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#4 Relationship Question: What is the Relationship Gap?

In a prior post I outlined the 5 key questions to develop a relationship strategy and in the last three posts I explained #1: Who Matters?#2: How Do They Think? and # 3: What is your Current Relationship?

Now we know our starting position. In this post I will help you to understand the difference between where we are and the desired state and that’s not always what you expect.

What Is the Relationship Gap?

Now that you have figured out your Current State you can map that to the Desired State. Your Desired State describes what you need to do to be successful in the account – which is dependently primarily on your Relationship, and also on the opportunity – which is influenced by Relationship, but more directly impacted by Preference.

As you know, being a Trusted Advisor takes time and effort, so you need to be selective in deciding:

  • Which accounts your company wants to have Trusted Advisor status with (as an aggregate measure of the relationships between all of the people on your account team with all of the pertinent people in the account), and
  • Who in the customer’s organization merit the effort that it takes to develop a Trusted Advisor relationship.

Whenever you are deciding the Level of Relationship that you need, you always need to ask yourself: “Why is that the right level?” The higher you go up the Business Relationship Pyramid, the more resources you must apply to sustain that level. The lower you are, the fewer opportunities you have to shape requirements. Use the Customer Decision Cycle to assess whether you think that the person / role in the customer organization can establish initiatives, or if they are solely involved in negotiating contracts.

In the chart above the current Level of Relationship with the VP Sales is Problem Solver. That’s not a bad place from which to start, but if the VP Sales is the person who sets the business strategy to respond to the business drivers impacting his company and establishes initiatives to drive growth in his organization, then you will need to be part of those early conversations.

In this example, the current Level of Relationship for Sales Operations is Trusted Advisor. If that is true, it means that you must be spending a lot of time there discussing potential initiatives. Perhaps on reflection you might determine that in fact the Level of Relationship needed for you to be successful here is only Problem Solver, so your investment of time and effort should reflect that.

For any account that you have selected to target (based on an Ideal Customer Profile) you should aim to at least be a Credible Source with each of the people who matter.

Perhaps the most significant discovery from doing the relationship gap analysis in this hypothetical situation is the gap for the Sales Managers. The current Level of Relationship is two levels away from where you need it to be. It may be that you need the Sales Managers to be advocates for you and you have identified that you have some work to do to be viewed as a Problem Solver.

Now let’s look at the gap for Preference.

Let me start by saying this: I never believe that someone is truly Neutral. It’s rare that, if you said to someone that they had to pick between two vendors for a solution, they would be so paralyzed by indecision that they could not make a decision. So if you think a Key Player is Neutral, then you should put on your paranoid hat and assume he is a Non-Supporter. What’s the worst that can happen? You might waste a little time. By assuming that Neutral means Non-Supporter you can then look to bridge to Supporter. Then you might indeed find that there were issues that needed to be resolved that you would have missed if you had not given the relationship gap some attention.

You might be surprised to see that I did not go straight to Mentor as the Desired State for my VP Sales role. Remember a Mentor is a Key Player who is selling on my behalf. If, in this example, the VP Sales is the ‘main man’ – not a technical term – then if he is a Mentor the deal would already be done. Also, if I am successful in elevating my Level of Relationship for him to Trusted Advisor he will by definition be a Mentor anyway.

This leads to a related topic that can help you to determine Desired State as it pertains to Preference, and that is Buying Role. I have listed and defined Buying Roles in the chart below.

You really need to have positive preference – Supporter or Mentor status – with Approvers and Decision Makers. For example if the IT role in the Preference Chart table above (Current State: Non-Supporter, Desired State: Supporter) turns out to be the Decision Maker in an opportunity, you will be less likely to be successful than if that Buying Role was occupied by Sales Operations (Current State: Mentor, Desired State: Mentor). It is also extremely unlikely that you can be successful in a deal if you don‘t have a Mentor. Others will refer to this a Champion or Coach, but whatever sobriquet you choose to use as a label for this role, you definitely need a Mentor, Champion or Coach to win.

Once you can put everyone in the right Buying Role for an opportunity you can use that information to inform the Desired State for Preference.  In my next blog discuss how to bridge the gap so that you can get to your desired relationship state. 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.


About The Author

Donal Daly
Donal Daly
Donal Daly is Executive Chairman of Altify having founded the company in 2005. He is author of numerous books and ebooks including the latest Amazon #1 Bestseller Digital Sales Transformation in a Customer First World (Nov 3, 2017) and his previous Amazon #1 Best-sellers Account Planning in Salesforce and Tomorrow | Today: How AI Impacts How We Work, Live, and Think. Altify is Donal’s fifth global business enterprise.
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