My first book was based heavily on my own experiences. This one is based largely on the experiences of others. I could not have written it without the help of hundreds of people who were willing to share their experiences, describe rainmakers that they have known, and help me when my thinking became tangled. Gathering the information needed for this book helped me to learn many things that I had not known about old friends and to make many new ones. I hope reading Creating Rainmakers is as beneficial and enjoyable for the reader as researching it was for me.

Many of the rainmakers interviewed for this book are mentioned in the following chapters by name. Thanks to all of you. Those who described rainmakers they have known were equally helpful but are not named in the text. Rich Cobin, Ben DiSylvester, Richard Finkelstein, Duncan Finlayson, Charles Galloway, Tracy Gerlitz, Steven Gray, Carol Greenwald, Cheryl Grek-Chalifoux, Pat Heaney, Ed Hendricks, Ellen Jackson, Frank Jacoby, Missie Johnson, Bill Kaffer, Jim Kielley, George Kolodka, Bob Maher, Tom O’Neill, Mike Paris, Stephen Parkoff, Kim Perrett, Jerry Perricone, Joe Pine, Dory Raposa, Michael Reilly, Mark Santiago, Mike Schell, Mike Seltzer, Ralph Smith, Karen Stuckey, Kirk Tyson, Lionel Wishneff, and Loren Wittner all provided introductions to rainmakers or information about them. In some cases, they did both. Also providing valuable information were Alan Andolsen, Karl Bartscht, Cliff Earls, Stuart Emanuel, Steve Fein, John Ferraro, Charles Green, Martin McElroy, and Greg Steinberg.

Ira Herman introduced me to investment principles that stimulated my thinking for Chapter 2. Barbara Andolsen, Ed Kennedy, and John Bliss all critiqued an early version of Chapter 12. Because it deals with a difficult subject, their comments were particularly valuable. All opinions in that chapter are my own. That chapter and Chapter 7 both appeared originally in Journal of Management Consulting, which has kindly permitted me to use them here. Many of the ideas in Chapter 7 are those of its coauthor, Annette Felzani Dwyer.

Ed Walters, my editor, provided much helpful guidance. I thank my agent, Jeff Herman, for taking the book on. Joe Reilly’s sharp eyes and feel for the language have improved all of what follows.

Without the help of my wife and son, I doubt whether I would have had the will or freedom from distraction to write this book. They have been supportive and tolerant throughout the process. I dedicate this book to my mother, Patricia B. Harding. Her kindness, energy, determination, and resilience have been the formative forces in my life.


Every professional firm needs more people who develop new business. Accountants, actuaries, architects, attorneys, engineers, and management consultants are all familiar with this problem. Bright, young, technical talent is always available. Seasoned project managers are usually so. But never are there enough rainmakers.

The shortage has profound results. Competitors win business that could have been sold had the talent been available. New offices go unopened. Firm revenues and profits fall below what they could have been. Growth is retarded in a booming market. A practice or sometimes a whole firm wanes because it cannot replace rainmakers who have retired. Subtle consequences may be invisible to firm management. The partners at one $40-million-a-year professional firm I am familiar with have estimated that the firm must reach $100 million in fees over the next fifteen years to support their future retirement. To achieve that goal, they will need more people skilled at bringing in business. How many firms have conducted a similar evaluation?

At professional firms, such people have been called rainmakers since the late 1970s. The term avoids the word selling, found distasteful by many professionals, and expresses the awe often felt for successful business-getters. Like the powers of one who can conjure up rain, their powers can seem almost magical. Listen to these quotes from seasoned professionals about rainmakers they have known:

Rainmakers generate lots of revenue and profits and create opportunities for others in the firm to do important work. A few rare people have generated hundreds of millions of dollars of business during their careers. In many large consulting firms today, every partner is expected to generate at least $3 million worth of business each year. The true rainmakers will bring in more than $5 million. At a major law firm, figures are comparable. The most effective rainmaker that I know in the architectural industry develops about $10 million worth of fees or more each year. In many of the professions, even in small firms, a rainmaker brings in well over $1 million a year.

