Author Archives: Michael Dalis


If you’re a leader in a professional services firm, you’ve probably noticed that most of your new business comes from a small handful of your Partner-level colleagues.  If one or more of these Partners left, who would replace them to be your next generation of rainmakers, or biz dev superstars?

Understandably, professional services firms – consulting, accounting, law, etc. — tend to assign biz dev responsibilities to Partners and Directors who are a) extroverted, and b) strong networkers.  It’s true that selling new work can be challenging for someone who doesn’t enjoy being around other people.  However, it is also true that plenty of well-networked extroverts fail to bring in the work.  How come?

I set out to find how rainmakers — which I define here as the top 10% within professional services firms in winning new revenue from new clients — compare to:

  1. Top salespeople in industries outside of professional services,
  2. Non-rainmakers (the bottom 90%) in professional services.

To do this, I engaged my friends at Objective Management Group, which maintains the largest and most seasoned database on the planet for sales and business development talent.  They did a highly targeted study of roughly 500 professionals with business development responsibilities in professional services firms.  The conclusions might surprise you.

Belief #1: Top rainmakers are different from top full-time salespeople.

Whatever term your firm uses to refer to new business from new clients, the rainmakers (top 10%) in professional services firms share the competencies of the top 10% of full-time salespeople in any industry.

In the illustration above, you can see how closely aligned rainmakers (blue) are with top salespeople in any industry (orange) in two key areas: grit (the five factors to the left) and how they’re naturally wired for sales (Sales DNA, on the right).  In fact, there was a 96.7% correlation across the 29 factors OMG looked at.

>>Conclusion: Top rainmakers and top salespeople share the same competencies to win work.

Belief #2: Rainmakers (top 10%) are more personable and better networked than non-rainmakers (bottom 90%) in professional services firms.

Across the 29 factors, there were significant differences between the top, average and bottom performers in our professional services study.

For the same six key factors selected in the prior graph, you can see some wide gaps between top and bottom performers in the areas of grit (left-most five) and how they’re wired for sales (right-most).

The biggest gaps, however, were in several biz dev competencies, or skills:

The five most significant differences had little to do with being extroverted or having a big network.  They were:

  1. Closing: The ability to overcome resistance to close new business.  Here, the top 10% were 123% stronger than the average, and 600% stronger than the bottom 10%.
  2. Reaching Decision Makers: Accessing a broader set of contacts in the sales process, given larger and more complex decision-making processes in client companies today.  For this competency, top performers were 92% stronger than the average, and 582% versus the bottom 10%.
  3. Social Selling: The ability to not to just have a lot of contacts, but to convert them into opportunities.  Here, the top 10% were 71% stronger than average and 336% stronger than the bottom 10%.
  4. Consultative Selling: Through effective questioning and listening skills, rainmakers identify a prospect’s compelling reason to buy or move.  Here, they are 68% stronger than average and 283% stronger than the bottom 10%.
  5. CRM Savvy: Rainmakers realize that their CRM saves them prep time and allows them to stay organized and on track to win more work. In this regard, they are 85% above average and 200% higher than the bottom 10%.

>>Conclusion: There is no evidence to support the concept that extroversion and networking ability produce rainmakers.

While these qualities are helpful for business development, it’s important to look deeper to find your next generation of rainmakers.  If you’re not happy with your firm’s pace of growth, using data to identify business development competencies in your next generation is a more objective and accurate way to promote and recruit those future rainmakers that will, er, make it rain.

Death By 1000 Facts

You know the look.  I’m the client.  You’re seated across the table from me.  In response to my question or request, you’ve begun laying out the details behind a brilliant idea that you are convinced will help my organization.  The problem is, the deeper you go into your solution the more and more disengaged I become.  At first, there’s some eye contact, polite nodding and the occasional grunt of acknowledgement.  Then, I begin looking at my watch and, longingly, at the door as I plan my escape.  What you hear as appreciation and  agreement to your proposed  next step, is in fact an end to our discussion so I can get back to my real work; and sincere doubt whether I will subject myself again to this “death by 1000 facts.”

