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February 09, 2006

The Art of Rainmaking

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I'll get lots of flak for saying this, but since I'm accustomed to flak from my Apple days, I'll say it anyway: Sales fixes everything.

As long as you have sales, cash will flow, and as long as cash flows, (a) you will have the time to fix your team, your technology, and your marketing; (b) the press won't be able to say much because customers are pouring money into your coffers; and (c) your investors will leave you alone because (i) they will focus on companies with weaker sales and (ii) they won't want to jinx your success.

You can blow all the smoke that you like about brand awareness, corporate image, and feedback from early adopters, but you either make it rain or you don't. To help you become a legend in annals of salesmanship, here is the art of rainmaking.

  1. “Let a hundred flowers blossom.” I stole this from Chairman Mao although I'm not sure how he implemented it. In the context of capitalism (Chairman Mao must be turning over in his grave), the dictum means that you sow seeds in many markets, see what takes root, and harvest what blooms. Many companies freak out when unintended customers buy their product. Many companies also freak out when intended customers buy their product but use it in unintended ways. Don't be proud. Take the money. The guy who invented Brillo sold pots and pans; he came up with the clever idea of baking soap into steel-wool pads as a tchokes for his customers. To his surprise, his customers were more interested in these pads than his pots and pans, and that's how Brillo was born.
  2. See the gorilla. You aren't going to believe this, but Daniel J. Simons of the University of Illinois and Christoper E. Chabris of Harvard University ran an experiment in which they asked students to watch two teams of players throwing basketballs. The students were told to count how many times one team passed the basketball to their own teammates. Thirty-five seconds into the video, an actor dressed as a gorilla entered the room, thumped on his chest, and remained in the room for another nine seconds. Fifty percent of the students did not notice the gorilla! If you want to make it rain, you have to see the gorilla markets in the mist, so to speak. Decades ago Univac was a leader in computers, but it believed that the market for computers was scientists; it did not see that the gorilla market for computers was business people. That's why everyone knows who IBM is and few people remember Univac.
  3. “Sell,” don't enable “buying.” Marty Gruber, my old boss in the jewelry business, liked to point out that, “Everyone wants to be the VP of marketing.” Truer words were never spoken--everyone one wants to be the VP of marketing and do the cool stuff like advertising and promotion. This is fine if your product is already being bought. However, the products of most organizations is sold. For example, these days an iPod is bought: people walk into the Apple store intending to buy it. By contrast, much to my continued disappointment, a Macintosh is still sold: the hardworking Apple store employee has to convince people that a Macintosh is fast, safe, easy-to-use, and runs the software that they need. For selling to work, you need face-to-face, personalized, and intense contact. Advertising can't do this, so for most organizations the best lead-generation methods are seminars, presentations by company executives, and schmoozing. With a little luck and determination, you may wake up one day to find that you no longer need to sell because your product is being bought--mazel tov!
  4. Find the key influencers. The higher you go in most organizations, the thinner the air. The thinner the air, the more difficult it is to find intelligent life. Thus, if you focus your rainmaking efforts on CXO level people, you may be dealing with the dumbest people in the organization. The biggest titles do not have the biggest brains, so don't go after the biggest titles. Instead, go after the key influencers. They have humbler titles like “secretary,” “administrative aide,” “database administrator,” or “customer service manager.” They usually do the real work, so they know what products and services are needed, and the CXOs ask them for their recommendations. The logical question is now, “How do you find the key influencers?” The answer is that you ask people at the company to answer this simple question, “When there are problems, who does everyone go to at this organization?”
  5. Go after “agnostics,” not “atheists.” Ahh, the reference account: big, rich, and prestigious. It is the high-hanging fruit that every rainmaker dreams of picking because closing this sale brings credibility to the organization and makes every sale thereafter easier. For years, I tried to get Lotus Development and Ashton-Tate--the reference accounts of personal computer software--to develop Macintosh products. They never did get it, and I wasted a lot of time. By definition, reference accounts are already successful, and therefore probably fat, dumb, and happy. They are the least likely to try something new and different. Sure, give them your best shot--once. But then cut your losses and move on to the “agnostics.” In the mid-eighties, the atheists denied the Macintosh religion, and they refused to convert to the Mac. The agnostics--people who had never used a personal computer before--were the rich and fertile market for Apple.
  6. Make prospects talk. If prospects are open to buying your product or service, they will usually tell you what it will take to close them. All you have to do is (a) ask questions to get them talking about their needs, (b) shut up, (c) listen, and then (d) explain how your product or service fills their needs (if it indeed does). Most salespeople can't do this because (a) they're not prepared to ask good questions; (b) they're too stupid to shut up; and (c) they don't know their product or service well enough to know whether it can in fact fill these needs. When it comes to rainmaking, there's clearly a reason why God gave us two ears but only one mouth.
  7. Enable test drives. I believe that people are inherently smart. If you provide them with the right information, they are the best judges of the suitability of your product or service. I don't believe you should--or can--bludgeon people into becoming a customer. My recommendation is that you enable people to test drive your product or service in order to make their own decision. Essentially, you are saying, “I think you're smart. Because I think you're smart, I'm going to enable you to try my product to see if it works for you. I hope that it does and that we can do business.” Therefore, do whatever it takes to enable people to download a trial version of your software, use your web site, drive your car, eat at your restaurant, or attend your church service.
  8. Provide a safe, easy first step. Unfortunately, “unsuccessful rainmakers” (an oxymoron?) make it hard for prospective customers to adopt their products or services. I've been guilty of it myself--for example, asking Fortune 500 companies to throw out all their MS-DOS machines in favor of a new IT infrastructure based on Macintoshes. What can I say? I was young then. The goal is to make the adoption of your product or service as safe and easy as possible. If you combine this stress-free approach with a compelling product or service, you've got it made. If your prospects have to jump through loops to adopt your product or service, then your must convince them that doing so is worth the effort. Incidentally, this is why it's so much easier to be a blogger than to be an entrepreneur. :-)

