Sunday, June 10, 2007

Interview with a Collaborative Rainmaker

Chuck Weiss Has Built Rainmaking Firms But Don’t Call Him a Rainmaker…

Chuck Weiss doesn’t like the word Rainmaker – either to describe himself or the professional service firms he has helped to lead. Still, he spent 40 years growing exceptionally successful companies – other people’s and his own – and, if the word “rainmaker” doesn’t apply, we struggle to find a better one.

Following early career success leading business development for major global brands, Weiss helped to build the Weston Group – an elite strategy consulting boutique – which he and his partners sold to CSC (one of the world’s leading consulting and outsourcing firms) in 1995. At CSC, Weiss served as Senior Partner & Executive-in-Charge, Global Strategic Accounts and as Senior Partner & Executive-in-Charge, Growth Strategy Practice. He helped to capture and consult to major corporate clients such as AT&T, New York Times, General Electric, Kraft, Unilever and many more. While at CSC, Weiss built a global model and tool set for how the firm handles its own client capture and development efforts that tripled the firm’s win rates and is still in use today. In 1999, Weiss retired from CSC and formed his own firm through which he continues to advise CSC and a host of other high growth entities. He is also has taken active Board of Director roles and investment positions in numerous ventures.

CGG: Why the aversion to the word “rainmaker?”

Weiss: “Rainmaker” communicates the solo pursuit of clients by a small group of elite professionals. “Rainmaking” as a solo, elitist endeavor is a destructive concept in professional services – a business that is inherently collegial and collaborative. It sends the de-motivating and divisive message that only a handful of anointed and gifted people in a Firm can do client development well. In fact, Firms that are best at client development think of it as an enterprise-wide process and core competence. At the Weston Group and CSC, we believed everyone had a role to play in the client acquisition and development effort. We believed in team pursuits not individual pursuits.

Our view was that successful, sustainable client development could be spread across an organization through documented, repeatable, scaleable processes and by providing tools and systems that support those processes. We saw it as part of our overall culture and our management systems and rewards were built around it. We divided the selling process into pieces and people could earn bonuses based on the roles played in selling process. We defined it to allow lots of participation and opportunities to earn rewards for contribution to selling. On one project I might play one role and on another played a different role. Some individual professionals were more successful than others but we never allowed the notion of individual “Rainmakers” to prevail. We didn’t want any individual to be bigger than the Firm. We avoided people who had giant egos and the incessant need for self-aggrandizement.

CGG: Fostering a corporate culture conducive to team-selling and organizational rainmaking seems do-able in a smaller firm where everyone is in the same office, but how do you make it work in a huge global firm like CSC?

Weiss: It was definitely more difficult to apply at CSC, which has 400 offices around the world. It is harder to communicate and get visibility and collaborate. CSC moved to a more deliberate detailed client development process with more rigorous oversight of execution throughout the system. At CSC we developed a comprehensive selling model and process called Pioneer. Pioneer came complete with a sophisticated Web based tool to capture and track hundreds of simultaneous client development opportunities and 12 executives whose full time job it was to manage the system including meant educating CSC professionals, system monitoring and reporting. There were rewards and penalties tied to how you did or didn’t use the system.

CSC’s Pioneer system to client development not only gave Firm-wide visibility into the pipeline of sales efforts; it also provided gates/procedures for making decisions. Using the Pioneer system, you can’t get to the end point of a proposal unless you’ve gone through series of gates that sift out projects that aren’t good. The system forces you to answer two vital questions: Can I win this business? Do I want to win this business? As a result, our teams became more productive and efficient. They more quickly eliminated bad deals and also the deals they won were better deals – bigger and more profitable. Even the largest professional service firms have finite resources and if you don’t have some sort of discipline everything becomes an equal opportunity to pursue.

CGG: Of course, any organization that demonstrates client development competence is made up of individuals, what makes an individual professional great at client development?

Weiss: Great client development team members understand what it is that buyers buy. Clients are really evaluating two things when considering professional service firms: “Can you do the work?” and “Do I want to work with you?” The first is capability – that has to do with experience and expertise and knowledge and skill sets; proven methodologies; a logical approach to solving the problems they get hired to conquer. The other part is what I call affability. Sellers tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time proving capability rather than affability.

No one is affable to everyone. The best consulting organizations assess clients on the front end to understand how “compatibility” and “affability” are uniquely defined and they pair the professionals who fit best on both dimensions with the client. Selling consulting services is really selling a promise of something to happen. It is hard for any client to fully know what will happen at other end of a consulting engagement. It is hard to see the results of an intangible service. However, it is easy to find out if you like working with a person.

CGG: What makes a Firm or an individual professional “affable?”

Weiss: Listening is the single greatest factor at both the individual and Firm level. You can train people to be better listeners. Tools like questions and diagnostics can help. For instance, great professionals not only write down everything they have heard after conducting a good client interview; they then take the information and structure and analyze it to decipher what they really know about the client or prospect. In the client development toolkit I developed at CSC, we included a framework for political mapping as part of this post-interview “listening.” After processing the material – but before developing a proposal, great client developers go back to the buyer and play back what they learned for confirmation. Few professionals employ this “let me share what I think I heard” technique but it shows you’ve listened and that you want to make certain you are in alignment with the buyer and care about their opinion. These are good signals that help convince a buyer, “This is a person I would like to work with.”

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