Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rainmaker myths and traps, and rainmakers as a source of shared best practices

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on April 6, 2010

I want to start this posting with a short story from my own professional experience, where I saw several issues related to rainmakers play out, and both as positives and negatives for the business. I will then go on to discuss something of lessons learned and potential lessons not picked up on.

The business in question was a large auto dealership group and I was brought in as an interim CIO to help them reorganize their IT department. The details of that were interesting but not particularly relevant to this, so I will simply note that I was working in-house and in close coordination with Sales. And this was a shop that was in real trouble, with sales down and morale even lower. And in one of their showrooms they had a widely acknowledged rainmaker among their numbers. He could seemingly get anyone to buy. Everyone knew and liked him and everyone there knew of his success rate, but that is where it stopped. No one asked the questions of how he did this or what of his approach would work for them too.

Mike (a made up name but a real person), got his start in Services, and in auto repair. He was the guy who remembered every customer he worked with, and he worked with the customers when he worked on their cars. He may have checked the service records too but he knew the people who brought cars in that he worked on and he remembered basically what he had done and what their ongoing issues were if any. People asked for him by name to work on their cars because they remembered him too.

Mike worked in that department for most of twenty years, and over that period he learned that he preferred working with people to working on transmissions and carburetors. So he switched to Sales to see if he could do that too, in connecting with and working with the customers he met.

Mike was not so much a salesman as a problem solver. How could he help the customer find the right vehicle for them? How could he help them meet their needs? Sales were an outcome but not necessarily the primary goal. And once again he remembered his customers and they came to remember him too.

Mike took a very matter of fact, low key approach. Ho focused on the customer and not on forcing the sale. If that meant down-selling and focusing on a less expensive model that was a better fit the customer with their needs and budget that is what he showed them. He made sales and people came back as repeat customers, asking for him by name and often for several cars in a family. I will add that with his background he also knew how to help these customers connect buying a car to having it serviced and beyond the first free oil changes.

Overall sales were a lot less than they should have been and the closing ratio – the proportion of leads that turned into sales was way below average by regional standards. The Sales staff did not know the number – I worked with a manager to determine what the actual numbers where there, but they already all knew the general direction those numbers would be in. They pushed aggressively at any potential sales opportunity, always seeking to up-sell. They told each other off-color and sometimes even discriminatory jokes and sometimes in front of potential customers – I actually saw people look up in surprise among other emotions and simply turn to walk to the exit. They talked more than they listened – a lot more and the results were clear.

These were not stupid people. They did know that Mike was making sales and yes, not one of them asked precisely how, at least with intent of learning how they could do better too. Some of this can be automated. Everyone in Sales does not have to suddenly develop a photographic memory for customers and their history with the business. A good customer relations management (CRM) system can, with effective use, give most every potential repeat customer reason to feel like this salesperson remembers them personally. It can give the Sales staff the information on their cars and trucks in stock, and on features available in them that would give any new customer reason to feel they are being given special preferred treatment. But even the best database and computer and handheld-ready interface systems can only go so far. The real work has to be done by the people who use those systems, and a key to that is in developing and sharing best practices.

• A rainmaker and his or her approaches and methods do not come as an impenetrable and incomprehensible black box, with all the working details hidden from sight and unavailable except for final results in sales achieved.
• A rainmaker is a call to action – a compelling example proving that this can be done better and even a lot better.
• A rainmaker should be a center of focus for developing and sharing best practices in how the Sales force works, and on the technology side, these people and their strategies and practices can help you to select and implement IT so that it supports your business.

My working example here was drawn from automotive but this applies to any business where Sales enters in. That, I add definitely includes more seemingly divergent circumstances such as job search where the job seeker is offering their skills, experience and enthusiasm as a salable product. And the approach you take towards the potential customer – here the hiring manager and any preliminary screening reviewers is where you face your potential points of sale, and that is where you want to be that rainmaker in your own practice. So don’t just think selling goods or company-provided services here. Think in terms of any opportunity where you would make a pitch.

• This posting is about identifying and learning from excellence and sources of excellence, and learning how to incorporate the best of what they do into your own ongoing practice.
• That means finding and incorporating what is best to include for you and in knowing why these lessons learned would connect into and support your efforts in reaching your goals.

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3 Responses

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  1. tio said, on April 6, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    very good article, thanks this is very useful for me

  2. […] basic problems I have seen in retail sales poorly done as I write this, citing my recent posting: Rainmaker Myths and Traps, and Rainmakers as a Source of Shared Best Practices. I will only add here on the bad-practices side of this that I have seen good people who are […]

  3. […] The best of what you can do now should be the benchmark you would seek to improve upon. (See Rainmaker Myths and Traps, and Rainmakers as a Source of Shared Best Practices.) • Infrastructure should support the business and it should be developed and maintained with the […]

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