Rainmaking: Delegate or do-it-yourself?
Within your accounting firm, who is the "rainmaker?" Should this responsibility be delegated to a salesperson? In a smaller firm, should the owner of the firm be the "rainmaker?"
Clearly, "rainmaking" is not a class in undergrad. And, junior staffers at big firms are not trained to prospect for new clients. Heaven forbid! This would make too much sense. Yet, many small companies in other industries convert employees into evangelists and teach them how to preach their wares.
Let's start with a few important questions regarding "rainmaking" in your practice:
• Who does the business owner want to meet with?
• Who in your firm is most effective at answering the business owner's questions and communicating the benefits of your services?
• Who in your firm is best at quoting a proper fee for the client?
• Who is best at determining whether the prospective client is a good fit for your firm?
• Who has the highest level of motivation to sell your firm's services?
Before we jump right into this, let's take a look at analogous industries to see what they do. Let's assume that you are the client in each situation.
If you were seeking a trial lawyer, who would you expect to meet with for your free consultation? Assume that you had a serious auto accident, which was not your fault, and suffered a life-altering personal injury. To recover damages, would you expect to meet personally with the paralegal, legal intern, junior staffer or the trial lawyer?
In the medical industry, prospective clients often conduct some research on specialists like cardiologists, pediatricians, oncologists and cosmetic surgeons. Suppose you are about to have your first born and need to select a pediatrician. Would you expect to meet with the pediatrician or someone else in that medical group?
Suppose you needed an architect to build your dream retirement home, whom would you meet within an architectural firm?
In each case, the client generally wants to meet personally with the specialist that is providing the service, not a junior staffer. And especially not a "commissioned" salesperson. Meeting with a "commissioned" salesperson is analogous to going to a car dealership and being greeted on the showroom floor.
What Does The Prospective Client Expect?
For many small business owners, their business plays a major role in their life. Entrusting their financial information and relying upon the counsel of an accountant is an important decision. To effectively make this decision, they expect to meet with an owner or partner in your firm, and evaluate the chemistry for developing a long-term, trusting relationship. Their goals are simple: avoid taxes and avoid downside risk.
Generally speaking, sending a sales representative out to meet with prospective clients is not putting your best foot forward. Sales reps seldom understand the client’s business nor understand their issues and pain points. As a result, most of the dialogue is a pure sales call (think car salesperson) and not consultative in nature.
In a nutshell, the business owner wants to meet with you, not a salesperson who has been trained for a few hours to sell accounting services. The business owner wants to evaluate your expertise and advice. This is not something that is effectively abdicated.
To generate appointments, a promotional offer is extended to the business owner. In return for their agreement to meet for 30 to 45 minutes, you agree to provide them with something of value that will be worth their time. In professional services, this is normally a free initial consultation.
During this free initial consultation, the business owner will expect to get answers to a few questions. These questions might be pain points, industry-specific issues or easy tax questions. The business owner's expectation is that your firm fully understands these issues and should be able to answer the question on the spot. If not, their time is being wasted. It's that simple.
If you were a business owner and made time to meet with an accounting firm, you would expect the firm could easily answer a few questions. This isn't a trip to Walmart; it's a consultation with an expert in accounting and taxation and you expect quick, concise answers. Think of how you feel when you call customer service and the rep can't answer your question. What is your perception of that company’s ability to service your needs?
The business owner will expect that your fees are simple and clear cut.
However, this is not usually the case because each client is not the same. One company with $250,000 in sales may be easy to service and another may chew up endless hours. As a result, the person pitching your services needs to use judgment regarding the amount of effort required to service each individual client.
Quoting fees for your firm is like walking a tightrope. If the fee is too high, the close ratio will be low. If the fee is low, you may be leaving money on the table.
Sales reps that do not have an equity stake in your firm will always quote the lowest possible price. Their satisfaction comes from closing clients, not maximizing firm profitability and hourly fee realization. Their actions will be directly tied to the structure of their compensation package. If you pay them on volume, you'll get volume but at a low price.
The concept of evaluating whether a client is a good fit for your firm requires unbiased judgment and skill. In general, it is very difficult to evaluate fit. To give you an example, think about the hiring process for a Fortune 500 company. They send you through a gauntlet of interviews and some request a personality assessment to evaluate and assess fit.
Determining whether a client fits your firm and is a viable long-term client requires judgment, wisdom and decision-making skills from a firm stakeholder.
If the client is undesirable or has no regard for compliance, judgment is needed. The fee that is quoted to an undesirable client should be painfully high and reflect your lack of interest in working with them.
Salespeople in general have a hard time walking away from a prospective client, regardless of how poor the chemistry is. For that matter, most sole practitioners struggle with walking away from a "deadbeat" client, so don't ever expect a commissioned salesperson to walk away. To a salesperson, every prospective business owner will be a 10 and worthy of your services.
Motivation to Sell
For most people, selling is not easy. It requires a genuine belief in what you are selling and a financial reward for a job well done.
In most professional service firms, who has the highest level of motivation to grow the practice? Whose interests closely match those of the firm? In the legal and medical industry, the practitioner and partners generally have the highest level of motivation to grow the firm, short-term and long-term. Is this true with your practice? It should be.
There is no doubt, "rainmaking" requires a commitment and takes time. Because accounting and taxation are not top priorities for small business owners, "rainmaking" takes more time than it should. At the same time, it is a critical role that is challenging to delegate.
The typical small accounting practice generally struggles to find time to process the work, generate leads and go on appointments. And because most have never been trained to sell effectively, they elect to process the work and struggle with the "rainmaking" function. By default, many will hire a salesperson to handle the selling and then complain about the end result.
Financially speaking, it is less expensive to hire a junior accountant/bookkeeper than a salesperson. Quality salespeople are expensive and a hot commodity in all industries. If they are really good, they know it and will seek the highest bidder for their services. Your ability to retain an accountant/bookkeeper is much higher than a salesperson. So, if funds are limited, I would advocate that you would be better off hiring a junior accountant to process most of the routine accounting work and free yourself up to become the "rainmaker."
To become an effective "rainmaker,” training and coaching are essential. In my experience, learning to sell effectively is an ongoing process. While a few can do it naturally, most of us require training, coaching and practice. Lots of practice.
To me, the learning process for "rainmaking" is analogous to the game of golf. There are very few natural golfers out there. Swinging a golf club is very unorthodox and unique. To become good at golf, many will read about the fundamentals, take lessons and practice like crazy.
After being away from the game of golf for a while, your game falls apart. Especially the short game. Well, "rainmaking" is similar. If you've fallen out of the routine, you will have to eliminate the rust that has accumulated.
In our opinion, the practitioner is best suited to bring rain. This is an essential function that never ends.
We work with several firms that have successfully used sales reps for short-term client acquisition. As their firm reaches a comfortable plateau, they let the sales reps go and the "rainmaking" responsibility falls back into their laps like a hot potato. Like it or not, you will be the "rainmaker" sooner or later if you work in a small firm.
As in the game of golf, the sooner you embrace this, the better you will ultimately become. Get some coaching and start practicing.