The different types of rainmakers
My thoughts on an article from the Harvard Business Review about the different types of revenue generators at law firms
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This morning I came across a really interesting article from the Harvard Business Review, called What Today’s Rainmakers Do Differently. The article was noteworthy because it focuses on professional services sales (e.g. law firm sales) as opposed to general sales. So I decided to take the opportunity to highlight five key takeaways from the article (for free subscribers) and some deeper thoughts about the Activator type (for premium subscribers).
1. There are five general types of rainmakers
Experts, confidants, debaters, realists, and activators. The article explains what each of these types are good at, how they tend to operate, and highlights where they typically get work from. Reading through the descriptions, it struck me that most lawyers probably see themselves as the “expert” type. Interestingly, the expert type also tends to hoard client relationships because to them, everything is zero sum. Sound familiar?
2. Confidants generate business from people they know through personal or professional networks
This to me is exactly why leadership at many firms remains an “old boys club” despite all of the focus on DEI. That’s why you see more diversity at the junior levels of a firm instead. The bottleneck isn’t *exactly* the firm itself, it’s the power structure behind social networks that keep out women, people of color, etc.
3. Debaters do well in B2B sales generally, but not in professional services
The authors use the term “debaters” which to me is very similar to the “challenger” type that those of us in software sales were trained to emulate. Challengers assertively recommend products to buyers, while “challenging” the buyer’s existing beliefs. Which is supposed to earn the seller a lot of credibility and makes them more effective. Apparently that doesn’t work in professional services sales, because the seller is the product.
4. Realists are transparent and even pessimistic about what they can deliver
The article points out that this is a good approach to meeting client expectations, but leaves something to be desired. Personally I think realists thrive in environments where there’s excess demand or where overselling is common. I mean, I buy that realists aren’t the best sales performers, but on the other hand, they also tend to do well in the long term, because they rarely disappoint buyers. In fact, some buyers are persuaded more by a seller that is very conservative about what they can deliver.
5. Activators are the most effective type of rainmaker
They are super-connectors, and use digital channels (like LinkedIn) to connect directly with key decisionmakers at the buyers’ organization. Which works incredibly well. From the article:
Katie Vickery, a partner at the UK law firm Osborne Clarke, has a commitment to her business-development routine that has paid off handsomely. She told us that she spends half of every workday on business development. She posts on LinkedIn, likes or comments on others’ posts, and keeps track of role changes and personal events. She reads as much as possible, scanning the news in search of valuable updates that she can send to clients. She also creates thought leadership videos: When inspiration strikes, she goes into Osborne Clarke’s in-house studio, records a video in about 20 minutes, and posts it on LinkedIn. Her process nets her roughly one new business opportunity every two to three days.
This type of client development is antifragile because it doesn’t depend on say, one single-threaded relationship with some high level buyer. Instead, it enables the activator fully leverage their firms’ practice areas, identify new areas of business, and create new, unexpected sources of value. As you can see from the example above, it even drives potential clients to reach out directly!
(more thoughts on Activators below)