Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

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The title of the ad says it all. This firm isn’t seeking an employee; they’re looking for a miracle worker. No other position in the agency has a moniker loaded with such expectation, so wrapped up in the myth that the firm is but one uber-human away from success, as the business development magician: The Rainmaker. In this issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter we examine the mythology of the rainmaker and the implications of the rainmaking approach to growing your agency.

Imagine two scenarios. In the first you have a fantastic new creative director who, every time he sets his mind to your clients’ challenges, comes up with beautiful world-class work; the type of work that your previous creative director managed maybe once a year. This guy has the magic touch – everything he does is amazing. You ask him how he achieves such brilliance every time, and he responds, “I have no idea; it’s just an innate talent.”

One day he leaves the firm. Now you are back to where you were before you hired him, with the next hire another uncertainty. The quality of the firm’s creative product will rest almost entirely on the indefinable talent of this new hire. Creatively, the agency is starting over with the departing genius leaving no legacy upon which his successor can build.

In the second scenario imagine that in response to your question your genius creative director says, “It’s really not that difficult to get the best possible outcome ninety percent of the time or higher.” He goes on to tell you that he grew up being told how gifted he was, but being a curious child he sought to understand his gift. So over the years he observed and measured how he worked – he broke down his creative process the way a geek or a piston-head takes apart a piece of hardware or machinery in an effort to understand it. “What I found,” he explains, “was my ‘talent’ was predicated on me doing three things in the right order, with enough time, in the right environment.” Understanding his talent, he tells you, has allowed him to harness it and improve it.

Astonished, you ask him to write out his cracked code for the creative process, and then teach it to his reports in the creative department. He does, and, amazingly, the quality of the firm’s entire creative output rises to match his. Further, by de-mystifying the creative process he has helped to ensure that the future work of the firm will be at least as good as its best previous work.

Creative Accounting

In the first scenario the creative director had a strong impact on what I will call the creative income statement: he drove short term creative success for the entire time he was there. In the second scenario the creative director had an equally strong impact on the creative balance sheet: he helped to improve the creative product of the firm for all time. Now ask yourself how the hiring experience would be different in each of these two scenarios. One is a more random stressful act of trying to replace the asset that just walked out the door; an asset that you know from experience comes along only rarely. In the other scenario the employee has left but the asset has remained. Replacing the employee becomes easier. Further, you now have the ability to train the employee for what you previously thought was an innate, un-trainable skill set. And now that you understand the position you have the ability to make a quick assessment of your new employee’s likelihood of success, allowing you to correct any hiring mistakes quickly.

Managing the Business Development Asset

While the idea of cracking the creative code might seem unlikely to you, these two scenarios accurately describe two different approaches to the function and staffing of business development. One approach implies an understanding that business development success can be quantified, predicted, and managed. Agencies taking this approach recognize their obligation to provide business development employees with infrastructure support in the way of a methodology or set of protocols, development support in the way of training, and performance guidance in the form of achievable targets and objectives (driven by previous experience).

The second approach is the rainmaking approach. Implied in it is a willingness to have the workings of the position remain fuzzy and indefinable, and to explain away a lack of infrastructure, training, and other support that all employees require as the freedom that these highly independent thoroughbreds are seen to need to do their jobs well. (Talk about mythology!)

In the first approach the employee is hired and trained to manage an asset. In the second, he is the asset, and one day he will depart and a new asset will have to be acquired in what is usually a long, painful, and expensive process. In this scenario, when the asset leaves, the agency starts over, from the beginning… again. (In a few situations the asset uses this knowledge to lever all kinds of gain, and in this way hold the employer hostage.)

Hiring Risk

I have written previously that the agency business development position is often an unsuccessful hire fraught with risk. The largest reason for this is that the position is poorly supported. To rely on the mystical prowess of a rainmaker is to excuse yourself of your responsibilities for understanding and supporting the sales function, which is one of the two basic functions of business. Some agency principals believe that these people are wired so differently that they can succeed without the level of infrastructure and support that every other employee receives. It’s just not true.

Destroying the Rainmaker

In his wonderful new book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell chronicles scientists, sales people, police officers and others who are able to take what some people would call intuition, deconstruct it into individual, measurable components, and then reconstruct it in a manner that allows them to understand and improve their abilities to make accurate judgments in the blink of an eye. Gladwell demonstrates that to explain intuition is to destroy it and replace it with something less mysterious, completely quantifiable, and eminently more powerful. In the same manner, endeavoring to de-mystify and systematize the business development function is to destroy the rainmaker – the idea of innate, indefinable talent – and replace it with an understanding of why that person is successful, and therefore how he can become even more successful, and how all those who follow after him can be assured to deliver the same level of success. To destroy the rainmaker is to build an asset. Rainmaker, rainmaker, go away; come again (in a form that I can understand and therefore improve, support, and replicate) another day.

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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