It is never too early to start rainmaking (first published in Legal Week)

In this article, first published in Legal Week in May 2007, Sue Bramall looks at the attributes of successful rainmakers.

I was presenting at an in-house training course at a top 20 law firm last year and asked the group of 24 delegates how they managed their contacts.  Two people actively used Microsoft Outlook, one had a paper-based system, the other 21 were silent.  I would be prepared to bet on who will be the rainmakers of the future from that group.
To be successful, you will need to bring in new business.  To be really successful you need to bring in a substantial amount of new business and to do this you need to develop a set of skills over and above your legal expertise and a network of contacts that will act as a conduit to new business opportunities.  The sooner you invest time and energy in developing your formula for business development, the sooner it will pay dividends.
Unfortunately there is not one single tried and tested recipe for successful rainmaking that everyone can follow.  It is more like a Jamie Oliver style of preparation, where there is an agreed set of ingredients, but there are no set quantities and you are free to add your own special flavouring. 
In the US, a consultant named Ford Harding interviewed 100 successful rainmakers to try and establish whether rainmakers are born or whether they can be developed – nature or nurture? 

It is a common misconception that you have to be an extrovert to be successful at business development – probably because it is the extroverts who get noticed most.  However, through his research, Ford Harding proved that there is no one “personality type” but the successful rainmaker does have a set of common attributes, all of which can be developed to some extent. These traits are:

  • Optimism
  • Drive and tenaciousness
  • Valuing relationships
  • Active listeners 
  • Systematic 

Our level of optimism is influenced by our understanding of a particular set of circumstances.  Clearly the level of experience that you have in a particular area of law will influence your optimism regarding the likely outcome of a particular case before you.  Most lawyers have very little opportunity to gather the knowledge and develop experience in the selling and business development environment, and can feel rather unoptimistic about their chances of success.

Only a small number benefit from a mentor who will invest time in developing these skills, therefore you may need to go out of your way to acquire this knowledge. 

Having worked with a number of successful rainmakers, tenaciousness is possibly the quality that I admire most and that yields the greatest results.  If you always communicate with your prospects in a professional and courteous way and have a genuine interest in working with them, one day an opportunity is likely to arise. 

Talking to an in-house lawyer from a major financial services firm recently, he commented that he often met lawyers at networking events.  More often than not they would send him some information in the post afterwards.  Occasionally someone would follow up with a phone call.  What surprised him was that, only rarely did anyone ever bother to call again.  Six months down the line he would have forgotten these suitors as others would be knocking at his door.  There were only a couple of people that seemed genuinely committed to wanting to work with him and these were the ones he was most likely to call.  Persistence does pay. 

Rainmakers actively seek opportunities to create new relationships through developing their own networking strategy.  Each individual needs to find their own formula for developing their network of contacts.  Few people are comfortable walking into a conference of strangers and working the room.  Most of us are not, and need to think of other ways to develop new contacts on a regular basis.

I usually suggest that people start by making a list of everyone that they know and categorising them.  The list of categories might include:  colleagues, former colleagues, clients, former clients, other solicitors, barristers, experts, suppliers, intermediaries (banks, accountants, surveyors etc), business networks (such as the Chamber of Commerce, CBI or Institute of Directors), networking organisations (such as BNI or BRE), professional or trade associations, sports teams or clubs, political groups, charities, family, friends, neighbours, contacts at school or church, the media, conference or event organisers, etc

Start by re-acquainting yourself, with people that you have not been in contact with for a while.  Later on look at each of these categories and consider whether it is an area that you could develop.  By necessity, business development may often eat into your spare time and therefore you should choose activities and networks that you are genuinely interested in.  For example, a colleague who was interested in music volunteers at a hospital radio station and has recently become involved with the charity Arts & Business.

Rainmakers value relationships and invest time and energy in nurturing these relationships – sometimes for many years before they yield any dividends.  Too often, I see professionals looking for a quick fix.  Having called a few contacts and not reeled in an opportunity, they become despondent and think 'well, that did not yield anything.  I won’t waste my time doing that again.'  Meanwhile the tenacious lawyer keeps plugging away and positions themselves for the big opportunity. 

Successful rainmakers are also great listeners.  They are keen to understand all about a target company, so that they can identify the opportunity to add value.  They listen to their contact’s personal ambitions as well as their business objectives. 

Finally, you need to be systematic in managing your contacts and keeping in touch.  It is awfully frustrating to find out that a potentially useful contact has left and you cannot find out where they have moved to.  If you are in regular contact, they may well tip you off before they move.

It often amazes me how poorly lawyers manage their personal contacts, if they manage them at all.  Some abdicate all responsibility to their secretaries.  I often say that after their legal expertise, their contacts are their second most valuable piece of intellectual property.  If you are ever looking for a lateral move, you can be sure that a potential new firm will be just as interested in your client list as your technical skills.

A system to keep track of all your new business opportunities is essential if you want to ensure that one never slips through the net.

Potential clients are not often in a position to buy from a new supplier, and you need to create sufficient awareness that when they are ready to think about needing legal services – yours is the first, and hopefully the only, name to come to mind.

The successful rainmaker knows that business development is a game – sometimes called a numbers game, sometimes called the long game.  They know that one brochure and one phone call is not enough to place you in pole position to be on the shortlist, next time a firm’s legal work is put out to tender.  A long term commitment to developing relationships with a target company and a consequent in-depth understanding of that business is key to obtaining a competitive advantage.

The more people that understand what you do, and how you can help people, the bigger your sales force will be.  The size of your network will have a direct impact on your chances of success.  Someone who regularly keeps in touch with 200 people will have a much greater record of success than someone who keeps in touch with just 20 people.

As one of my colleagues in the US likes to remind me – in business development, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to meet your prince.

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