The PHCP-PVF industry is built on relationships. And yet it’s hard for me to believe in 2016, a full eight years after I published the original edition of “Relationship Economics,” I still see professionals in this industry undervaluing the asset that is your portfolio of relationships.
Strategic relationships resist competition on mere features or function. Somebody always will come along with a better mousetrap, a cheaper price or flashier marketing materials. But it’s difficult for any of them to replicate the depth and breadth of your relationship portfolio. Relationships are the only sustainable competitive differentiation that counts.
Quite simply, we all tend to prioritize the people we like and respect. When they ask something of us, we respond and we expect they will do the same for us. We make referrals and introductions based on the confidence and trust we feel toward that relationship.
I have identified six dimensions in the development of these strategic relationships. To differentiate yourself in a crowded field, pay attention to each.
Mapping: You cannot invest in everybody equally, so how will you be proactive about identifying who is worth your time and likewise who you can be of value to? How can you connect with them? Plan a strategy to achieve your goals more quickly by knowing what you need and who in your network can best provide it.
Relating: Once introduced to a potentially strategic relationship, start creating a connection that makes you what I call an “object of interest,” someone who is worth the time to get to know. Strategic relationships form between individuals — not logos or brochures — so bring your own authenticity, your candor and your emotional intelligence to this phase. Make commitments you can keep and follow through to build trust and confidence in your integrity.
Nurturing: Show the full value of having a relationship with you. Constantly be open to insights about what your relationships need and show what you can offer with a high level of competency. This nurturing phase is where you differentiate yourself. Be sure to confirm the value you deliver is recognized. The goal of this phase is to shift your relationships from valuing what you give them to valuing you.
Sustaining: Use regular contact to deepen your relevance. Encourage your relationships to reveal more of themselves. This phase is characterized by trust and candor. You know you have a sustaining relationship when the other person will tell you if you make a mistake. Actively help relationships grow by staying in touch and finding opportunities to interact.
Requesting: You will know a relationship is ripe for the requesting dimension by signals that you have become an object of interest. If your emails and phone calls are promptly returned, if your offer to meet for coffee gets on the calendar, if the other person initiates invitations — you are ready to make occasional requests. To effectively frame your requests, be clear and specific about what you want. Allow a reasonable amount of time and make it easy for others to follow through. Express gratitude when someone agrees to your request. If someone chooses not to assist you, don’t force the issue. Whenever you ask for help, frame your requests so it’s as easy as possible for others to say yes.
Capitalizing: In the capitalizing phase, you move into stewardship of the asset that is your relationship portfolio. With each strategic relationship, you personally are operating at a level of confidence and trust. The pride and passion flow both ways. You have a vested interest in each other and ambitious goals that reflect your mutual best interests. Encourage key long-term relationships to grow in ways that benefit both of you.
Now here’s the paradigm shift. These are not rungs on a ladder or a step-by-step guide to networking success. The six dimensions of strategic relationships are fluid. You always should take responsibility for strategically mapping and capitalizing because these are your opportunities to create net-new value and to elevate existing value in your relationships. Meanwhile, with each relationship you have prioritized as strategic, you should be actively pursuing the tactics inside the “golden frame” of relating, nurturing, sustaining and requesting.
Networking is mere table stakes in today’s economy. The relationship focus that will truly differentiate you in a commoditized industry is based on deepening relationships through these six dimensions, intentionally and consistently. Try it and you will see being relationship-focused pays dividends as valuable as any that show up on an organization’s balance sheet.