To tighten the bond between you and your strategic relationships, create custodial pride. In my last decade of consulting focused on how to make business relationships yield strategic results, I’ve identified five stages in the path to strategic relationships that, like the rungs on a ladder, can lift you up toward your personal and professional goals.
The five stages are:
- Second Interaction
For this post I’ll focus on the third step: nurturing a relationship once you’ve gotten past an initial meeting and begun to gain someone’s confidence.
In my post on the second rung of this ladder, I encouraged you to earn confidence by making commitments and delivering on them, in ways that add value and display your integrity. If you do that your relationship partner will begin to feel custodial pride in working with you. That’s my term for the pride people take in working with someone who consistently delivers results and agreed upon outcomes. Over time, people will become proud to mention you as a colleague. That’s the goal of this third stage of strategic relationship development: becoming a trusted asset.
One technique I rely on is capturing data from each touch with a strategic relationship. To do this you have to make time in the moment. When I leave a meeting with someone, I’ll make sure my schedule is open enough that I can spend 15 minutes in my car, just jotting notes reflecting what I absorbed in that meeting. You need to become an expert on each person you invest your time in turning into a strategic relationship. Internalize their likes, dislikes, preferences, tastes, and prejudices.
Example. I like being as prompt as the next person, but things happen. One executive I met had a particularly strong dislike for people who are late. On the back of his business card I wrote, “Don’t ever be late to anything!” Most people are not present in the moment enough to capture these clues and put them to good use. They’re usually thinking ahead to the next meeting or the next to-do on their list. If you’re creating a feeling of “he really gets me!” in the person you’re nurturing, you’re on the right path. Develop whatever CRM system you need to personally manage what you know about each of your strategic relationships.
You’re probably not the only person trying to develop a relationship with this individual—not if he or she has any real gravity. Differentiate yourself from others in how you add value. Show the quality and depth of your thinking. If you’re a creative deviant who can speak truth to power, let that show. Be authentic, not a walking, talking brochure! My immediate focus at this stage is “How do I make this person successful so that he sees the value I can bring in us working together?” One of the first questions I ask a potential strategic relationship is, “how are you measured,” or “how do you make money?” The more I know about their business, their revenue model and their growth opportunities, the more I can tailor the ways I follow up, and increase the value I add when I keep my commitments.
Strategic relationships are all about following through and delivering on commitments, regardless of how insignificant they may be at that moment. But in that follow through process, there’s a line I don’t cross. No one likes a pest. I have a three-touch rule: if I can’t get potential strategic relationships to engage after three touches, I back off. I’ll add them to my newsletter distribution list and share a position paper periodically, or invite them to webinars, but I won’t chase them. I develop communication channels specifically to keep in touch via these “nurture” campaigns over time. When the timing is right, I usually hear from that person I’ve invested my time in getting to this stage.
If you’re investing in your nurturing stage correctly—always building on the confidence you’ve earned; always differentiating yourself through value delivered; always respectful of their unique likes and dislikes and their priorities — you’re going to keep right on climbing this ladder and reach the sustaining stage.
And from there, it’s on to the fifth stage and quantifiable return on impact.
- Focus on your performance, execution and results for this immediate relationship, to build custodial pride.
- Become an object of interest by consistently demonstrating you have an interesting point of view.
- Start with the end in mind: make sure you’re investing your energy with someone who can either become an economic buyer or a pivotal contact (my term for people who extend your reach).