“The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one.” – Joan Baez.

Joan Baez was speaking about a performing artist’s relationship with her audience, but there’s a fundamental truth here for business leaders as well. It’s relatively easy to get up in front of a group—your board of directors, your staff, your Rotary Club—and project a likeable personality. It is much harder to actually create gravity, an irresistible pull that attracts others to you. But that’s where your strategic relationships begin. If you want to be surrounded with relationships that accelerate personal and professional growth for all involved, you must learn to create that gravity.

A technique that has really helped me over the years is what I call the A-B-Cs of relationships. It consists of three questions:

A. What does this person need?
B. What can’t this person get elsewhere?
C. What do you bring?

The intersection of points A, B and C is what I call “relationship gold.” Only when you figure out what you alone can do for this individual that delivers unique value, will your relationship with this person become a priority. Let’s look closer at each of the A-B-Cs:


A. What does this person need?

Most people we interact with on a daily basis, know what they want, but are less clear about what they need. Focus on “how can I help this person be successful?” By asking enough intelligent, engaging questions to figure out not just what they’re trying to do, but why they’re trying to do it, you can position yourself to be an asset in the outcome. Build your expertise in his/her industry, business model, and means of competitive differentiation. If you really focus on discovering needs versus wants, you can recognize three types of needs: existing, impending or created.

Existing needs are explicit. Here’s an example: I’m planning a Relationship Economics symposium in 2014 and right now I’m looking for someone who has the experience to organize CEO-caliber events, start to finish. I have an existing need; I want a successful symposium, and I must find talented people to help me achieve that goal.

Impending needs emerge from knowing how you can help others succeed. If, through a consultative approach you get know the business well enough, and have gotten to know how someone else generates money, you can identify impending needs. If you heard my describe my symposium, and you responded, “Hold on a second, David. The event sounds great, but what if we did a series of dinners before, that brought thought leaders together in smaller groups?” As soon as I hear that, I want to include it in my plans. You’ve discovered my impending need. I feel grateful to you for suggesting something I hadn’t thought of. Now you’ve got my attention.

Created needs come from strokes of insight that take ideas to a whole new level. What if, while discussing my symposium, you said, “David, what if that organizer you’re looking for could not only run this event, but could also manage relationships with these market accounts before, during and after the event, so you can really focus on what you do well?” Wow! Now you’ve created a need that I hadn’t even imagined. I’m leaning forward and thinking, “When can we meet to discuss this further?” You have created gravitational pull, not just attention.


B. What can’t this person get elsewhere?

You could bring a sophisticated understanding of an individual’s needs, driven by your focus on “how can I help this person be successful?” but if the answer is something available in fifty other places, you are going to get lost in the noise. This isn’t about features or functions as differentiators; if you are trying to capture attention with “we’re cheaper,” it’s going to be a very short conversation. If you’ll drop your price, the other side will be thinking, “How low will you go?” Ask yourself what it is that this person cannot get elsewhere; focus on that. If you have established a trusting relationship, you can ask directly. If you’re still working on building that trust, work on ascertaining this person’s needs through research. Read trade publications. Take other meetings where this individual’s competitors would be. Get to the bottom of what it is this person needs that cannot be found elsewhere: This could be as simple as your knowledge, talent, experience, or influential relationships.


C. What do you bring?

Only when you figure out A and B, can you make C impactful. Only when you understand what someone needs and can’t easily get elsewhere does what you bring to the table become relevant. That’s when you can focus on customizing and personalizing what you bring, so that it is unique, well positioned, and clearly understood. How have you created your own competitive differentiation as a strategic relationship of unique value to this person? What about what you offer is unique, and so clearly explained or demonstrated that others “get it”?


A+B+C=Relationship Gold

Bring together A, B and C—what a person needs, and can’t get elsewhere, that you alone can bring. Figure that out and you get the gold. Now you can start generating return on your relationships, not just for you but for others as well. Now you have the gravity to be a priority with your relationships. When you call to suggest a meeting, you’ll get a “yes” because they’re curious what next big value-generating idea you’ll bring.

Now you are in a position to deepen your understanding of your relationships’ likes, dislikes, preferences, tastes, prejudices, challenges, business and revenue models. From that understanding you can create needs—and that’s what generates return on impact.

There is a fundamental premium associated with creating a need. Back to my example about my Relationship Economics summit: First, when you give me a breakthrough idea that creates a need, I come to see you as a credible, trusted source. Second, when you’re the umpteenth person I’ve met with about this event and nobody else has added value like you just did, I now see that you stand out from the crowd. Finally, when I truly believe I can’t get your level of thinking anywhere else, I feel absolutely compelled to keep and grow our relationship. You just worked your way into that golden intersection of the A-B-Cs.

The A-B-C approach to relationships is about quality, not quantity. You cannot give this level of attention to ten thousand people, like Joan Baez’ audience. But with strategic focus, you can develop deeply relevant relationships that accelerate success for all involved, one by one.


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