It's tempting to think that rainmakers are a special breed.
Many wonder how a rainmaker reels in so much business while others can only shake their heads in amazement. Some people suggest that rainmaking is a genetic predisposition and therefore beyond reach for all but a select few.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Rainmaking is part skill and part mindset. Anyone who is willing to invest the necessary time and energy can become a rainmaker.
Invest beyond table stakes
The rainmaker's first rule is that it's not enough to woo customers with the wine-and-dine approach. Tickets to sporting events, dinners and golf outings can help you develop feel-good personal relationships with customers. But it's foolhardy to expect a steady stream of business as a result.
Think about it. If a customer asked for your advice on how to improve sales, would you suggest taking his prospective customers to lunch? Entertaining customers is easy and fun. But don't expect those opera tickets to make the difference between winning and losing.
Rainmakers do get to know their customers outside the conference room, but they view social activities as table stakes. They know that consistently landing sales takes much more.
Rainmakers go beyond the superficial to cultivate a holistic and substantive understanding of the customer's strategic and operational issues. Their mindset is that of a business advisor, not simply a vendor. Rainmakers immerse themselves in the high-priority concerns facing all of the customer's executives.
You have to do more than a cursory review of the annual report and the customer's Web site. Identify the issues beneath the headlines by talking to your customers' suppliers, customers and even their employees.
Study industry dynamics and the competitive threats that your customers face. Dig deeply into third-party analyst reports, SEC documents, if relevant, and recent news clippings.
Rainmakers invest more effort in learning about their customers' businesses and career aspirations than most salespeople. They spend as much time understanding the business as they do crafting a sales strategy. That extra effort gives them an edge. They have a longer-term perspective than most salespeople; their objective is the second, third and fourth sale—not just the first one.
Float to the top
Rainmakers rely on their knowledge of the customer's business to establish advisory relationships with executives who have responsibility for the performance of the business: the CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, CMO and others. Many sales managers recognize this imperative but fail miserably to accomplish the goal.
Often, this failure is because they rotate salespeople out of accounts too quickly. Customers get annoyed when a departing account executive calls every six months to introduce the new kid on the block. Eventually, customers get fed up with the revolving door and stop returning the salesperson's phone calls.
Salespeople who complain about customer skepticism and resistance are often the victims of their company's focus on short-term quotas. Rainmakers take a longer, relationship-based view, and the sales results speak for themselves.
Your relationships with top executives serve you in other ways. They are great sources of information about the potential projects in the pipeline. And they can break the gridlock of middle-management politics that is common in many organizations.
How do you get to the top people in your customer's organization?
First, remove the title "Sales Representative" from your business card. Once executives spot that title, they brace for the sales pitch. If you're off target at all, you'll be politely excused.
From day one, create a relationship matrix—an influence map—that lays out the routes for getting those essential introductions. Work to understand where influence resides in the organization—whether it's in the sales organization, manufacturing or elsewhere.
In smaller companies, it is usually straightforward to find the influencers and decision makers. But in large companies influence doesn't necessarily follow an obvious path. Job titles and influence aren't always related, so use your contacts to help you understand who's who. Rainmakers use their observations and creativity to navigate a path to those who can say yes.
What's the plan?
Becoming a customer's advisor at this broader level isn't a hit-or-miss proposition. It takes systematic planning and action. To reach that goal, rainmakers work from proactive, customer-specific plans that articulate how they'll attract and hold on to profitable customers.
Most salespeople have product or service-focused sales plans. A typical plan specifies how the salesperson will differentiate offerings, identify the target buyer and create a strategy for converting the lead to a sale as quickly as possible.
The rainmaker's sales plan is customer-focused. It lays out how the product or service addresses the customer's strategic priorities; the quantified benefits the customer can expect; and the investment of time, effort and money necessary to educate the customer.
The best sales plans go one step further by including a strategy for gaining the customer's personal trust. Research shows that customer trust has a high correlation with sales. Some salespeople, operating under the pressure of quotas, squander opportunities to build trust by attempting to influence a customer to buy a product or service that isn't in the customer's long-term interests.
The rainmaker walks away from sales that may look good in the quarterly performance reports but risk damage to the long-term customer relationship.
Since customers know that products have lifecycles, they base their trust mainly on their perceptions of the company and the salesperson. The rainmaker views building positive customer perceptions and trust as a key part of the customer sales plan.
What's most important, though, is to work the plan. It's easy to get caught up in the customer's day-to-day demands and let your customer marketing activities fall to the bottom of your to-do list. The rainmaker spends time every day working the plan, regardless of what other fires are raging. It takes consistent action to make rain.
The rainmaker never assumes a customer is loyal. Complacency is the enemy of loyalty. A customer's trust and loyalty can be swept away if a salesperson gets too confident or lets performance slip, even on one sale.
Customers will always surprise you, so be patient and understand the realities they face. Don't throw in the towel when things aren't going your way or you think customers don't show enough or appropriate appreciation for you.
Rainmakers understand that creating loyal customers is not a predictable, linear process. Instead, it has growth spurts, plateaus and setbacks. Patience and sustained action are at the core of the rainmaker's mindset. Invest yourself in your customers and your marketing plan, and watch it seed the clouds.