It is hardly surprising that such people are so much in demand. Yet management at most firms is unclear how to get them. Most wrestle with two competing views on the subject, nature or nurture. Some believe that rainmakers are born, not made. They believe it is impossible to develop them. Who among us has not felt this way, at least occasionally? This is the Nature Theory. It results in the “shake-out” or “prayer” approach to obtaining rainmakers: Firm management hires technically competent young people for entry-level jobs, seasons them over several years, and prays that a few will shake out as rainmakers.

This theory implies that management has little control over the creation of its most critical asset. It becomes a numbers game, pure and simple. If a firm hires enough junior people, with a little luck, a few will emerge as rainmakers. For large organizations, this may be true. A smaller firm or practice may simply not hire enough junior people for this shake-out approach to work. Some large firms have sought to increase control by looking for the personality traits of future rainmakers in the young people they hire. This wise procedure often gets scrapped when surges in business create an urgent need for new hires to do the work.

When too few rainmakers shake out from the process, those who believe in the Nature Theory can do little but try to hire proven business-getters away from other firms. This can work well, but has drawbacks. The law of supply and demand ensures that recruiting rainmakers will be expensive in both head-hunting fees and starting salaries. And it assumes the firm can find the right person in the first place. The narrower the niche a firm is recruiting for, the more difficult it will be to find someone with the right background. Hired guns know little about their new firm’s past work, which dampens their effectiveness until they learn. A person who makes rain at one firm sometimes is unable to do so at another, making the approach risky. Long-tenured employees at a firm may resent a rainmaker recently hired at a salary much higher than their own. If they withhold cooperation, his chances of success drop. (Recruiting rainmakers is not the major focus of this book, but Appendix A provides guidance for those who need to do it.)

The Nurture Theory holds that rainmakers can be developed through proper training, mentoring, and financial incentives. Firms where management holds this view invest in training and formal mentoring programs. They structure compensation systems to encourage business development. Unfortunately, this approach has not always been effective either. Formal training programs may enhance a professional’s reactive selling skill, but they seldom turn him or her into an aggressive hunter for new business. All too often, classroom learning is forgotten once the professional returns to the pressures of engagement deadlines and billing time. Mentors and the mentored seldom find the time for mentoring.

Firm managements tend to swing between these two theories. At times, they will say, “You can’t give people the fire” that they need to track down business. Worse, they may say, “You can’t teach people to be like us,” as partners at one big firm said to the head of executive development. They are particularly likely to say these things during good times, when the need for rainmakers is less pressing and every available hour is needed to produce work. When business is bad, they may revert to the Nurture Theory and try a few programs to see if this time it will work. Trying to develop rainmakers in a recession is like planting crops in the middle of a drought, a thought that seems not to occur to some management teams. In short, the efforts of professional firms to end the shortage of rainmakers have been largely ineffective.

I have been troubled by this problem. When I ran a regional office and served on the executive committee of one firm and when I served as director of marketing at another, I felt the impact of the shortage of rainmakers firsthand. I have also seen many fine professionals’ careers stymied when they failed to make the transition from doing and managing engagements to marketing and selling them. The words of the head of training at a big firm still ring in my ears: “We promote people to partner on the basis of their technical abilities. They get to keep their jobs on the basis of their marketing abilities. It causes a lot of turnover.” This is wasteful. And, I believe, unnecessary.

I am optimistic enough to have a deep faith in most people’s ability to learn, though old enough to know that not everyone can or wants to. Most professionals are smart. Most are motivated by a desire to serve, by the need for intellectual stimulation, by money, or by a desire for recognition by their peers. In other words, they are good raw material for someone interested in developing people. I believe most professional firms simply don’t know how to do it. Good at developing people’s technical skills, most firms are terrible at developing their marketing and sales skills.

To start with, firms are often confused about what they are trying to do. The message that younger people must bring in business is seldom reinforced by the compensation system or the day-to-day discussions those younger people have with partners, which, instead, center on client work. Though exhorted to bring in new clients, young professionals are seldom shown how to do it. Firm rainmakers often work alone or with other rainmakers, obscuring how they bring in business from those who need to learn about it. Young professionals most often work with peers in client organizations, and these peers are seldom in a position to decide about what firm to hire. In this circumstance, no one seems to know exactly what the young professionals should be doing to market the firm.

