Attracting Clients in the New Age: A Rainmaker’s Insights to Selling
The art of selling has since changed from the traditional ‘door to door’ charm and charisma.
Thanks to the Internet constantly being at our fingertips and the up rise of online browsing, potential clients and customers are already well versed in what they are looking for; and in some cases, they may approach you before you even know anything about them or their needs.
We speak to Nitin Kumar, who has extensive experience in professional services and widely considered a rainmaker; he is also part of Silicon Valley’s “Magnificent Four”, the most well connected and networked individuals in the Hi-tech sector. Outside his vast and deep network, Nitin also understands insight-based selling and shares his observations and winning methods.
As a global operating executive and management consultant with 20 plus of leadership experience, Nitin speaks about how the sales process has changed, and how business leaders, including independent law firms need to adapt, in order to win clients.
In today’s world, buyers have a vast amount of information and an array of choice about products services and brands, which results in the sales cycle beginning before you have even engaged with them. At times, this information gives them the confidence to get a head start on decision making, yet in some cases, the overload of information can confuse them. Buyers and clients still need people to liaise ideas with, help them think through problems and solutions, but many professional services firms e.g., law firms (and practices within firms) have struggled to adapt to the new age of insightful sales; only a select few are getting it right and thus winning.
“We can no longer process 50 slide deck proposals with messages anymore, please share insights in a succinct manner so that we can get the point quickly “–SVP of Strategy, Silicon Valley Company
If you can communicate clearly, but aren’t saying anything insightful, the transaction is empty and is not likely to gain traction and results.
Anticipating issues and getting ahead of the game, whilst developing both foresight and insight is critical, yet not enough
Clients want the professionals they hire to partner with them throughout the lifecycle and expect education and collaboration before the persuasion of ‘purchasing’. Gone are the days when sales teams had the keys to sales of knowledge-based services, such as consulting, law firms, IT services etc. Shorter attention spans of executives attributed to an ocean of undifferentiated information and value propositions, pushes the need for shorter sales material.
Retaining clients and selling your service through insights not only demonstrates your knowledge but also unlocks pathways to the unarticulated needs from your prospective clients. If traditional professional services sales people and Partners make the highest impact by positioning their services against articulated needs in served clients (to a degree in unserved clients), insight-based selling can unlock one of the largest value creation zones across unserved clients who have unarticulated needs.
Anticipating issues and getting ahead of the game, whilst developing both foresight and insight is critical, yet not enough; professionals need to know how to package information in a way that resonates with clients. While relationships matter, experience, data and fact based insights are now the differentiator making clients choose the right partner. Sharing insights also indicates collaboration and adaptability to the client’s needs than selling solely on what you have.
In traditional professional services selling, the buyer states a need and the seller positions their offering as a solution to their problem, and previously, this used to be enough to win the sale.
Modern Day Selling
So, how has selling and rainmaking changed? What should law firms and other professional services firms consider when trying to win new clients?
In traditional professional services selling, the buyer states a need and the seller positions their offering as a solution to their problem, and previously, this used to be enough to win the sale. But today’s buyers often perceive sellers and their capabilities to be somewhat interchangeable. This leaves sellers stuck in a battle, trying to push themselves hard for the sale which can often put people off.
Legacy Sales Approach
- Describe your entire organisation, products, services, features etc., and showcase capabilities.
- Listen to clients’ problems and explore whether you have a solution which can help.
- Ask prospective clients a lot of questions to get information which will enable a trigger point to describe your capabilities.
- Rely heavily on relationships.
The conversation will contain phrases, such as:
- “We can do this…”
- “Our firm is…”
- “We are good because…”
- “If you hire us…”
Modern Day Sales Approach
- Enter conversations with a point of view, sharing research, data or hypothesis relevant to the client.
- Focus on sharing insights from key clients, competitors, similar business models or industry trends.
- Make clients see things differently by providing value in the sales meeting itself.
- Build a relationship by expanding on expertise, values and insights.
The conversation will contain phrases, such as:
- “Here is what we are finding…”
- “At other places we see…”
- “Competitors are doing…”
- “The biggest opportunities for you are…”
- “In your situation…”
The ‘challenger’ sales professional tends to be a voracious reader and an exceptional networker.
