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August 1994

Building rainmakers. (marketers who can bring in new business to an accounting firm)(includes related article)

by Boress, Allan S.

    Abstract- Accounting firms need to refocus their attention on the marketing side of the business if they are to ensure that they remain coompetitive in the customer-oriented 1990s. The best way to do this would be to encourage the development of rainmaking skills among staffers. Rainmaking skills refer to the ability of accounting firm staff to build new business on a regular basis. These skills tend to be under-appreciated until senior management emphasizes their importance to a firm's survival in an increasingly competitive market. There are basically four proven ways to build rainmaking skills. One way would be to obtain marketing-oriented staffers through the acquisition of a practice known for its marketing savvy. Another way would be to set up a mentorship program. Hiring is another viable alternative. Perhaps the best way eould be to develop rainmaking skills by retraining staffers to build up their familiarity with business-building skills.

This staffing strategy served CPA firms well until the rise of fierce competition in recent years. Some firms are stumped by the challenge of funding their entrepreneurial founders' retirement when the remaining partners aren't skilled in, or thrilled by, practice development.

In addition, our profession has been experiencing radical changes. Some products are getting old--we have to explore new ones. To introduce new products, we must market them. We as a profession are forced to learn to market better.

Consideration for partnership is not based solely on accounting skills. In today's competitive environment, firms consider young professionals' abilities to generate new business, a skill commonly referred to as rainmaking.

Rainmaking skills are not acquired overnight. While most individuals have the potential to contribute to marketing and sales efforts, some stand out as future rainmakers. Certain qualities and skills are required to attract new business--often the same attributes that make a good accountant.

There are four basic ways for CPA firms to hire and create the right kind of entrepreneurial partners and managers to help their firms grow. The firm can provide mentors for them or acquire, hire, or develop them.


Many firms have had success in merging or acquiring practices. To improve marketing efforts, firms might look to purchase practices in which savvy marketing partners are still actively involved. Bringing proactive partners into a firm not only builds a practice but also can provide a good example for existing staff and partners and inspire them to invest time in marketing.


Firm rainmakers traditionally have been shown the ropes by a veteran marketer. The best training involves observing an experienced partner, being tutored in methods and appraoches, and having initial efforts nurtured and encouraged. Of course, this approach requires rainmakers willing to take younger colleagues under their wings.


rain * mak * r \ran ma ker\ n. An accountant whose compensation is totally unrelated to his or her accounting skills. Usually an indispensable old fogey who brings lots of good business in the door but doesn't have the foggiest idea of what to do with it once it's there. Usually has a corner office.


Marketing problems can be avoided by choosing people right for the firm. It all starts in the recruiting phase with the kind of person you hire. Here are some ways to improve the chances of recruiting a future entrepreneur.

Be Direct with Prospective Employees. Let candidates know the firm wants more than staff accountants. They should be told that every employee is responsible for building the firm's business. Inform them that becoming a partner depends on building a powerful referral network and bringing in a material amount of work.

Yes, this method will mean losing some attractive candidates, but these people would never have brought much business into the firm. The natural rainmakers, however, will be enticed by this farsighted approach to managing an accounting practice and by the emphasis on growth and opportunity. Also, being direct from the start helps avoid disappointments and unrealized expectations later. It also sets the firm apart from every other campus recruiter.

Choose the Right People. To get entrepreneurial partners and managers, stop hiring people who lack social skills. Hire people who are likable immediately, because personalities are hard to alter. If someone has spent 21 or more years of his or her life being introverted and shy, don't expect a rapid change.

Stop looking for only good technicians, and start seeking people with personalities. Those of above-average intelligence can be trained to be good technicians. Recruiters should concentrate on outside activities and social pursuits as well as positions of leadership on or off campus. Search for people who will take action, not wait to be told what to do.

Interview the Real Candidate. To get to know what someone is really like, it's best to remove him or her from the formal interviewing process to observe interactions with others in casual social settings. Is the candidate gregarious? Friendly? Shy? How does he or she treat a spouse as well as potential colleagues or employees?

Ask the Right Questions. What is the candidate's idea of fun--reading a book or being involved with other people? Get a realistic idea of how he or she feels about being responsible for bringing in business.

Candidates' enthusiasm and ambition are important factors, too. Will they invest in their own personal skills in order to get ahead? Are they able and eager to meet clients and referral sources on their own time? How do they feel about using personal time in order to build a marketable new area of expertise?

What are their real ultimate career goals? Do they intend to stay with the firm for the long term? Do they want to be in business for themselves?

Have the firm's rainmakers conduct the final interview. It takes one to know one.


There are a number of ways firms can nurture marketing skills in existing staff.

Train Professionals to Be More Entrepreneurial. The staff should understand and commit to their responsibilities for the client relationship, even if they are only seniors. Give staff the authority to meet and build relationships with their client counterparts on an audit or project. Tell them that getting ahead means building their own book of business for the firm as if they were in business for themselves. Strongly suggest they read industry journals on their own time to enhance their knowledge of clients' businesses.

Encourage Business-Building Behavior. From the very beginning of their careers, staff should identify and join powerful organizations that include their counterparts in other professions as well as prospective clients. Hold staff responsible for taking visible leadership roles and developing a marketable expertise.

Inform staff of the business--and personal--benefits of these activities. Some of the best friends made can come from business contacts. That's one of the major benefits of this profession.

Hold People Accountable for Business Development. If you make a partner responsible for a piece of the total office business--an industry, for example--you'll be surprise how quickly they learn how to market.

Everyone in the firm--partners, managers, and staff - must be held accountable for marketing or nothing will happen. There should be a sales management function and reporting system to oversee and control business development activities.

Nurture Human Assets. Regular training is important to marketing success. CPAs crave information; the more they know and understand about something, the more comfortable they are with it. Marketing acumen should be built in the same way the firm develops expertise in a new technical practice area.

Provide the Right Support System for Practice Development. Some firms give staff members expense account for business lunches with friends or acquaintances who could be future referral sources. The firm also publicizes staff efforts--even introductions that lead to new business-- in memos demonstrating which efforts the firm values.

Marketing success is enhanced by making heroes out of those who make contacts. Their efforts should be supported through articles in internal newsletters and the local press. They should be called on in regular firm sales meetings and asked to mentor struggling prospective rainmakers.

Firms should acknowledge even the smallest effort and be realistic about the process. Most importantly they should allow for failure while aiming for early successes and small improvements. The focus should be on productive effort; an emphasis on major achievements will only discourage fledgling marketers.

Rainmakers should be given support staff and freedom from detail work. They need to do what they do best. There should be no excuses for failure to market, even during busy season, and compensation should be tied to new business successes. This demonstrates commitment to proactive growth with tangible rewards.

Lead the Way

Competent people act on their perception of what's important to the leadership. If you are very visible in marketing, staff will make it part of their program, too.

Staff people base their understanding of their responsibilities on partners' example. If they don't see partners bringing in business, they're not going to think it's part of their job. They have to see partners out and about in the community, involved in organizations and bringing in business themselves.

There are several effective ways to infuse a firm with the energy and expertise necessary for marketing success. However, the most important steps are those taken by firm leaders. No partner can expect staff managers--or even fellow partners--to make contacts and secure new business if he or she isn't doing the same.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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