I had to face this problem when I became the head of a management consulting firm’s regional office that was losing twenty-five cents on every dollar it took in. Most of the problems could be traced to inadequate business development. I realized that I could not solve the problems without the active participation of the other professionals in the office, but my first efforts to involve them were ineffectual.

One day I met with a client, the head of research for a large pharmaceutical company that was renowned in the industry for inventing new drugs. The company’s researchers weren’t any smarter than others in the industry, so I asked this man what he did to get so much out of them. “Half my time,” he said, “is spent making sure they are solving the right problem. We have very smart and motivated people who are very good at solving problems, but they are apt to focus on the problems that capture their interest rather than the ones that most need solving.”

This simple and powerful insight helped me realize that I had not developed a clear idea of what I wanted from others in the firm. First, I needed to fully understand what rainmakers do so that I could develop the professionals in the firm to do the same things. Second, I needed to know what kind of support I needed to put in place to help them perform like rainmakers. These were the problems I had to solve.

I have found that the answers to these questions are far more complicated than I originally expected. They vary from professional to professional and from firm to firm. From all the possible ways to develop new business, each professional and firm must select a handful and make them work. It is my objective in this book to help you find the right answers to these problems for the people in your firm. At the same time, I believe this book helps explain how rainmakers who cannot really perform magic sometimes seem to. I hope Creating Rainmakers will clarify what it takes to succeed at bringing business into a professional firm.

This book is written for the people who manage professional firms and who want to create rainmakers. It will help them create the environment necessary for the development of rainmakers and show what specific things can be done to develop those rainmaking skills. At base, it is a book about sales and marketing management, a poorly developed field in the professions.

The book will also provide guidance for those who want to learn to be rainmakers. It complements my first book, Rain Making: The Professional’s Guide to Attracting New Clients, which was written for the professional who must make the transition from managing and doing client work to marketing and selling it, but the approach and most of the material are different.

This book has two parts. Part I defines what rainmakers are and do. It is based on interviews with more than a hundred rainmakers and with people who have watched them in action. Part II covers specific elements of the rainmaking process, such as lead generation and selling, in greater detail. Both are written with an understanding that professional firms must balance client work with client development while maintaining profitability. The appendices cover important issues that others are more qualified to write about than I am.


. Marc Galanter and Thomas Palay, professors at the University of Wisconsin, have traced the first appearance of the term in reference to lawyers to 1978. Prior to that time, the term business-getter was often used. See Galanter, Marc, and Thomas Palay, Tournament of Lawyers, The Transformation of the Big Law Firms (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 53.

Part I

The Rainmaker Model

Chapter 1

What Is a Rainmaker?

To create rainmakers, you must first have a clear idea of what a rainmaker is and does. Yet, there is little information about this special group of people. What exists is largely impressionistic or based on the experiences of one or two people rather than on research.

To remedy this, I studied rainmakers, people who have been phenomenally successful at bringing in work to their firms and who keep many other professionals employed by doing so. I interviewed both rainmakers and people who know them well. More than 100 rainmakers were included in the survey from the fields of management consulting, benefits consulting, accounting, law, consulting engineering, and architecture. In many cases, I was able to gather information on the same rainmaker from two or more sources. I have supplemented this original research with a review of biographies, autobiographies, articles, and other published sources that describe how rainmakers generate business.

For the purposes of this work, I define rainmakers as professionals who do two things well. First, they generate leads for new business. That is, they go out and create opportunities to talk with prospective clients about problems they can help solve. True rainmakers don’t just wait for the phone to ring; they go out and find business. Second, they turn a portion of these leads into new business with their selling skills. To be true rainmakers, they must generate enough business to keep many others in their firms employed. Other professionals may do one or the other of these things, but they don’t do both. They are best at minding clients and grinding out work.