Characterising Sales Styles
It takes all styles to make a firm successful and this diversity can be seen in the sales styles of its partners, directors and other senior executives. Based on experiences in multiple firms, they can be categorised into a few different types:
Relationship builders always build and nurture client relationships and strong advocates within the client organisation. They network very rigorously, creating strong advocates. They also allocate time to help others and get along with everyone: typically, the type of person who likes to be liked by others. They are generally not insight based sellers or suited for complex sales but can be exceptional door openers.
Lone wolves tend to hunt alone and follow instincts more than the rules and can be difficult to control as, at times, they go against the pack. They are very self-assured and know their niches inside out, by bringing good insights to the table and making them terrific at selling complex solutions. Lone wolves can complicate simple sales with complex analysis and insights and are generally known to fend for themselves doing well on their metrics in select few clients that they resonate with. Therefore, they are not meant to operate in growth environments and places where collaborative selling is required to win.
Whilst they may not be equipped with the best sales skills, they scan for opportunities from the internal network and mostly tag team with the relationship builder and lend technical credibility or providing leverage to the accumulators. They have good delivery skills to supplement add on sales and opportunities.
Accumulators do not have the same ability to open doors as relationship builders, but through good delivery, exceptional problem solving, and hard work can build credibility with clients to foster add on sales. They are value players who sell through developing credibility: a longer route but a very dependable one. They rarely use insight selling techniques and need others to pull them early into the sales process.
Challengers are likely to have a different point of view relying heavily on expertise, knowledge, relationships and insights. They can get along with most people but can quickly distance themselves if they see lack of cohesion. Challengers care about their personal brands and style of selling; they selectively collaborate with the internal network where they see value. Generally, they have a deep understanding of clients, businesses, trends, insights, and love to debate and push the clients outside their comfort zones. They care more about being respected than liked. Studies from the Strategic Alliance reveal 39% of the challengers are rainmakers and top performers and clients often love discussions with such a personality.
The Challenger Difference
So, why exactly are the ‘challengers’ more successful than the relationship builders who were the rainmakers of yesteryears?
Professional services firms tend to have a mix of people; ‘challengers’ are fast replacing the ‘relationship builders’ as modern-day rainmakers by accumulating networks at a faster and stickier rate. Creating a ‘challenger style’ of selling requires the ability to spark action, unique insights, a certain personality and courage. Some relationship builders have successfully migrated into challengers by adapting to the times and client needs. Fundamentally, relationship builders are equipped to interface well-articulated needs, but challengers can extract unarticulated needs from clients as well.
The ‘challenger’ sales professional tends to be a voracious reader and an exceptional networker. They also are adept at turning general information into client customised point of views, and at creating loyal networks. The loyalty is built up by the value they provide to prospects and clients during each interaction, thereby drawing more people towards them. Clients and prospects see them as bigger allies than relationship builders, who appear to be focused on building bonds rather than sharing insights.
In order to retain clients today, even lawyers need to be business savvy.
Why Challengers Succeed
- They know the client’s industry well, or even better than the client does so themselves.
- Their strengths are in relationship building, depth of knowledge, ability to generate foresight and developing good insights
- They stimulate their client’s thinking by energizing internal teams; they are not afraid to deviate from the norm.
- Challengers coach and collaborate with clients and quickly to establish credibility.
- They proactively propose research and their expertise to clients, widening the portfolio of opportunities.
- Challengers are more successful against competition, given unique and tailored service to clients.
- They eventually generate a personal brand and attract clients to them, by investing in insight-based engagement upfront.
In order to retain clients today, even lawyers need to be business savvy. Knowing the shift in trends and understanding what potential clients are looking for and considering new media, will gain traction and winning results, and by adapting challenger traits, you may well achieve such a result.
Nitin Kumar is a global operating executive and management consultant with over 20 years of leadership experience in start-ups, turnarounds and high growth environments. He has held executive roles such as CEO, Business Unit Head and Consulting Partner with a focus on TMT (Technology, Media and Telecom) industries. He is believed to have an unparalleled global network in the TMT world helping him build and scale multi-million-dollar businesses on multiple occasions. He has sales, delivery, consulting and innovation experience in 80 countries. Nitin is widely regarded as well connected, a connector of people and a rainmaker with reputation as an innovator, speaker, thought leader and author with multiple global awards to his name. He enjoys connecting with people and solving complex business problems, usually visible up and down the 101 highway in California with his clients and network.