Every year thousands of sales books are published, each promising to turn a struggling salesperson into a rainmaker – i.e., a salesperson who consistently brings in lots of revenue. Most of these books are junk. Either they’re plain wrong or they’re barely warmed over versions of self-help pablum. But last year’s Rainmaking Conversations by Mike Schultz and John E. Doerr contributes some new angles to the genre, and sits on the shelf next to Neil Rackham’s Spin Selling as my favorite sales advice and methodologies books.
Like Spin Selling, Rainmaking Conversations uses a 4 letter acronym to help you remember their methodology:
Rain ===> Build Rapport
A ===> Articulate Afflictions and Aspirations
I ===> Uncover the Impact of Failure and Success
N ===> Define the New Reality
This is an improvement on SPIN in several ways. Build rapport replaces asking situational questions. Research performed by Schultz and Doerr suggests that many buyers are more likely to buy from salespeople where some kind of personal chemistry has been established.
I found the second letter of the RAIN acronym to be the most insightful compared to SPIN – articulating both the Aspirations as well as the Afflictions. As Schultz and Doerr write:
“Uncovering afflictions is only half the story because afflictions only focus on half – the negative half – of customer needs. If you focus only on the negative, you leave opportunities on the table to expand your existing relationships and generate new opportunities.”
Impact, the third letter of the RAIN acronym, carries much the same meaning as SPIN’s Implication. But here again, Schultz and Doerr offer an improvement by encouraging the salesperson to uncover the impact of both failure and success.
Both methodologies, RAIN and SPIN, share the same last letter: N. In RAIN, this stands for New Reality, which I find easier to understand than SPIN’s somewhat awkward Need Payoff. It also encourages salespeople to craft an appropriate solution for the customer and to paint a picture of the value of the new reality. This is a very important step in compelling prospects to take action, and to select your particular solution.
Rainmaking Conversations emphasizes the importance of structuring a sales call as a conversation. We’ve all at one time or another experienced the salesperson who talks but doesn’t listen. Often, these salespeople have chosen a career in sales because someone has told them “they have the gift of gab” or “they’re a silver tongued devil” or some other trite phrase. In reality, this kind of salesperson seldom succeeds, particularly in large, complex sales.
Schultz and Doerr advocate for a balance of talking and listening, inquiry and advocacy.
“Talk too much and the prospect will tune out. Ask too many questions and they’ll feel like they’re getting the third degree.”
In addition to the usual procession from open to more specific and closed questions, Schultz and Doerr suggest another method for uncovering customer needs: advocating during the discovery phase. By bringing their own research, ideas and expertise to bear upon the customer’s situation, the salesperson can build authority and trust with customers. I found this refreshing.
Lastly, the book suggests approaching sales with the right mindset and the right process. Chapter 2, entitled “The Most Important Conversation You’ll Ever Have”, stresses the importance to a salesperson of having the right desire, commitment and attitude. Chapter 3 covers setting goals and planning your actions to reach those goals. Chapter 4, which covers understanding and communicating your value proposition, is invaluable for marketers as well as salespeople. It stresses a conversational, rather than a formulaic, approach to conveying your value proposition, based on the degree to which you understand the listener’s specific needs and industry.
Chapter 17 and the online call planning guide provide a very valuable tool for improving the odds of success in your sales calls. I’ve been using it in my practice with customers, and it forces the team to address the important issues before embarking on the sales call.
Overall, Rainmaking Conversations is a great book, bringing a fresh approach to the art and science of selling. It stands on the shoulders of Neil Rackham’s groundbreaking Spin Selling, and adds new insights and methods. Highly recommended.