From the rainmaker interviews and reading, this is what I have learned:

Rainmakers Don’t Fit a Single Personality Type

People who run professional firms are apt to make judgments on the basis of personality types about who has potential to develop as a rainmaker. Although some of these judgments are probably correct, most are made without any real understanding of what it takes to be successful at developing business. Some professionals fall into the “are-they-like-us” trap, epitomized by the head of a midsize accounting firm who told one of his aspiring marketers, “you need to be more like me. You’re about 80 percent like me, but you need to be exactly like me.” Though few people have so simplistic or arrogant a view, there is a tendency to compare young professionals to current rainmakers to decide whether they have potential.

Those who run firms are not the only ones who make these comparisons. Over the years, many young professionals have told me that they don’t really consider themselves to be “the selling type.” By this they usually mean they are not aggressive extroverts. Alternatively, they compare themselves to one or two highly successful rainmakers and, not surprisingly, given differences in age and experience, find they come up short.

Anyone who holds such views needs to know that people of many different personality types can succeed at client development. Listen to these descriptions of different rainmakers:

I could go on and on with contrasting statements:

Listen to these quotes about two partners at the same firm, each of whom brings in about $6 million of business a year:

Perhaps not surprisingly, these two rainmakers are reported to not get along with each other.

Here are three final quotes that I want you to remember. The first is from Roland Berger, perhaps the most successful rainmaker in the consulting industry today; the second about an extremely successful attorney at a western firm; and the third from a big accounting firm:

Not much here will help us identify or train future rainmakers, but there is an important message, nonetheless. We need to exercise great caution about making judgments on the basis of superficial personality types about who has potential to make it as a rainmaker. Specifically, contrary to popular sentiments, extroversion is not a prerequisite to successful rainmaking.

There Is No One Way That Rainmakers Make Rain

If there is no single personality type that makes a good rainmaker, you might ask, do rainmakers share a common way of getting business? Is there a best way to make rain?

A lot has been written about how to bring business into a professional firm, much of it recommending one approach over another. Attitudes toward cold calling provide a good example of the differences of opinions about how a firm should develop clients. David Maister, for example, classifies marketing tactics into three groups with cold calling falling into the “Clutching at Straws” category. Another anti–cold caller, Alan Weiss, says “. . .your marketing thrust should not be. . .—heaven forfend—making cold calls” (italics in original). Contrast these opinions with those of Richard Connor and Jeffrey Davidson, or of Stephan Schiffman, all of whom promote what are essentially cold-calling systems. Although cold calling seems to attract especially strong and divergent opinions, similar differences can be found in other ways of getting business.

The survey of rainmakers that was conducted for this book shows that there is no single right way of getting business. Here are descriptions of a few of the ways that rainmakers attract new clients:

As you can see, there are many ways to make rain. Within a few professions, there is a tendency for many rainmakers to rely on one approach. Engineers, for example, are likely to rely on networks. But this is only a tendency, and different approaches are chosen by different professionals, depending upon their circumstances and personalities. Most rainmakers combine several methods.

Having highlighted the different opinions that several authors hold about cold calling, I should note that cold calling is far from uncommon and is used by rainmakers in every profession covered in the survey. Contrary to what some people believe, cold calling can be used to sell many types of professional services. But it is not necessarily the best way for everyone.

Given this finding, I looked for tactics that all aspiring rainmakers should employ, if only as an adjunct to their main business development efforts. The most obvious candidate was public speaking. Almost all the literature recommends this activity. Reviewing the interview summaries, you might at first think they would confirm this common knowledge:

But a substantial minority of the rainmakers are poor public speakers or speak infrequently, if at all:

One can only conclude that public speaking is often helpful, but is not a prerequisite, to becoming a rainmaker.

The quotes repeated here should caution all of us from making any simple assumptions about what rainmakers are like or what they do. To understand what truly distinguishes rainmakers from other people, one has to look deeper. Let us start with personality traits, as opposed to personality types.

