Alex, a director in a rapidly growing regional accounting firm was in the Managing Partner’s office.  He had been participating in a 6 month business development/rainmaking coaching and training program with disappointing results.

The Managing Partner decided to find out what the problem was.

MP: Is the problem the coach? Is the problem the cost? Is the problem time?

Alex: No, No, Yes.

MP:  Alex, you’re talented and technically-skilled. The only thing missing in your toolkit preventing you from making partner is being able to bring in business. Do you want to be a worker bee or do you want to be a partner?

Alex: I want to be a Partner.

While Alex couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t made any ground, his coach knew exactly why.

Alex, had lots of reasons for being too busy to attend networking events, talking to new people, building relationships with potential clients.

At the end of the day, Alex liked the idea of being partner, but just wasn’t motivated to be uncomfortable, to make the time, to do what it takes to reach this higher level.

In contrast, meet Mark Jain, CPA at Ernst & Young who made partner at a Big 4 firm in less than 11 years.

“Ever since I was staff  I had aspirations to be a partner. It’s a truly amazing feeling.” *

Jain credited his quick rise to a number of factors, including technical competency, consistent coaching and guidance from senior leaders, and the willingness to stretch his comfort zone, to do what it takes to build a business.

Partners and Managing Partners in accounting firms across the country are often scratching their heads over this question:

Can we really motivate our young professionals to do what it takes to become rainmakers?

I was curious too, so I posed this question in several accounting Linked In groups:

Why do you think young accounting professionals aren’t interested in becoming rainmakers?

What should accounting firms do to build a motivating biz dev culture for them?

To a great degree, the answers from the younger professionals centered around the fact that they are motivated but the firms aren’t providing comprehensive consistent training and development in these soft skills. They claim Partners say they want them to bring in business yet measure them only on their billable hours.

Perhaps. But as more mature firm leaders get ready to retire, the pressure is on to either buy rainmaking talent or develop it from within.

The real issue is that today, building a book of business is a very different experience than when veteran rainmakers began, or even those producers who began just a decade ago.

Public accounting has become so competitive that up and coming professionals need a variety of soft skills as well as technical skills to build a book of business:

  • a personal brand,
  • a niche specialty,
  • a great elevator speech/value proposition, and
  • strong communications and networking skills (online and face to face) to stand out from the crowd.

After working with hundreds of accountants and other service professionals I see these 3  ingredients as essential for raising a motivated and successful crop of new rainmakers in firms:

1. Deep support from Managing Partners and leader Partners for a rainmaking/marketing culture – including training and development in soft skills – as well as walking the talk themselves.

2. Long range commitment to the development of these skills. Firm leaders often have unrealistic expectations, wanting up and coming professionals to take a few months of training and begin to deliver new business.  It takes a couple of years to build up a high-caliber network and the practical skills to be a full-fledged rainmaker. People get better and better with practice.

3. Recruit motivated professionals right from the outset. This is the one area almost completely ignored by accounting and other professional service firms. Firms recruit accounting and law grads primarily for technical potential and talent. They rarely consider people and communications skills or their orientation and interest in the sales process.

Managing Partners and firm leaders need to set examples, cultures, and initiatives to attract, motivate, mentor, and thoroughly educate accounting talent in entirely new “soft skill” ways.

In the post-recession economy, firms must motivate or fall  behind more progressive firms.

Have you or your firm tried innovative ways of motivating your younger professionals?

We’d love to hear your success stories or struggles.

*(How To Speed The Path To Partner – Journal Of Accountancy)