In my last decade of consulting focused on how to make business relationships yield strategic results, I’ve identified five stages in an individual’s path to strategic relationships, like the rungs on a ladder, can lift you up toward meeting and exceeding your personal and professional goals.
The five stages are:
- Gaining Confidence
For this post I’ll focus on the second step: deepening an introductory meeting into a business relationship.
You’ve had a successful initial meeting in which you built rapport, established your credibility, and found a mutually valuable next step. What’s so special about this second interaction?
In a nutshell: you got here on someone else’s coattails. A trust-centric introduction led to a meeting and you acquitted yourself well. You behaved like a likeable person and you said some things that added value for the other party. She asked you back.
Realize that strategic relationships form between individuals—not logos, not brochures. You have to bring your own authenticity, candor, emotional intelligence, to this second meeting. Be yourself. But that’s not enough–you need to meet the other individual where she is.
A technique I learned years ago was called mirroring. Let’s say I meet you, and I pull out my iPhone and show you pictures of my kids. If you don’t respond by saying something about your kids, I have to be astute enough to respond to that cue. Maybe you can’t have kids, or don’t want kids, or whatever the case is. It’s on me to mirror your preferences—let the relationship develop following the cues you give me. In this second interaction, your focus should be on deepening your understanding of how your new prospect, acquaintance, potential colleague or collaborator wants to be interacted with—then deliver that.
In strategic relationships, performance trumps all. Your goal now is to earn their confidence. The best way I know to do this is to make commitments and deliver on them. Make sure you leave that second meeting with some follow-ups. Keep it simple: don’t make more than three commitments in any one visit. Always give yourself some margin. For all our great intentions, none of us has the bandwidth to do it all. Don’t say, “Adam, I’ll get ten things to you.” Rather, focus on and deliver three. Whatever your personal tickler system is—sticky notes, voice memos—do what it takes to be sure you follow through. Does it matter if you do it today or later this week? Yes it does. If you tell Adam “I’ll email you that document,” do it before Adam has a chance to forget your promise or begin to doubt you. The result will be Adam’s growing confidence in you.
Confidence is closely related to integrity. At some point, your integrity is going to be questioned because character really does matter. Before this business relationship deepens, the other party is likely to test your integrity. They will share confidential information with you. They will ask you for confidential information. They’ll ask you controversial questions or opinions of others you may have in common, just to see where you stand. You have to think about what you stand for, what you will or won’t do or say and how you’ll say it. When you’ve shown yourself to be a person who does what he says he’s going to do, a person with the highest integrity, that relationship will be ready to move to the next rung of the ladder—nurturing.
Strategic relationships built on confidence become sturdy. They resist competition on mere features or function. When you’re differentiated by the relationships you’ve built, you’re protected. Remember, there is always somebody with a better mousetrap, a cheaper price, or flashier marketing materials. But it’s difficult for any of them to replicate what you’ve got—the depth and breadth of your Relationship Bank, based on confidence. Business relationships are the only sustainable competitive differentiation many individuals and their organizations can count on; but never become complacent about!
Your second interaction is where your resilient, enduring business relationship begins—if you do your part, mirroring the other person’s relationship-development style so that the rapport you established deepens in this second meeting. Now you promise action and deliver on your promises, however large or small, and display your integrity. The relationship deepens. In upcoming articles I’ll tell you how to nurture this nascent relationship into one of custodial pride and passion.
Please internalize the ideas I share. Ask yourself what these ideas mean to you personally. If you want to have an impact, grow your business, and gain share of the minds and wallets of your clients, you must figure out how to translate your past personal success into new behaviors that improve, build, amplify and extend. And perhaps more important, you have to figure out what to stop doing. We all have limited bandwidth and resources. What behaviors can you stop because they just weren’t adding a lot of value for yourself or others? Focus on the behaviors that help you gain others’ confidence. In the months and years ahead, your intentional work to progress your strategic relationships through the five stages will lead to a quantifiable return on impact.
- Observe your new strategic acquaintances’ style of relationship development and mirror that, to increase their comfort with you.
- Earn confidence by making commitments and delivering on them, in ways that add value and display your integrity with every interaction.
- Strategic relationships built on confidence are the only truly sustainable form of competitive differentiation.
InitiationWikipedia: Initiation is a rite of passage ceremony marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. →