Others have done work in this area, most notably James Weitzul. He identifies seven behavioral traits that are common among this group (overachiever, entrepreneur, active, passive, aggressive, sensitized, and compulsive) using the SKAP (Skill, Knowledge, Ability, Personal characteristics) profiling technique. His work generally supports the conclusion that those successful at selling professional services can have widely varying personality types; they can, for example, be active or passive, aggressive or sensitized. He offers useful insights into how to deal with the different types of individuals when recruiting, training, and giving performance appraisals. His work benefits from applying disciplined psychological research to the subject.

Though the results of my study do not disagree with his—and I would recommend his book to anyone interested in the subject of managing rainmakers—they are quite different. This may partially result from populations studied; he doesn’t say what professions were covered in his survey. We have very likely been looking for different things. For whatever reasons, he does not discuss what, in the study done for his book, were the defining attributes of rainmakers.

Rainmakers Are Optimists

The first and most striking of these defining attributes is optimism. Almost all rainmakers see the positive side of life. Listen to these quotes:

These are only a handful of the comments on this extremely common trait among the rainmakers I studied. Reviewing the interview summaries, this characteristic stands out so clearly that it cannot be ignored by anyone who wants to create client developers. It leads directly to the question: Knowing this, what action should I take?

The action that we should take depends on what we think optimism is. There are three possible interpretations: Optimism can be seen as a character trait, as a result of knowledge, or as a skill.

If a character trait, it is either genetic or instilled so early in life that it is hard to change later. If that is true, it becomes critical to select people we hire for this trait, if we want them to develop into rainmakers. In other words, the Nature Theory, described in the introduction to this book, is right. Many professionals I have spoken with feel this is the case. If you feel this way, too, you are not alone. And in some cases and to some degree, you are right. Some people are inherently more optimistic than others. Rainmakers may have something that the rest of us simply don’t.

Yet, our level of optimism is also affected by knowledge. Anyone who has children realizes this. We have all seen children who believe they can do the impossible or who become afraid of an event, such as an airplane crash or the death of a parent, that is extremely unlikely to occur. Children don’t have enough knowledge and experience to weigh an event’s probability and so are often mistaken in their optimism or pessimism.

Knowledge also affects outlook later in our lives. You can easily manipulate an adult’s optimism—and I have done so—by giving him or her a simple task. First, offer a reward if the person can complete it within a specific time frame. Then try manipulating his or her assessment of probability of succeeding by increasing or lowering the perceived difficulty of the task. For example, sit a person in a chair, give her a ball, and tell her that she has three seconds after you say go to get the ball into a wastebasket that you hold in front of her. Her optimism is likely to decrease as you move the wastebasket farther away, and to increase if you point out that she is not required to remain seated in her chair. Only when you have enough experience to assess probabilities can you make realistic judgments about outcomes. And when it comes to client development, rainmakers simply know things that the rest of us don’t.

So optimism is, in part, a deep-seated personality trait. It is, in part, a result of having the knowledge to make realistic assessments about what will happen in the future. But it is also something else. Optimism has been studied extensively by psychologists, who have gathered compelling evidence that it is a skill that people can learn. An intriguing book by Martin Seligman explores the subject in detail and shows a strong link between optimism and success in many fields, including sales. Seligman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where most of the leading research into cognitive therapy has been done. This approach to treatment helps people improve their lives by teaching them to replace destructive thought patterns with constructive ones. The approach has been particularly successful at helping people fight depression, which is closely linked to pessimism, the opposite of optimism. In short, it is used to teach people to be more optimistic. To the extent that optimism is a skill, we can train professionals to have it.

We now have three things we can do to make sure that our prospective rainmakers are more optimistic. We can recruit optimistic people, we can educate them to show them what rainmakers know about rainmaking that others don’t, and we can teach them how to think optimistically. We deal with each of these subjects later in this book.

Before leaving (temporarily) the subject of optimism, I want to point out how frequently the respondents in my survey commented that the rainmakers’ optimism turned out to be justified. Once the pattern of optimism emerged, I asked about it specifically, but the comments about the justifiableness of the optimism were all unsolicited and always spoken in a tone of disbelief, as if they had been preceded with the phrase, “I have to admit that.. . .” Rainmakers, it seems, have good reason to be optimistic. This finding, too, will warrant additional consideration. As I have said, sometimes what rainmakers do almost seems like magic.