Written at: Atherton, California.


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Strumming my pain with your finger... Guy - love the post, love the topic. Mission critical work requires real work...like engineering, product roadmap and a good PPM, sales the other half of the story and rarely gets the airtime. Glad to see it here! - and for generating the free plug (in the form of demand/awareness generation). Onward.

Rainmaking is not dead. I do it and teach it everyday. The best customers come from cold calls. Check out the cold calling section on ( http://www.salesandmarketinghelp.com ) the articles on this page get right to the subject. now go call somebody.

Manual trackback - the German translation of this article is available at


Great article, but to some extent I have to disagree with #3. Sure, marketing won't "sell" a product but will HELP sell a product. I believe this is particularly true for a startup, where the biggest obstacle to sales may be the prospects comfort level with the company due to their early stage. So focused vertical marketing is essential. If you're a part of the industry and on the company's radar, it will make it easier for to justify doing business with you. That means PR in trades for new deals in the industry, trade shows, banner ads in "must read" industry newsletters, etc. You don't have to spend alot of money to do it. However, marketing's goal is not only to generate leads but to shorten the time to close. And smart marketing will help do just that.


Excellent post on the various points to being successful in creating and developing sales...or should I say "boughts". Your point on the difference between getting your product "bought" vs "sold" is really, in my opinion, the Holy Grail (for those "evangelists" out there) that is searched for by the Crusaders of every organization that sells products.

As far as your "gorillas in the midst" part of your article, we distribute "Free Radicals of Innovation" that has that very example in it, and, ironically enough, has you prominately featured. That part of the program, however, has generated an enourmous amount of feedback and response. The most humorous of which was when I was told that out of a group of 50 execs of a popular software development firm, only 1(!) saw the gorilla the first time. Many of the others insisted that the gorilla was not in the video the first time through, and insisted that it be replayed to prove it. I guess even if you can see the gorilla in the midst, you still have to prove it is there to those who doubt.
Thank you for a terrific post!

Sales yes. Sales at a loss no. Buying revenue is generally not the way to succeed.

You're probably focusing on product companies where sales is everything. For a services company, you can screw up by selling too many services that you can't deliver at a price that you can't make a profit on.


Sales might count, but Profits Rule!!! All the sales in the world won't help if you can scale profits along with the increases.


one of my mentors, alan greenberg from bear stearns, always said that it was crucial to answer each in-bound call in a timely fashion.

as time goes on, i find this to be more and more true. people like to be responded to and those calling you already know who you are AND want something from you aready!

what more can you ask from a lead?


BTW, Mao made a hundred flowers bloom by fertilizing them with the bodies of some 77 million Chinese people that he murdered.

Just threw that in there, lest anyone get the idea that Mao had some kind of wisdom to offer.



I know this. Hence, I put this touch of saracasm in:

"although I'm not sure how he implemented it"



How many times have I learned the "sales is everything" lesson?

The very best way I have found to launch a new buseinss is to sell your product/service *before* developing it. If you can sell it go for it. If you cannot forget about it. And investors will be very impressed by sales before product as well.