So, what happened here?  On the positive side, I believed enough in you and your organization to ask for your point-of-view, your recommendation or maybe even a formal proposal.  On the negative side, your ideas — while technically brilliant — failed to resonate with me.

Why did your brilliant idea fall flat?  In order to answer this important question, we need to recognize that there are three basic elements to communicating a standout idea that commands the client’s attention:

1) Articulating the client’s challenging issue(s),

2) Outlining the elements of your solution, and

3) Connecting the dots between your solution and how it benefits the client.

Most professionals recognize these three basic elements, but what is missing is an understanding of which elements are most important to the client.  Of the three elements, professionals are magnetically attached, and can speak chapter and verse, to #2.  And, this is natural, it’s their comfort zone.  What most fail to realize is that, of the three elements mentioned above, the client is far more interested in #1 and #3.  Skimming over or ignoring these conveys to your client two things about you – you don’t understand or care about either the issues they face, and/or how your solution benefits them.  The client’s disengagement was a symptom that your message was generic; it failed to align to the client’s challenging issues and/or or to connect the dots between your solution and benefits to the client’s business.

So, as you prepare for your next important meeting or call with a key existing or prospective client, let’s review what you need to know about the three elements; so that when you put your ideas on the table, they are clearly relevant, and compel your client to act – whether that means committing business to you or just agreeing to take an incremental action step to advance the sale.

Challenging Issues 

What is driving your client’s interest in taking time away from other work to talk with you?  While there are many client contacts who will always accept an invitation to lunch or a round of golf, decision makers and influencers are busy.  The more significant the size and scope of their responsibilities, the busier they are.  Key contacts are focused on solving challenging issues that are preventing their organization from achieving its short-term objectives and long-term business goals.  And they are short on time.

In order to be able to articulate the client’s challenging issues, you need to know (not think you know, not assume you know) what they are.  Uncover this key information by asking questions to understand the organization’s objectives and initiatives, who is driving them, and why?  How has the client prioritized certain strategic initiatives versus others, and why?  You should also discover what stake your contact has in the success or failure of specific initiatives.

Once you understand your client’s challenging issues, you can articulate and validate your understanding in a number of ways.  For example, “Here are the things we heard you rank as your top three priorities…  How well have we captured this?”  By checking for feedback with an open-ended question, you gain an opportunity to course-correct prior to laying out your solution.

Relevant Solution 

Leaving it to the client to connect their issues with your solution is a strategy with a low probability of success.  You work in a technical business; your organization’s products and services are complex.  As a seasoned professional, you have thousands of facts you could call upon in describing your solution.  Out of all these facts, which will be relevant to your client?  For example, if your work is systems consulting, and you learned that data security is your contact’s challenging issue because of a breach last month, you might conclude that the relevant facts to this client was how your approach, software, risk controls, and services would have responded to that same breach.  In addition, you could describe a similar client situation, and the actions you took to address their priority issues.

In the meeting, this would sound like, “Here are the three key parts of the solution we would recommend in order to address your challenge around preventing a data breach: …   ”

The key is to select only those facts and features of your products and services, and/or those success stories, that are relevant to the client’s challenging issues, nothing more and nothing less.

Value to the Client

Many professionals leave it to the client to define the value of a solution.  In so doing, you leave it to chance that the client will see the full impact of your proposal. You should use specific data (% growth, $ savings, % profit margins, etc.) to support your claims.  Another way to position benefits is through success stories, using specific names where appropriate and, where not, describing the company or industry or using aggregate experience.

Here is an example of how you could connect the dots between your solution and its benefits to the client: “We have worked with six organizations this year that have faced a similar issue.  The solution we proposed produced an average of $650,000/year in measurable savings, to each organization.”

