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Is the rainmaker model drying up?

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For years, accounting firms have relied on firm partners to use their personal and professional connections, charisma, and contacts to “make it rain” — to bring in new business and revenue that would enable the firm to grow and succeed.

Today, the growth of the internet and the rapid evolution of information technology has changed all that. Service buyers now have more information than ever to inform their decision-making. Websites, digital forums, social media and other online platforms enable buyers to thoroughly research potential service providers, often before they are aware they’re being analyzed and evaluated.

Team value vs. rainmaker reputation

Thanks to the bounty of information now available online and through other sources, buyers can more easily assess the expertise and experience of accounting firms. The focus has switched to finding the right firm with the expertise needed to solve specific business challenges, significantly reducing the relevance of the rainmaker. As a result, marketing strategies are beginning to emphasize the accounting firm’s expertise and ability to solve business problems rather than the personal network of a rainmaker.

This new model is being embraced by an increasing number of accounting firms because it increases opportunities for developing new business within the firm. This one-firm approach creates cross-channel engagements using multiple services across a variety of partners and other team members. In larger accounting practices, clients are no longer siloed to a specific partner in a specific practice. Instead, referrals are made across the firm as new client needs arise and different business challenges need to be addressed.

When the rainmaking stops

Relying upon a rainmaker can leave a firm highly vulnerable on a number of levels. Positioning the firm based on the experience and reputation of the rainmaker leaves the firm with little room to move, marketing-wise. The broader expertise of the team enables the firm to develop visibility for that expertise and promote its value to a market eager to take advantage of it.

Likewise, gaining referrals and developing new clients historically have been based on the personal relationships of the rainmaker. This presents relatively little value to the marketplace and relies solely upon the capabilities of the individual, which may be limited. The team approach emphasizes the expertise that resides in the firm, which is what the buyer is searching for today. Prospects select a service provider more on the firm’s expertise than the reputation of a rainmaker.

The transition from a rainmaker model to a team-based one fundamentally changes firm dynamics:

Business goals: The rainmaker model focuses on building relationships. The team approach emphasizes expertise and works to raise its visibility in the marketplace to create a competitive advantage.

Positioning: Reputation plays a big role in the rainmaker model, positioning the partner as a trusted advisor. The team model promotes team members as “visible experts” — industry thought leaders skilled in tackling clients’ specific challenges.

Referrals: Rainmakers rely upon personal relationships to win new business and then guard it closely. The team model gains referrals based upon firm expertise and creates new business opportunities within and across the firm instead of sequestering clients with a single partner.

Marketing’s role: In the rainmaker model, marketing merely supports the rainmaker as a glorified administrative assistant. The team approach provides marketing with a more strategic role as team leader, promoting team expertise and creating opportunities to cross-sell services within the firm.

Firm value: The rainmaker builds value based on his or her practice and personal relationships; firm value diminishes substantially when the rainmaker leaves. The team model offers more value by promoting the firm and its wide range of expertise. The risk of value loss is significantly reduced because the departure of one team member has considerably less impact than the loss of a rainmaker.

Clearly, the team-based approach to accounting firm marketing is a winning formula. Promoting firm expertise builds brand identity and value while minimizing the risk of revenue loss that can occur with the departure of a productive rainmaker. The team takes the focus off the individual and places it squarely on the firm, helping to ensure consistent, sustainable growth.

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