I think most of your points are valid.. but.

I wish people would stop using Chairman Mao's flower approach to politics and business.

Many historians speculate that Mao used the hundred flowers campaign to weed out revolutionaries which he could later execute/punish/jail::


"After the campaign was officially declared over, Mao's resentment for the intellectual population had accumulated. Continuing with an Anti-Rightist Movement he had began a few years previous, he reasoned that the intellectuals were the basis of all existing problems. Mao ordered arrests of counter-revolutionaries on the basis of their letters and punished many harshly, using torture and capital punishment without any form of trial."

“Make prospects talk… (a) they're not prepared to ask good questions”

Any recommendations for helping one learn to ask “good” questions? The applications of this poorly utilized skill are boundless.

Amazingly, I forgot this point when I started my first business. I thought I was being "bought" except nobody was buying it...the results were predictable and expensive.

In the 80's I was sales support manager for a CADCAM company that was selling a standard system from another company with some add-ins, but under another name. We and another company selling the same CAD product ended up in a head to head with the top team of directors making the buy decision. It was a level playing field, so we had to win the order by superiour demo skills, attention to their problems and how we would make life better for them...in other words... sell. A really good product did not make it to the final because they did not sell. After we got the oreder and installed the kit we told them everything was the same as number 2.... they did not believe us; even the hardware they thought was different wasn't but we arranged it better so it looked superior!!!

i agree with your point 6! it's very very very irritating then someone beside talking non-stop and introducing the products you don't want. It's better for you to shut up and ask then listen for what product the customers want and introduce them the right products.

Sales sales sales.

They are indeed a mantra, but what happens when your customers overbuy your product and end up with surplus stock that they struggle to shift? LEGO struggled with exactly this conundrum in 2004. Products that didn't shift in Christmas 2003 were still in the stock in January 2004, which meant customers buy-in was severly dampened and that hit us nevermind how good the product. Customers started behaving cautiously in their ordering to stop getting surplus stock, but then consumers swamped all outlets desperate for product and were struggling to get enough. Swings and roundabouts! We're on track now though¬


I have written 8 books. Some people have accused me of writing 1 book 8 times.


Evangelism is a purer form of sales. There was bound to be overlap.



Good Post. Unfortuantely Blogger doesn't suport TrackBack. :)

A few points, which have already been made, but which need to be reiterated:

1. I agree with Charles when says at the end of his comments
"Sales is an underappreciated art and there is no formula, only artists."

2. IMHO, this post is just another way of putting the same things as in post on the Art of Evangelising. A probable difference would be you had discussed the concept back then and here you have discussed applications of the concept, albeit in different words. Sorry, if that hurt.

3. I don't accept the Technical Evanglism concept. For me it is more of a over-glorified Sales (or may-be Pre-Sales) Job. I would like to have your comments here. I may not be as good a writer as you...

John Steele,

Thanks for finding the online video of the gorilla experiment. I linked to it in the article.


You can see a video of the Visual Cognition experiment at: http://viscog.beckman.uiuc.edu/grafs/demos/15.html. Too bad you already know what to look for.


I don't know if you caught it, but in Michael's struggle with the meaning of "Let 100 flowers bloom" he is directly referencing a business opportunity that his company does not focus on, that of designing websites for third-parties. Perhaps you don't need to sell yourself via cold-calling if you can sell yourself to someone who can redirect small rain-showers your way?

The Art is making the rain before the capital evaporates. Great insight in the blog... and the comments. thanks.

Never diss the competition. My number one sales mantra (having learned it the hard way as well).

Sales is sales - regardless if it's internal, external, wholesale, retail or B2B. It's getting your customer to sell her/himself on the benefits of what you are offering (with help from you of course). But at the end of the day you have to ask yourself, "did I do all that I could to the best of my ability for the customer?"

I'm not sure I'd consider wholesaling as a sales gig, but what the hell. Ever worked retail? During your Apple years, I was on the ground selling Macs, and wondering why Apple's evangelism was blowing it so badly:
Evangelism is a very perilous thing. I once did a demo shootout of the Mac Plus and a Compaq 386 in front of Disney engineers, in an attempt to prove the superiority of the Mac over Windows. Instead of proving my point, the engineers said, "wow, Windows can do everything the Mac can do!" I responded as best I could, "well yeah, it can SORT of do the same things, but look at how BADLY it does it!" At that very moment, I accidentally destroyed a $2millon per month Mac account.

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