Increase Client Engagement

What if you are unclear on any of the three elements – issues, solution or value?  This happens.  If you don’t know key information about these three elements, you’re not ready to meet with your client.  If this is business you want, it would serve you to invest in deeper discovery or research before discussing a solution.  The most common mistake professionals make is moving to positioning a solution too soon.  This typically results in a loss in credibility and/or a negative outcome when they try to close. 

Another way the professional can increase engagement is by checking in with the client.  One of the most common mistakes that professionals make is to assume that a silent response to a solution or idea is a sign of client agreement.  Silence is not golden.   At best, it signals that the client is thinking about what you have positioned to resolve their issue.  At worst, he or she has disengaged.  Only by checking in (with an open-ended question) with the client to gain their feedback can you be sure that your ideas hit their mark.   Asking for feedback with a checking question – such as, “How well do you feel this solution would address your challenges with data security?”  — engages the client.  Their response will guide you where to go next.  If your client responds positively, you can begin to discuss actions, responsibility and timeframes to advance the idea.  If the client responds negatively or neutrally, this is your opportunity to first explore where your solution missed its mark; and then to refine your ideas to satisfy the client’s objectives.

Let’s put an end to disengaged clients.  As you prepare for a meeting, if you find yourself and members of your team saying, “I know…” and “They (client contacts) told us…” you are on track to present a standout idea that is relevant, compelling and persuasive.  Deeper questioning, focused listening, and a consistent process are the basis of positioning standout ideas that resonate.  The value to you as an expert is higher client engagement and a stronger ability to move opportunities forward.  So, before your next important meeting, show some compassion for your prospective client – instead of unleashing a fury of facts, treat them to great open-ended questions; attentive listening; and, when you feel you are fully ready, well-organized and relevant ideas, using the process above.  Your client will appreciate it!

Slow More, Close More

You’re on the road.  Your phone is dead and car navigation is out of range.  Because you’re running late, you miss an important turn.  The clock is ticking as you drive miles past your destination.  Eventually you pull over, realize your mistake, backtrack and finally arrive (even later) at your destination.

Have you been there?

As a sales professional, you may be feeling “late” relative to any number of things.  These could include: your sales quota, your peers, your competitors, an opportunity or client.  During a sales meeting, those feelings can cause you to rush and overshoot important pivot points, like on a road trip. Those details and cues, and the adjustments you make in response, can be the difference between winning and losing the business.

So, how do you slow down when your gut is telling you to move faster, catch up?  Try these five adjustments to pump the brakes for a more effective sales meeting:

                   LESS                           MORE
Cramming in filler appointments Preparing better for meetings that matter
Time spent on rapport Time on agenda development
Talking/tutoring Listening/learning
About you About them
Assumptions Checking for alignment

It’s counterintuitive to feather the brakes when your instincts are telling you to lean on the accelerator.  Yet isn’t that exactly the adjustment you make when you are at your best, most dialed-in, selling self?

What are the ways you find your patience in effective sales meetings, enabling you to advance and close more business?

Winning Teams Need a Rallying Cry

Last summer, it was easy to get drawn into the incredible drama of the 2016 Olympics in Rio.  And with all this winning and losing, it was impossible for me as a sales coach to resist the chance to draw parallels to effective selling. My focus here is on the importance of a shared mission among winning teams.

The attached article from the New York Times, published August 14, 2016, recounts the story of the USA women’s eight-person rowing team, which was struggling in their final race with a medal on the line.

“This is the U.S. Women’s Eight” cried the coxswain halfway through the grueling race.  Those words triggered the athletes’ strong sense of the history and purpose of USA women’s rowing.  They recovered in the second half of the race and won the gold medal.

The late Dr. J. Richard Hackman, who had been a leading researcher on high performing teams and professor of social and organizational psychology at Harvard University, would probably have said that the coxswain’s cry formed a “compelling direction” for the USA team.  When a leader’s direction is clear and engaging, and offers an invitation, it energizes and unifies a team behind a shared purpose.  In the case of the 2016 USA Women’s eight boat, the compelling direction was to focus on their contributions to a winning legacy rather their burning lungs and muscles.

