The Many Stages Of Your Business Relationships

Why and how to classify your relationships.

It takes time to earn trust and build relationships. I've previously written about how this is changing in the digital age and the importance of demonstrating reliability. The more time and energy you invest in your prospects, the better the relationship will be.

Even though each relationship is unique, when consultants start focusing more and more on business development they quickly discover something important: They need some kind of labeling or segmentation.

Why You Should Use Relationship Stages

At first, you might look at this in a negative way - as if by tagging your contacts you were turning your network into a cold machine. But systemization doesn't need (and shouldn't be) cold, just effective.

It turns out that having a simple way to visualize how strong each of your business relationships is makes it easier for you to continually improve them.

There are certain initiatives that can be specifically designed to turn a stranger into an acquaintance. Others are better suited to transform a new client into a loyal one. Using a clear method to communicate the strength of each relationship allows you to quickly tap into your toolbox and offer something your contact will truly value.

From Target To Champion

There are many ways to segment your relationships - the one I use with clients is an adaptation of the methodology created by the great Mo Bunnell.

Every growing business relationship passes through the following seven stages:

  1. Target: This is someone you want to know but haven’t yet. Your next step is to ensure they know you exist, either by getting an introduction or sharing value in such a way they feel compelled to connect.
  2. Lead: This is someone who is somehow connected to you and knows you exist. Your next step is to have a private call or meeting with them to build personal rapport.
  3. Acquaintance: This is someone you personally know. Your next step is to create curiosity about how your expertise could be helpful to them.
  4. Curious Skeptic: This is someone who expressed interest in having a work-oriented conversation, but never hired any of your services. Your next step is often to offer value in such a way they can get a sample of your expertise and see how working together would be.
  5. Client: This is someone who hired (or partnered with) you for an initial project, but with whom the relationship is still fragile. The next step is to deliver great work, discover how you can help in bigger projects, and get hired on a retainer (ongoing engagement) or for other projects.
  6. Solid working relationship: This is someone who hired you for several projects or an ongoing relationship. The next step is to become irreplaceable by proactively looking for ways to generate more value outside of what you're paid to do.
  7. Champion: This is someone with whom your relationship is not only transactional, and who can't help but tell others about you and your services. The next step is to nurture the relationship, and continually ask them for strategic introductions.

You can also notice that these stages can be used not only with clients, but also with contractors, influencers, and strategic partners.

All of your relationships in your pipeline exist somewhere along this spectrum, and each stage requires a different initiative to advance to the next. Typically, it can take years for consultants to move a relationship from target to raving fan. But by adopting a systematic approach, you can shorten this to months.

Take some time to review your core network today, and use these stages to bring some clarity on where your stand. Tomorrow, I'll share a useful tool that will help you take action to move those relationships to higher steps while also saving you time.

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