Bob Hampton was the first sales manager I had at Xerox. He called me into his office and told me he had selected me from the rookie team to take over a new territory. I'll never forget how he ended that first conversation. He said, "Phillips, I don't expect miracles but I want you to make it rain."
At the time, I was too excited to ask what I thought might be a stupid question, "he wants me to make it rain?" Months later I asked and he explained that a "rainmaker" was a person who could go anywhere, no matter what the conditions and produce results.
"Rainmakers are the people everyone on the team depends upon," Bob said. "They charge up the side of a mountain, alone, talk privately to the sales gods and soon the orders begin falling from the skies onto lands once barren of sales."
We laughed and I asked what he thought were the attributes of a great "rainmaker." He said that there were basically four virtues shared by all of the "rainmakers" he had ever seen: Optimism, Ego, Greed, and Empathy.
At one time or another we have all been given the motivational test asking if the glass half empty or is the class half full. Optimists seem to find ways to make the rain come.
There is an old story of the New England shoe manufacturer who wanted to expand his market. He sent one of his sons to Africa and the other to India. He quickly received two wires. The first wire said; "No one in Africa wears shoes. Returning immediately." The second wire said; "No one in India has shoes. Send stock immediately." Guess which son eventually took control of the company?
I once had the opportunity to work with a rainmaker who made optimism work in the street. Jim Powers was perennially the top salesman in our organization and at one of our meetings, Jim was once again given the award for Salesman of the Quarter. His numbers were so great that one of the other salespeople asked if a certain major national account had finally decided to buy. Jim responded that he had in fact lost that particular order but since he wasn't spending time on that account, it had given him time to take care of a lot of new prospects that he had not been able to work on before.
Jim made the glass half full because he was willing to put on his rainmaker costume and dance very hard instead of sitting around whining and asking why it was raining for competitor.
While "ego" is not normally thought of as a virtue, Bob explained that the "rainmakers" have so much pride that they are never willing to believe that they can be outsold or defeated. "They really believe that nothing is impossible for them, " Bob said.
Bob told me about a call he had made with Susan Perry, one of the most "confident" sales professionals you could ever meet.
It seems that in this particular incident, Susan had been told by the buying committee of a large law firm that they had decided to purchase from a competitor. At that very moment, Susan must have fainted or at least looked very ill because two people rushed to her side and another brought her some water.
Susan tried to regain her composure as several members of the committee reassured her that their decision was no reflection on her personally. She looked at each one of them and then apologized with a voice that cracked with shock and shame. She explained that she had never in her lifetime lost a prospect to this particular competitor. She apologized for having done a dreadful job for the prospect.
She then said, "Gentlemen, I would never challenge your decision. I know that you have analyzed the question thoroughly and made the best decision you could based on the information you have. But, before we leave, will you please tell me what the difference was between their proposal and ours?"
Thirty minutes later, they were in the car with the order. Bob asked her again if she was OK. She smiled and replied that she had never felt better and told Bob that she would have jumped out of the window before losing that order. Susan's ego wouldn't let her lose that order and ultimately she knew that the decision to buy from her was the best possible for the client.
"Greed" is another trait not normally thought of as a virtue and Bob explained that the "rainmakers" are all motivated by something tangible. Perhaps "greed" is an uncharitable way to describe this drive of the "rainmaker."
A friend of mine is a very successful commercial real estate agent, a "rainmaker" driven by "greed" or monetary security. She is not blinded by "greed" nor does she let it drive her to the unethical. She simply states that as a single mother she has to "make a $100,000 a year to support and educate her children."
She says that just because she is raising her children by herself, there is no reason for them not to have a new car, a comfortable home, quality schools and memorable summer vacation trips. She is driven to do her best and has become a "rainmaker" and she has that quality Bob referred to as "greed."
An old American Indian belief that says that you should walk a mile in a man's shoes before you judge him. The "rainmaker" goes the extra mile.
The "rainmaker" instinctively understands the pressures on the buyer. He knows that the buyer has more on the line than the sales person and he wants to help the buyer make a correct decision. Sometimes that means that the "rainmaker" will have to do extraordinary things to get the sale but sometimes it means that he will have to sacrifice a sale.
Some time ago, one of my friends at Xerox got a sizable order on a single call. He explained that several years before, the prospect was just starting his business and a Xerox copier was too expensive. My friend had recommended that he call a particular local competitor and buy a certain "start-up" copier. He even told him what price he should pay.
The customer appreciated the good advice this salesperson had given him based on his situation and when that situation changed, he called the Xerox "rainmaker."
Empathy had turned a short-term loss into a long-term customer.
The "rainmaker" understands that the buyer always buys from his perspective, so it only makes sense to sell with empathy. The "rainmaker" probes to discover what the purchase will mean to the buyer, personally and professionally. Once he understands the consequences to the buyer, he can answer those needs and sell with empathy.
The "rainmaker" brings life.
The tribal rainmaker has always been a most honored member of the community. It is his place to break the drought with his dances and incantations that bring the rain that brings life to the crops and animals and prosperity to the tribe.
Legend has it that a young Indian boy asked an honored Indian rainmaker when he knew it was time to stop his rain dance. The elder bent down the boy and whispered, "The dance is over when it rains. I just keep dancing until then."
Good advice to any sales professional. Just keep dancing!
On the sales team, our "rainmakers" are the ones that bring in the business when none seems to be on the horizon. It is up to mangers to nurture, support and encourage them while understanding their idiosyncrasies. It is up to the individual sales professional to develop the characteristics of optimism, ego, greed, and empathy.
Copyright © 2010 by Rick Phillips
Rick Phillips, a veteran of three decades of sales and management, founded Phillips Sales and Staff Development in 1984. His core training philosophy is that much of the training being offered in American business was at best inadequate or woefully misplaced. "People are still taught to memorize words and techniques...instead of understanding the principles. Principles are constants that don't change."
Rick has been a featured speaker at the international convention for the American Society for Training and Development. He is a past winner of the ASTD Training Program Design Award. Rick has received Toastmasters International's highest earned honor being named Distinguished Toastmaster and was a featured presenter at their international convention. As a member of the National Speakers Association, he served as president of the Louisiana Chapter and has been named Chapter Member of the Year.
Share a comment or thought about this article with us: Email Us