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“I Need To Hire A Rainmaker!”

by David Brock on February 3rd, 2014

A client called me up stating, “I need to hire a rainmaker.”  He is the CEO of a mid sized company that’s struggling a little, and wanted my help in finding someone.

Since I’ve always struggled with the concept of a rainmaker, so I asked him what he meant.

He replied, “I need someone to make things happen!”  He went on to describe someone who could turn around the most difficult situations, walk into a prospect and in one or two meetings inspire the customer to whip out a PO.  I was tempted to ask if the candidate needed to pull rabbits out of hats or leap over buildings with single bounds.

He concluded by saying, “I need someone a lot like you!”  (Honestly, I’m not sure I was flattered by that characterization.)

I’ve heard talk of rainmakers in action.  There’s a stereotypical view of the rainmaker.  Usually, what’s described as someone of incredible authority and power of persuasion, that comes in at the end of a sales cycle, and in one meeting, seals the deal, then goes off to the next deal working his or her magic.  In my past lives, as a senior executive, I was often asked to come in to final presentations or executive calls to help the team.  Often, we walked out with orders (a few times, with our tails between our legs), but it was less what I did or my presence, but really the culmination of a lot of tough work and great strategy development and execution by the sales team.  Often, I think the only thing that may have made a difference was the title on my business card, not what I did or said.

So to be honest, I don’t believe in that concept of rainmakers, at least in complex B2B sales.

Selling, particularly complex B2B sales, is hard work, there are no short cuts, and one call closes are probably more due to luck than skill.  High performing sales people do the work.  It’s not showy or flashy, it’s lots of details, it’s having a strong plan in place and executing it over the entire buying/sales cycle.

  • It’s about creating and finding new opportunities in the account and territory, through high impact prospecting.
  • It’s getting the customer to think differently through collaboratively constructing insight.  This is done over a series of conversations, never just one.
  • It’s building value with the customer–everyone involved in the decision making process–in every interaction.
  • It’s about knowing the customer’s business and how they get things done, executing a strategy that leverages this.
  • It’s about building trust and credibility, and maintaining it over time–in short, building a relationship.
  • It’s about leveraging resources in the company and with partners to help facilitate the customer buying process.
  • It’s about building business justified solutions, helping the customer sell it up the food chain.
  • It’s about ensuring the customer is successful, each and every time.
  • It’s about having an impact and making a difference with each customer and with your colleagues.
  • It’s about consistency, over time with accounts, across accounts, across territories.

I could go on, and I know each of you can add many more.  In complex B2B sales, I don’t believe rainmakers exist.  There may be that executive or person that participated in a significant call, helping move the ball forward.  But what about all the work required to get the ball in position in the first place.  What about all the work that continues after that call.  That’s the real stuff of high performance B2B sales,  that’s where the high performers live, consistently executing, every day, with each customer and each deal.  It’s about making things happen, small and large, every day, week after week, month after month.

We don’t need rainmakers, we need rock solid, high performing sales professionals.  People who know there is no short cut, who revel in doing the work, and execute with precision.

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  1. David- I would add one more sentence.

    We need professionals who understand the importance of character and values in building long-term trust.

    • Thanks for the critical addition Barbara! One of the reasons “rainmakers” don’t tend to work is they haven’t established that long term trust!

  2. Spot on Dave. Hoping for miracles is no substitute for clear focus, hard work and impeccable execution – and shame on anyone who thinks otherwise.

  3. Steve Kaye permalink

    You’ve left me on tenterhooks Dave! What did you tell him? He needs to go back and review his USP’s? He needs to look at his sales processes/strategy again? His board needs training……….etc etc.

    I suspect the latter i.e. company not performing as it should so instead of being honest and looking at what’s more likely i.e. poor strategy/execution/lack of high levels of genuine customer interest and poor company direction therefore “it must be the sales force’s inadequacies!”

    • Steve, great observations. There were a lot of challenges with the performance of the organization. This executive was frustrated and thought there were “shortcuts” to success. Instead, we looked at what needed to be done–in some cases he had the wrong people. More importantly, the issues or strategy, execution, leadership were at the root of the problems he faced. We identified those, developed a plan to move forward, did everything we could to accelerate the process, but at the same time he had to be patient because the transformation would take time.

  4. Brian MacIver permalink

    The problem is “Rainmakers” exist. It is not uncommon to find Top Performers who sell at 400% of average:

    And the CEO is just doing simple maths,
    a couple of those ‘Rainmakers’ will solve his problems.
    But, be careful what you wish for!

    The loss of a “Rainmaker”, or a couple of ‘Rock-Stars’ can have a devastating effect on a small Firm. When just a few of your salespeople are delivering the profits, their loss can be fatal.

    Why not tackle the ‘real’ problem?
    Learn how to get ‘Average’ Performers above target,
    just as Dave suggests.

  5. Loved your article. I haven’t hear the term rainmaker used for a while.

    To me this means a top 5% rep, a natural.
    A storyteller by nature, a good listener with confidence and air of self possession. A sales rep who excels at her craft and is always 200% + against quota

    Of course the reason for the CEO’s desperate need for a rainmaker is because they have failed to create a marketing and sales execution process where mere mortals can succeed. As a result B players are failing and C -players in the revolving door in and out of the place.

    • Mark, thanks for joining the discussion. Too often, people think there are shortcuts to selling. The “rainmaker” is one of those concepts. There are no shortcuts to selling, it’s disciplined, detailed, tough work. It starts with prospecting, then qualifying, then….. No one can truly jump in at the end, but high performing sales people do the whole job.

      Thanks for the comment.

  6. Second article of yours that’s been referred to me this week, Dave. Doing good! So what these kinds of conversations show is a) the lack of understanding of what “sales” is by business owners and other top executives; b) the belief that there is some kind of magic bullet to circumvent the work of understanding your prospect’s world, which both lead to c) lack of awareness that you can have and NEED a consistent sales process.

    Without a consistent sales process, you won’t know where you and the prospect are. When opportunities die, you won’t know why. Sometimes it’s a good thing that they die–lack of need for what you offer, or terrible cashflow on the part of the prospect, for example.

    Trust IS #1. However, getting the opportunity to develop that trust is not easy. Buyers are skeptical. You must show them at the very start that you understand the typical problems their niche experiences which you solve. Then they may invite you in to talk further. But showing up with a list of features to blast at prospects isn’t going to get the salesperson anywhere.

    A rainmaker is not the solution; a consistent sales process is.

    • Thanks for following and for the note Jason. You are absolutely right, executing the process consistently, creating value in each exchange–consequently building trust, is fundamental to our success. Rainmakers aren’t the solution.

  7. Lee Bartlett explains how Rainmakers are made better than anyone else I’ve ever read.
    He says it’s a sales persons duty to find the right company within the right vertical at the perfect time – and then simply do a competent job… et voila… you’re now known as a rainmaker!
    There’s plenty of would-be Rainmakers who haven’t quite figured out that their product or vertical has jumped the shark.
    As a consequence you won’t find a Rainmaker selling ice to Eskimos or coals to Newcastle but you will find him flogging AI Robotics.
    My strongly held view is that Rainmakers are nothing more than the meeting of a Competent Sales Person and a product (and company) in the zeitgeist.
    Sorry to shatter anyone’s illusions.

    • Kinda think that’s what I said Martin. I don’t believe Rainmakers exist. They are simply sales people who are constantly learning/improving, viciously focused on their sweet spot, viciously focused on creating value with the customer and solving their problems, and committed to sharp execution.

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