Rainmaking skills are almost as important as technical proficiency. The ability to bring in business is a key skill that many firms need. There are far fewer accounting professionals capable of doing this than one would think. So as new graduates enter the profession, it is absolutely critical to contemplate how to develop these "soft skills," in addition to other accounting skills.
To understand how to become a rainmaker, I sought out a professional who has made the journey from CPA to rainmaker - Sandy Shoemaker, audit principal at Denver-based Ehrhardt Keefe Steiner & Hottman PC. Over the past 19 years, Sandy has been finding ways to attract new business to her firm.
Have you had any formal training in sales and business development?
Shoemaker: I have been a part of various trainings that have focused on sales and business development. ... Probably the most focused, formal training I have received was through the Rainmaker Academy. The two-year program met three times a year, and it was not just classroom-style training, but required us to focus and implement between sessions. The academy also taught how important it is to have a business development plan. ... During the two-year period that I was in the program, I was able to close the deal on over $800,000 worth of business.
How do you manage professional service responsibilities with rainmaking?
Shoemaker: You can't view these as separate and distinct from one another. Everything I do, whether with current clients, potential clients or referral sources, has the opportunity to provide a solution to someone. ...
I believe when you focus on helping those around you with the problems that they are facing, the business opportunities will naturally flow. Even reviewing the work of my audit teams can result in identifying ways to expand a relationship with a client.
What strategies have been effective in your rainmaking approach?
Shoemaker: When I became a partner at EKS&H, I determined that to be most effective, I needed to focus my efforts in certain areas where I had deep knowledge and passion. I began to develop a plan for expanding the firm's services to franchisors and employee stock ownership plan clients. I later added employee benefit plans to that list.
In developing my plan, I looked around these industries or niches and found out who the key players are both locally and nationally. [In addition to attending both industry events, and local events with a concentration of clients], I sought out other service providers to these niches and found where we had common clients. I communicated regularly with these service providers and focused specifically on our shared relationships. ...
I educated referral sources about our solutions, commitment to service and focus on meeting client needs. It became easy for referral sources to ask their clients if they were happy with their auditor relationship, because they work with EKS&H and know we will be great providers. It is about getting to know your clients' industry, getting involved in trade associations, and getting to know other service providers that will give you referrals.
How did you learn the skill of business development?
Shoemaker: When I was a manager, I focused on going out on every proposal opportunity I could with partners. I let every partner know that I would love to help bring in new clients. We have some great rainmakers at EKS&H that have been with the firm for a while; I sought them out and asked them to allow me to learn from them. I invited myself to lunches that I saw partners having with either my clients or with their bankers, attorneys, insurance brokers, whomever. I kept my mouth closed and learned how the conversation naturally led to how they could mutually help each other develop business. I still do this today.
What advice would you give young accountants looking to develop rainmaking skills?
Shoemaker: Seek out the rainmakers in your firm and find ways to go to referral meetings with them. If you're not sure how to get a seat at the table, take a look at the clients you work with and find out who is their banker, insurance broker and attorney. Call and ask to buy them lunch or a cup of coffee to discuss XYZ Company, as you both work with them. If you can bring a rainmaker with you to that meeting, even better. It is easier to start this process if you know you have some common ground to start the conversation. I would also encourage future rainmakers to get to know the industries that they find interesting and research who else provides services to that industry.
Finally, talk to your clients. Having a relationship with management and nurturing it will lead to you becoming a trusted advisor to your clients and will result in more opportunities with your existing clients!
Brian Swanson is the director of marketing and business development at Daszkal Bolton in Boca Raton, Fla. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (561) 953-1486.
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