What’s the parallel to selling?

In high-stakes B2B sales meetings, salespeople often have to band together with others — senior managers, subject matter experts, technology specialists, external partners — to win the sale.  For the salesperson, meeting sales goals and earning financial incentives are “clear” and “engaging.”  But can the same be said for his or her co-selling partners?  Without a compelling direction, the selling posse can look like one eager player surrounded by several indifferent ones.  And in a competitive pursuit, that could be enough to lose the deal.

So what would Dr. Hackman’s “compelling direction” look like in a sales meeting?  Think about a larger purpose that would serve as a rallying cry to your colleagues.  Consider the following three questions:

  1. What would winning this business mean to your organization?
  2. What would winning mean for your organization’s efforts to build a brand in a new geographical market, vertical or discipline?
  3. What would losing mean to your organization’s efforts?

A high-stakes meeting should feel like the stakes are, well, high.  And not just to you, but to everyone on your team, and to the client.  Setting and repeating a compelling direction can be the basis for turning your group into a team, and may just be the rallying cry your team needs to elevate and win.  “This is the…

From Competitive to Collaborative Negotiations

Two fighters enter a steel cage. Both hungry, strong and determined. The door is locked. Lights dim. Hearts race. The stakes are high – life or death.

As a salesperson, do your contract negotiations ever feel like this? You strap on the body armor, smear war stripes across your face and crush bricks into powder?

Some of these feelings are due to the physical reaction that comes in any high-pressure moment. Your body produces cortisol, and your brain sends a message to prepare for battle.

Leave the arena, however, and consider the following question: what makes a negotiation successful? Your mind probably goes to the phrase “win-win.” According to the Harvard Negotiation Project, a win-win negotiation is one where each party gains an outcome that is better than what the parties would do without an agreement. Both parties win, and the process feels collaborative, mutual, relationship-building. Hmmm…that doesn’t sound like a cage match.

How do you get from cage match to collaboration?

The first step is acknowledging that many negotiations are win-lose. And in my experience, at least, salespeople are typically on the losing side of these transactions. Win-lose outcomes are unsustainable in business relationships because at some point the salesperson (or his manager) realizes he is better off doing no deals, rather than unprofitable ones, with this counterparty. To recoup his losses before walking away, the salesperson might resort to reducing service levels and flexibility, excluding the client from special events or taking a more combative approach at the next negotiation.

Achieving win-win, or mutual gains, outcomes requires a different mindset – one that is centered around collaboration versus competition. Here are my top tips to prepare for success:

1.      Set clear relationship goals: visualize the relationship — after the negotiation.

2.      Know your value: being clear on what a client gains from working with you, versus others, improves confidence and poise.

3.      Bring alternatives: feeling that you must win a deal at any cost ensures that winning will indeed cost you. Realize the benefits of walking away, including more respect and less resentment; and more time to advance more profitable opportunities in your pipeline.

4.      Explore interests: engaging your questioning and listening skills enables you to separate each party’s interests from their positions, and creates opportunities to find other ways to gain a win for both parties.

5.      Seek trades: if you must give on any deal point, be sure to link that give to a get for you.

6.      Find your patience: simple behaviors such as committing to a good night’s sleep, reducing caffeine intake, increasing hydration, and breathing can enable you to hang in there when clients test your will, according to Sandy Dalis, CRAVE Nutrition.

Leaders, you can support your salespeople in the following ways: 1) test them to be sure they don’t open with their best offer, 2) role play with them so they feel prepared and practiced, 3) show compassion and support sourced from when you faced the same pressure, 4) check in to convey the importance of closing business on profitable and mutual gains terms, and 5) challenge them to see how much they can keep above their walkaway price.

Negotiation can often feel like a cage match – given your counterparty’s approach or your own mindset. Leverage the tips above to arrive at the negotiating table – neither to compete nor to cave – but rather to collaboratively find mutual gains outcomes.