Distinguishing Relationships From Opportunities

Here's why you should clearly separate the two.

When you decided to learn the topic you are now a specialist in, you might have taken courses, read books, or even studied for a certification exam. Business development is also a combination of skills, but the lack of a clear manual can lead you to miss key ideas that would have a huge impact on your consulting business.

One of those is the difference between relationships and opportunities. It's not just semantics - the partners who understand it and act accordingly are wildly more successful in their initiatives than those who don't.

Let's start with the definitions:

  • Relationship: The way in which you are connected to someone else - how two people look and behave towards each other. All of your business relationships exist somewhere along a spectrum (you can see the different stages here).
  • Opportunity: This is anything you want another person to say yes to. Signing a new project is what most people think of as an opportunity. But so is starting a new partnership, getting an introduction to someone we'd like to know, or accepting your invitation to be interviewed in your blog.

Why is it important to differentiate the two?

  • Relationships (when well nurtured) can last for decades, but opportunities are usually attached to a date. Just because your services can help a prospect today doesn't mean they will be effective tomorrow, or that the prospect's goals will remain the same.
  • The same person can generate multiple opportunities - a strong relationship can ask you to work on different projects inside their company or might help you in different ways over time.
  • The opposite is also true: an opportunity can (and most likely will) include different people. This means you might need to invest in developing different relationships to win a single project.

What's most important here is this: You should not only look at relationships and opportunities as two separate pieces, but also treat them as such as you plan and execute your business development tasks.

Whichever system you use to keep track of your BD activities (CRM, post-it notes, whiteboard), separate relationships from opportunities. Every opportunity will ultimately be closed, but relationships can always be nurtured.

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