Long live the technician! 7 qualities you need in a post-Rain Maker world.
For professionals, the rules of business development are being rewritten before our very eyes. After all, the market for professional services has become more transparent and more competitive and the balance of power has well and truly shifted to the buyer.
As I recently wrote, in this landscape, it’s no longer usually possible for a rainmaker to sweet talk his way into gazillions dollars of work for his firm over a good meal and a few glasses of wine. Instead, business development has become more nuanced, more transparent, and in many ways more difficult.
So, with that in mind, here are seven things I think any professional needs to succeed in BD today.
1. You need to be competent
We’re sometimes told that the era of the technician is over. But really, I think in many ways, it’s only just begun.
I say this because the quality of your work is probably now more important than it ever has been.
That’s because, whereas once clients were often poor judges of who was good and who was not, that’s not the case anymore. They now go into a relationship with their professionals with their eyes wide open. By the time they engage you they’ll probably already have a pretty good idea of what you can bring to the table.
It’s also because there’ll be more opportunities for human competence to shine as Artificial Stupidity steps in to your data science party.
So, for today’s lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects and other professionals, the challenge has become more one of how do you demonstrate your competence to clients?
Well, hopefully, you’ll get more of an idea of that in the rest of this piece.
2. You need to be collaborative
More than ever, no professional is an island. Gone are the days when it was ‘us’ and ‘them’. Now, clients expect you to work with them to solve problems, not to stand aloof and to hand down your advice from high.
At the same, you can use the new balance of power in the professional/client relationship to your advantage by tapping into their opinions and knowledge and helping these inform your business practices.
This spirit of collaboration should also extend to the other professionals in your firm. While I’m no fan of cross-selling where it’s not in the client's interest, working with your colleagues across the firm to solve a client’s problems can give you a powerful advantage over your rivals and ultimately lead to more work.
3. You need to be curious
Curiosity is probably the single most underrated characteristic both in BD specifically and in business more generally.
Curious people take in more, notice things others don’t and are generally more innovative in everything they do. And, more than anything, curious people ask questions.
So I always say, if you want to know how you can better help a client, why not just ask them. If you want to know what they think of your firm, what you’re doing and well and how you could improve, ask them that too. And if you want to know how you could change to help them reach their goals, get them to tell you that also.
If you want to get better at BD, I also think your curiosity should extend to reading about it too. And, if you want to know where to start, try these 6 ways to kickstart your business development engine.
4. You need a good dose of humility
There was a time when professionals could afford to be a little haughty and self-important. In fact, it almost expected. These days, I think if there’s one trait almost certainly guaranteed to lose you work it’s arrogance - especially if that arrogance is misplaced (which in my experience it usually is).
More than that, I think humility extends to being generous with your time, helping out where you can and genuinely taking in interest in the careers, business and lives of others - even, or perhaps especially, when there’s nothing in it for you.
Believe it or not, clients notice these things. They tend to know who’s a good egg and who’s just in it for themselves. And, if you fall into the second category, it will almost always count against you when it comes to growing a business.
5. You need to start saying no
In business development, there can be a temptation to think bringing in work is always a good thing. After all, in the days of the rainmaker, it was always other people who did the work, not the person who brought it in.
But actually, bringing in the wrong work can destroy your business. And the wrong work can be anything from work that saps your profit margin, is outside your expertise (and will bring down your reputation) or that you - and your staff - simply don’t enjoy.
To be successful, you have to start being able to politely decline bad work and referring it to people who actually want to do it and will do it well.
In fact, I think you should go even further and get rid of your bad work - and your bad clients - right now. If you really want to improve your business, draw a line through the people you don’t want to work for anymore and the type of work you want to do.
In the words of Marie Kondo, focus only on the kind of work and the kind of clients that spark joy.
6. You need to get out from behind your desk
I know I kicked off this article by saying it was cool to be competent once again, but you can’t expect to keep getting the best work by being a techy alone. You need to get out from behind the desk and meet people too. You also need to be able to demonstrate your ability on a broad scale.
So speak, publish and show people you know what you’re talking about. Sign up to a in-person CPD session - better still take someone with you. Volunteer to host CPD sessions for your local professional association or other professional bodies. After all, fellow professionals are almost always the best referrers of work
7. You need a plan
Yep, you need to plan,
Now I could say something here about “failing to plan is planning to fail” but because you’ve heard that many times before I won’t. Instead, I’ll give you some practical advice…
Every three months, you should be setting aside some formal time to review where you want to be and how you’re going to get there. During that time you should reflect on the past three months too, thinking about how to learn from your losses and reviewing the state of the market.
On top of that, I recommend dedicating thirty minutes a day every day looking at your business development and pipeline activity, and another two hours every month reviewing how you’re going.
Because really, one of the most important ingredients of all when it comes to BD success is consistency. Without it, you’ll just be locked into the kind of boom and bust business model that leaves everyone anxious and unhappy.
These are just seven things I think each professional needs if they want to succeed in today’s business world. If you’d like help with any of them, get in touch.