Rainmakers Are Driven People

Having the optimism to expect good results from their efforts, rainmakers are driven to make things happen and to build their companies:

Yet many retained balance in their lives:

These quotes suggest that success as a rainmaker and a private life are not mutually incompatible, though many rainmakers have so thoroughly mixed their professional and personal lives that it is impossible to say where one leaves off and the other begins.

Optimism and a relentless drive are two personality traits that the overwhelming majority of rainmakers seem to have. There are also similarities about what they do to get business.

Rainmakers Have a System for Finding New Business

Most respondents described a system that the rainmakers use week in and week out to get business. Business development is a part of their daily routine. The words system, meticulous, and relentless were spoken often when describing the rainmakers. I have already presented brief quotes that capture elements of these systems in the description of the diversity of methods used to get new clients. The specific approach may depend on the rainmaker’s personality and the nature of his practice, but whatever it is, the rainmaker pursues it systematically and tenaciously. Listen to these quotes:

Once this pattern emerged, I began to ask my informants directly about systems and usually received a clear, though not always complete, description of the system the rainmaker in question used. A few people denied that the rainmaker they were describing used a system, and in some cases this was probably true. But even when they denied the existence of a system, later descriptions of how the rainmaker worked made it clear that there was one. For example, one informant insisted that the electrical engineer she was describing disliked structure and didn’t use a system, but later she noted the following:

He operates out of spiral notebooks, like college notebooks. He has them going back thirty years. Every conversation and every lead is recorded in the books. He will put people’s [business] cards in them with tape. He saves them all and can always go back and look things up. The notes are pretty scratchy, but it works for him. They’re his chronicle, and he is proud of them.

Another informant stated that the accountant he was describing “wasn’t a systems kind of a guy; I don’t remember a particular system.” Later, he observed that:

He . . . would bump into some idea and then work it with his clients. He was great at selling new product to an existing client that way. Once, he read an article about breakeven analysis and decided that he would do one for each one of his firm’s top fifty clients. He did and then visited them to talk about the implications of what he had found. He used to talk about how much business he got from this.

The informant described several campaigns that followed almost the same pattern.

The great majority of the rainmakers in the database have a system. Systems are so critical to a rainmaker’s success that much of this book is devoted to their design and operation.

Rainmakers Are Good Listeners and Synthesizers

Almost all the rainmakers are superb listeners and able to synthesize what they hear and then provide a valuable response. This is a key to selling success:

These quotes, and many similar ones made by the respondents during the interviews, show that rainmakers possess classic selling skills combined with the problem-solving skills essential to a good professional.

Rainmakers Never Lose Track of a Client

The rainmakers never lost track of a client or prospective client or other important contact. Once they develop a relationship with someone, they never let go:

The rainmakers realize that the cost of obtaining a new client is much higher than that of keeping an old one. Many affirm that their relationships mean something to them beyond the possibility of future work. Whatever the reason, they never lose touch.

These core elements are what make rainmakers different from other people. Optimism helps push them through the first tough years of building a client base. As we will see, this is an extremely difficult period for most professionals. It is the time when many professionals become discouraged and turn away from client development. Optimism also helps rainmakers through the inevitable selling slumps that occur. It is the foundation for their drive.

Their drive and systems ensure the consistent effort that is essential to getting business. Even when distracted by client work, they know exactly what marketing they must do and can do it quickly and efficiently when they can grab time during the day. The systems ensure that their marketing time isn’t squandered among an array of unrelated activities.

The rainmakers’ listening and problem-solving skills ensure that when they do have an opportunity to make a sale, their chances of succeeding are relatively high. By never letting go of a client, they maximize the return on their lead generation and selling efforts.

These are the things that rainmakers do, and these are the things we must teach our professionals to do. The rest of this book will describe ways to help them.

Most Rainmakers Are Poor Mentors

Before turning to that subject, I want to comment on one other characteristic of the rainmakers that explains, in part, why they are so difficult to develop. Though a few of the rainmakers covered in the survey are good mentors, and train others in their organizations to bring in business, the great majority aren’t. Listen to these quotes: