Required Reading: Dance of the Rainmaker—How to Become a Sales Superstar

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In Becoming Preferred: How to Outsell your Competition (2002), Michael Vickers, executive director of Summit Learning Systems (and a CRM contributor), offered salespeople a set of guidelines designed to help them become their customer's "emotional favorite." The book has since gone through a number of adjustments, but "in today's marketplace," Vickers told Associate Editor Oren Smilansky, "a lot of the concepts are still relevant."

"But we also felt a need to extend beyond that," Vickers says. His follow-up, Dance of the Rainmaker: Creating Authentic Differentiation in Today’s Competitive Marketplace, presents advice for reps on how to fine-tune their skills to reach superstar status.

CRM: What are some of the typical characteristics that define a "rainmaker"?

Vickers: From a Native American historical or mythical perspective, rainmakers have always been responsible for the abundance of the tribe and the area, as well as their fertility and growth. They are all about persistence.

Rainmakers are excellent at finding their target markets. They understand that the smaller the niche, the bigger the market. They highly fine-tune their markets. Once they've identified their markets, they know how to gain access to them. They do a lot of research on the C-suite, understand their drivers, and bring their value offering to that level.

They also focus on delivering distinctive value. Whatever their offering is, what value are you going to add on top of that? They've typically identified two or three revenue-producing activities that drive their business, and they focus on getting excellent at those things. They farm out the things that are non-revenue producing.

Is there a particularly important skill for rainmakers?

Listening. Rainmakers show up in a meeting and know how to listen and understand. They listen to what you're actually saying, what you need, and what you mean.

They will always seek to understand their clients for the potential opportunity, and their product represents a solution to a problem. A true rainmaker never shows up in a meeting with the expectation to just sell his widget. He'll only position and sell his widget if that is the perfect solution for that particular client.

They will find out what the goals of the stakeholders are, and how to become trusted advisers to their clients. Most rainmakers are trusted by the client. Their client doesn't make a decision without talking to them.

What kinds of mistakes prevent salespeople from reaching rainmaker status?

They'll receive training, but because there is a lot of pressure on them to make a deal happen, they tend to default under stress to what they know.

Let's say that the first goal of the salesperson is to make $100,000 a year. Well, there are certain behaviors, paths, procedures, and processes you do to make that $100,000. Now the next goal may be $250,000. How do I break that $250,000 revenue barrier? If you keep doing everything you just did in your first year to break it, you probably won't. You're going to have to change your behaviors, and your form.

How can technology help us change those behaviors?

A rainmaker plugs all their tasks and actions into a CRM system and doesn't have to remember anything. They don't create to-do lists; they schedule everything in their CRM solution.

They don't get sucked into all the interruptions. Rainmakers will just check their email a couple times a day, and answer if it's important.

They know how to manage their clients, and they've segmented their clients and ranked them so they know who to spend their time on. Rainmakers will generally spend half their time (50 percent) on the top 5 to 20 percent of their customer base because they understand Pareto's principle—the 80/20 rule [i.e., 20 percent of the inputs achieve 80 percent of the results].

Is there any other advice you can offer salespeople as they try to get to the next level?

Today's salespeople need to have a broad education. They need to understand [for instance] how tax rules might apply to a company or account, what the latest technologies coming down the line are.

They need to be trusted resources. If I'm going to pick you as my vendor or provider, the more value you can bring to me outside of the product or service you're selling, the better.

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