to the extent that the firm may have anticipated.

Keep the rainmaker involved with the client after the sale. If the right way to sell is building relationships (and it is) then it doesn't make sense to cut the seller off after the sale. Yet many firms take this approach. A better way is to assign the seller as a Client Advocate who makes sure the client is satisfied with the firm's performance and service during the project. That also positions the rainmaker to find other opportunities for doing work for the client.   

Establish clear expectations, metrics, and rewards. Ambiguous performance expectations are common for rainmakers, in part because of the difficulty in giving any one person credit for a given sale. Consequently, sellers are often judged (and sometimes fired) for "not getting the job done" when the terms for success were never clearly defined. As noted above, blame for lack of business development success is typically shared. So part of setting expectations and metrics for the seller is explicitly defining the roles and responsibilities of others who participate in the business development process. Also, if the rainmaker is truly successful, don't fail to appropriately reward his or her contribution. Top sellers can certainly sell themselves to the competition! 

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