Hey smart guy or gal! I’m talking to all the Harvard MBAs who can hear me, the Bain consultants, the Goldman bankers, the lawyers who represent underprivileged children and families, the Deloitte accountants, the Ph.D.s working in clean energy, the MDs who are developing cures for cancer, the engineers who are trying to provide people in developing countries with clean water.
You will reach the top of your field. And others won’t.
“How do you know? My field is quite crowded with lots of smart people,” you say.
I’m going to share with you a secret to success that will change your mindset and how you spend your time, and will alter your career trajectory to the tippy top of your field.
There is a tactic that I learned the hard way when I founded ghSMART at the age of 23 (over 20 years ago). Peter Drucker, my professor, and a few other mentors taught it to me. And my amazing colleagues practice it every day. And it works. A month ago, Forbes named ghSMART the top management consulting firm in our field, based on thousands of anonymous surveys of clients and professionals in our field.
And this same tactic has been used successfully by many of the colleagues we have hired over the years, and by many of our clients, to reach the top of their fields. You will put this tactic into practice. And you will find yourself elevating above the crowd of your peers, wielding more power, influence, and ability to get things done than others in your field.
“I’ve been offered many secrets to success during my career. And frankly, most advice is not that useful. Impress me,” you say.
OK, here goes. While others in your field will rest on their technical skills, you will become a rainmaker.
“What!? You mean like becoming a salesperson! No, no, you don’t know how it works in consulting/investing/law/accounting/medicine/engineering,” you say. “This is a highly technical field. And besides, that’s not me. I’m not a used car salesperson.”
You are not a used car sales person, that is for sure. So what are you?
“I’m a professional. Someone who helps people.”
So do you want to help a small number of people, or lots of people, during this lifetime?
“Lots of people,” you say.
Do you want to help them to a great extent, or do you want your impact to be small and unnoticeable?
“I want to help people to a great extent–maximum impact.”
Well there are 3 roles in every profession–rainmakers, do-ers, and trackers. Most people are “do-ers”–they do the work that is provided by somebody else. And the way they spend their time guarantees they will be do-ers for their whole career. Trackers are important, but that’s not what you got into this field to do, to track other people’s progress. What you want to become, starting immediately, is a rainmaker.
“A rainmaker of what?”
Of the work. The consultant/lawyer/accountant who lands that huge new client, which puts 100 of your colleagues to work in making a huge positive impact on the future of an important global brand. The investor who lands $1b of investment capital from CALPERs and provides the capital for hundreds of your colleagues to do their thing and invest money to pay for the pensions of thousands of school teachers in California. The engineer who lands the opportunity with a government to build a $5b dam that will provide jobs for thousands, and power and clean water to millions of people. The way you get to be at the top of your field is to be a rainmaker. The way you get to HELP the most people, is to be a rainmaker.
“I don’t have the first foggiest idea about how to be a rainmaker.”
Do you like to learn new things and put them into practice?
“Yes. I didn’t earn advanced degrees from a top university because I don’t like to learn!”
OK then, learn how to be a rainmaker.
“Well, I hear you. And the most successful people in our field do seem to be the biggest rainmakers. So what if I agree with your assertion, but I worry that it’s not for me?”
It is for you. We’ve already established that you want to help the most people you can, to make the most valuable impact you can, and you are willing to learn and practice new things.
“OK. But this is supposed to be a short blog; surely you are not going to tell me your whole playbook for how to be a rainmaker right now, are you?”
I’ll give you the short version. Life is short. Here you go.
10 Tips to Reach the Top of Your Field (as a Rainmaker)
- Go to the best schools you can, earn the best grades you can, and establish your “technical chops.” You’ve already done that. So congrats and bravo. Table stakes. This doesn’t mean if you didn’t go to top schools you can’t be a leader in your field. But it helps. Let’s focus on the other tips.
- Spend 20% of your time building relationships. Not doing the “work.” Spend a day a week following up with influential people who are the “customers” in your field, learning from them what are their biggest problems, concerns, and dreams. Become their “thought partner” or “trusted advisor” in your lane of expertise. I don’t care if you are 25 years old or 60. You can play the role of advisor to anybody outside your field, because you have domain expertise and you care and this earns you a seat at the table. I remember when I told a billionaire tech CEO client of mine in the early days of our firm’s history that I had just finished my Ph.D. He said, “Congrats. Wait; I thought you already had your Ph.D.” Nope. But the mere fact that I was even a Ph.D. student earned me enough credibility to sit and advise billionaire titans of industry on my area of expertise.
- Keep a prioritized list of key relationships from 1 to 50. Rank them by most important to least. Don’t let a month go by without having contact with a few people on the top of that list. Treat them like a friend. Check in. Find out what they are working on. Offer to help them think about how to solve their top problems. Don’t “sell.” Instead, just “help!” For free. Until they seem like they want more of your help.
