How to encourage the next generation of advisers in your firm to bring in new clients and opportunities
By fostering an entrepreneurial culture and providing a skills development program beyond technical issues, professional service firms can proactively develop rainmaking abilities in their team members.
A conversation I often have with the partners in professional services firms relates to their younger generation. “They just do the technical work and don’t look for opportunities”, say these partners despairingly, often followed by a comment along the lines of “Just as well I’m here to bring in the work”.
This raises the question, “Are rainmakers born or made?” Let’s explore what forward-thinking firms can do to develop their technicians into well rounded business people who consistently contribute to revenue growth.
Is there hope for technicians?
Traditional professions such as law and accounting place a great deal of emphasis on technical excellence. Their young professionals are recruited on this basis and development of these skills forms the primary development focus for the next 10 to 15 years of their career. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that this is also where financial planning is headed. Traditional entrants from yesteryear such as successful sportsmen transitioning into selling life insurance are being replaced by newly minted graduates. In all cases, these work force entrants bring with them limited life experience, understandably devoting themselves to the complex technical rules and rigorous compliance regime in their chosen field.
It’s easy to see why outputs of this system will not be natural rainmakers. However, as a keen observer of professional practices, I am absolutely of the view that even introverted technicians can acquire business development skills – witness the new clients that (some of them) bring in when “Partner” is written on their business card and they are no longer expected to be 80 per cent chargeable.
Having progressed from a very traditional accounting practice to a more entrepreneurial firm at a formative stage of my career, I’m convinced that environment plays a crucial part in one’s development. Firms which focus exclusively on technical matters should hardly be surprised with the skill set of the next generation leaders.
Contrast this to the recruiting emphasis of leading law firms in the United States. Because much of the document preparation is now outsourced to workers in low salary countries, graduates are recruited more on the basis of their interpersonal skills and the number of their Facebook friends. The expectation from the outset is that business development forms a substantial part of their role.
So, from the point of recruitment right through to “making partner”, it’s interesting to consider what might be done to foster the rainmaking skills of professionals making their way through the ranks.
Improving the current environment
If one accepts that professionals are a product of their environment, it becomes very interesting to consider what could be done to make it more conducive to developing rainmakers. Perhaps there’s a comparison to be made here with Google, where allocating employees time to experiment and create is doubtless integral to its culture of innovation.
Prior to joining our coaching program, many of the professional practices we encounter are sales and marketing deserts. There are none of the conversations or initiatives which dominate the culture of growth orientated firms. Symptomatically, their leaders are poor users of Linked In, begrudge junior team members attending client meetings and don’t canvass how the firm could proactively assist clients beyond technical issues. Such leaders also do not foster the conversations about lead generation and the sales pipeline which are topics of endless fascination in growth companies.
Drilling down further, in laggard firms the professional library is defined by the books it doesn’t include. Classics such as Michael Gerber’s The E Myth Revisited and How to win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie are considered essential in the development of young Turks in growth firms, whilst the more adventurous collections should feature mind expanders such as The Dan Sullivan Question and Ian Elliot’s Stop Bitching Start Pitching.
A formal career development program also presents a great opportunity to nurture young rainmakers. Attaining technical excellence should be balanced with attending chamber of commerce meetings, Toastmasters and the conferences of industries where the Firm has a particular specialty.
It starts with leadership
The first step to improving the current situation is resolving to proactively address it.
Rather than bemoaning the lack of “X Factor” in the Firm’s ranks, instil a culture to develop it. Put programs in place to develop your team’s knowledge of sales and marketing. Ensure client-related conversations are not just about technical matters but include what the Firm can do to positively influence the client’s business. Tolerate team members using Facebook during business hours. Better still, train them in using Linked In to build their professional networks and develop their personal profile.
By all means develop skills of the Partners-elect group through the Australian Institute of Management programs covering management and human resources. Better still, bring them along to your business coaching sessions. This way the next generation leaders not only get to know your revenue targets but become accountable for implementing important projects to help you achieve them.
The intense study and rigorous work expectations of young professionals will actively filter out natural born rainmakers. Instead, the future of progressive firms will best be secured by nurturing business development skills within their ranks.
Scott Charlton is a Chartered Accountant and a director of Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their potential. A long term business coach to both accountants and financial planners, Scott is also the author of three books regarding professionals in practice. Scott can be contacted by phone 07 3221 3796 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.