How to Create a Relationship Strategy: 5 Questions

Building long-term relationships in business matters. To succeed you need to understand how the company works, the relationships between the people, and the politics of the organization. When you access the right people in the buying committee and deliver personalized value messages (and substance) your likelihood of sales success is dramatically higher.

In the next series of blog posts I will elaborate on the each of the five questions you must answer to effectively develop a business relationship strategy. Here I provide a quick overview.

What people matter?

Of course all people matter; but in a specific project, there are some who matter more than others. Some are responsible for the success of the project. Others own the budget. It is likely that there are many who can say no – but only a few that can say yes. The first obstacle to overcome is to understand who matters.

How do they think?

Before you can change someone’s mind, you have to know how that person thinks, both personally and professionally. Propensity to change, decision orientation, and previous experiences all factor into their make up, and should be the guiding path to how you approach your relationship development strategy.

What is your current relationship?

Very few people don’t have an opinion. They will view your selection as a potential supplier either as a positive or negative thing. If they don’t know you, then they will view you as irrelevant, and that’s as bad as negative preference – at least when they have an opinion you can try to change it. If they don’t know you and think you are irrelevant you have two hurdles to overcome; first – you need to convince them of your relevancy, and then you need to help them develop preference for you. Honest assessment of a relationship in business is rare. Evidence, not opinion, is what you must find to assess your current status.

What is the relationship gap?

One of the greatest myths in sales is that you have to achieve ‘Trusted Advisor’ status with everyone. That might be nice, but it is impractical. The investment required is just too much and when you try to reach that level with everyone it is likely that you will not have enough time to spend on the relationships that really matter. It’s the peanut butter problem – spread it too thinly and it doesn’t taste good anywhere. To understand where you need to get to in terms of relationship with key individuals you have to assess the relationship required.  That’s a function of hierarchy and power but also is related to the impact on the customer’s business of what they are planning to buy. The level of business impact corresponds to the relationship needed; higher impact, higher relationship threshold. Establish the required level first and then determine, based on your current state, the gap that needs to be bridged.

How do you bridge that gap?

In essence, the key to elevating and expanding your relationships comes down to one key principle. You must create, measure and communicate value to the customer. The questions to ask yourself are:

  1. “How can I show the buyer that I have delivered value to their company in the past (or to a similar company in their industry)?”
  2. “What can I do during the selling process to add value to the customer, expand their understanding of the problems they are trying to solve or make them think about their business in a different way?”
  3. “To whom should I communicate these messages?”

If you take the time to work through these questions you will find that your relationship strategy emerges clearly. You will understand the value to communicate and to whom. That’s good for the customer and ultimately it will help you progress the sale.

As mentioned above, I will dig into each of these in more detail over the next few blog posts, dedicating a separate post to each question.  If you can’t wait :), or want more context; I’ve described my strategies in detail in my latest book: Digital Sales Transformation in a Customer First World.

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