- When there is a big, juicy problem in your sweet spot, which you and your firm can help them solve, ask them “Do you want my help?” If they say yes, then close the deal. Assemble the very best team of colleagues who can help this client solve their problem. Knock it out of the park. Offer to refund fees if the client is not fully satisfied with the results. Do extra special things to make sure the client feels not only your technical competence, but your caring and your courage to make a big impact.
- Once you have some super happy clients you have landed, they will refer you to other clients. Be picky, but when your client tells somebody else about you, follow up. A few weeks ago, a colleague and I visited a client who keeps introducing us to other clients. It may seem like a big investment of time and money for two busy professionals to wake up at 4am and hop a flight across the country for a couple-hour meeting. But this client owns $1b stakes in dozens of companies and keeps connecting us with new amazing clients. So it’s a great privilege and a pleasure to spend meaningful time with that client to make sure we are being super helpful to him, and let him know we appreciate his kind introductions to other leaders who could use our help. And it’s fun. It’s really fun. It’s not “selling” when you are helping one person, and showing appreciation to that person for introducing you to other people who also need your help. And it feels good to provide work opportunities to your “do-er” colleagues, who don’t view themselves as rainmakers.
- If there is something outside of your expertise, say no. Many professionals make a mistake and agree to do projects that are not exactly in their sweet spot, to make the cash register ring. This is a mistake because you won’t deliver great results for the client, their trust in you will erode, and you are not doing your best work. One client once asked us if we would be willing to do a project that was outside of our expertise, and he said he would pay us a $1m fee. Without hesitating, my colleague and I said, “No.” The client laughed out loud and said, “OK, well I appreciate your honesty and integrity.” We said no, because it was the right thing to do. And that act gave us some mad credibility going forward. That client went on to spend over $10m with our firm in the last few years.
- Crush public speaking. 95% of professionals do not feel confident in their public speaking abilities. Be a part of the 5% who are not just “good” at it, but who are awesome at it. Hire a speech coach. It will cost you $10k to work with a speech coach for a year. You will be shocked how much extra credibility, visibility, and rainmaking power you will wield when you get good at public speaking. You will shine at internal meetings. You will shine at professional events where you are asked to speak on a panel or do a keynote. Influential people in the audience will give you their business cards, and you will build the brand for you and your firm.
- Learn how to hire and delegate. Why? Because if you are going to be a great rainmaker, that necessarily means you need others to do the day-to-day work. Our book Who is the top-selling book on the topic of how to hire people. Read it and follow the simple 4-steps to increase your hiring success rate from 50% to 90%. (That is a plug. But as a rainmaker, I feel perfectly comfortable recommending this book, because I think you’ll find it is helpful to you.) As for delegating and leading teams, you might find Power Score useful. It’s a simple 3-pronged approach to leading teams. (OK that’s enough book plugs for one blog).
- Be generous and not greedy, but price high. Be generous in caring about your client, and helping him or her achieve their goals. Plan on delivering BIG value. And price accordingly. It’s way better to add BIG value, and price medium than it is to add medium value and price medium. Or worst of all, to add low value and price low, medium, or high. Adding big value and pricing medium means you can assemble a team of the very best professionals (and pay their very high market wage rate), run a profitable project, and achieve a win-win for the client and for your firm. Clients would rather pay a $1m project fee and achieve a 20x return for the best in your industry ($19m in net value to the client) than pay $200k and receive a 3x return ($400k net value to the client). Wouldn’t you if you were the client?
- Teach and mentor others on how to become a rainmaker. The best and the brightest talent will find their way onto your teams. You will simultaneously assemble quite a following of talented professionals who are willing to work with you, AND experience the thrill of winning the best customers and clients and making a big impact in their lives.
Imagine that. Serving the very best clients.
Making opportunities happen for the very best colleagues.
And making the biggest impact, on the greatest number of people, to the greatest extent.
As a caring and courageous rainmaker, you will rise to the top of your field, while your peers who rest entirely on their technical skills, will not.
If you agree or disagree with this advice, or want to share your best advice on how to rise to the top of your field, please leave a comment! Or if you are a top-decile performer in consulting, and you want to learn this valuable skill from my stellar colleagues, please click here: www.ghsmart.com/careers. And if you would like some free tools, out of our bestselling books, to help you achieve even more career success, please download them here: www.geoffsmart.com/smarttools. Thanks for reading!
Ian McIntosh says
Great blog post! Helpful! I particularly like #10 because of it’s others-centered focused. I think it is the springboard to not only “reaching the top of your field”, but dare I say remain at the top of your field. I’m talking Sustainability – continual rain w/ no droughts. If I may add to your well labeled list of 3 roles of every profession, I’d add a 4th – “rain sustainer”. This role would pour into the others via teaching/mentoring to: (1) help the do-ers to do work that brings such value, that rain clouds keep appearing, (2) help track-ers to have clear visibility of this value to be able to manage the rain clouds well, (3) help rain-makers to sustain favorable weather conditions – i.e., keep it raining (please excuse the analogy stretching). Thanks for the thoughtful insights. It obviously got me thinking also.