One thing I’ve learned in the last decade in my consulting practice is that it’s absolutely a relationship business. 70% of my work this past year has come from a handful of strong referrals by trusted relationships. 90% of my successful engagements – whether speaking or consulting – is because I’ve done a decent job in investing in and nurturing a trusting relationship with an economic buyer. If I look at my success rate in engaging new clients vs. those where we don’t work together for whatever reason, it’s because they believe our relationship today, and believe in our considerably stronger relationship with performance, execution, and results down the road.

But have you ever stopped to think about the ideal relationship profiles you should focus on? From my large corporate clients to individuals I mentor in strategic relationships, everyone understand the fundamental importance of business relationships. Very few systematically identify, prioritize and invest in those relationships for an extraordinary return to fuel their personal and professional growth. Beyond identifying your ideal customer (company) or buyer (individual) profiles – those who you deem would be most receptive of your value-add – a focus on your ideal relationship profile would be prudent. In our current low-trust environment, you cannot afford to invest in everyone equally and the relationship you choose to invest in today, will determine your direction and ultimate destination moving forward.

Inspired by my friend, Alan Weiss, PhD, I’ve developed the list below for strategic business relationships I look for in prospective clients. My best clients are:

  • Smart & Tough – they understand cause and effect, look for evidence in observable behaviors more than opinions, and are beyond defending the status quo;
  • Focused on the output not input – they focus on the desired strategic outcomes of a meeting where they want me to speak, or how the organization will be better off when I’m done with them much more so than how many hours or countless meetings we focus on getting it done;
  • Starting from what’s in it for them vs. my methodology – Relationship Economics may be catchy, but my best clients are particularly interested in fueling their growth (what’s in it for them) vs. my systematic, disciplined process. As I’m writing in my forthcoming book, Return on Impact, collaboration has to the enabler of better decision making;
  • Curious about what thought leadership I can bring? They’ve already worked with the traditional consulting firms, have really smart people within their organizations, have established world-class training and development, and have had great speakers at their events. What they’re looking for is a fresh perspective, unique insights, and thought leadership to differentiate their people, processes, and results.
  • Action-oriented – Certain level of due diligence and analysis is prudent; scheduling our third conversation about how we could, perhaps, in some future date work together is a waste of time. My best clients quickly realize they have a strategic business relationship challenge, identify a handful of options, and make clear, concise, decisive steps to gap their current and desired future states.
  • Partners in a creative process on how to buy from me – This one always fascinates me in that although we discuss several options in how we could tackle a particular challenge or opportunity, the end game plan we devise is a highly collaborative one. I love it when clients come up with option four, or “what if we created these steps, metrics, and roadmap?”
  • Highly tolerant of risk and are willing to fail – As Alan often reminds me, “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.” Great business relationships take prudent risk and are willing to fail if they’re seeking to move forward. Business relationships and the outcomes from them are about progress, not perfection. Success is derived from incremental progress and particularly when it comes to relationships, changes in behavior.

Focus on a fewer, more impactful strategic business relationships in the remainder of 2011 and you’ll go into 2012 with a strong focus on more than just creating great relationships; you’ll capitalize on them as well. After all, we’re all in the relationship business.

Return on Impact (ASAE, 2012) is my forthcoming book on how visionary leaders will lead differently because of social – networking, media, and market leadership. It’s not about Facebook or Twitter. It is about developing a social strategy, iTunification of your capabilities, attracting world-class social talent, socially-enabling your execution, performance and results, with insightful analytic to improve better engagement and storytelling. To learn more, follow me @davidnour or text “RETip” or “ROIBook” to 90210.

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