Identifying a relationship opportunity - the types of people we meet


This post is part 3 in a series on communicating in your business. See post 1 (Why don’t we ask for what we want?) and post 2 (Navigating your initial interaction - why you don’t need to '“catch ‘em all”) to get the full story.

In our previous post, we uncovered the danger of focusing on the quantity of interactions rather than the quality. But it is time to dig a bit deeper to explore what these types of interactions really could be. One of the things that many folks struggle with in response to a discussion like that one is that it is hard to envision or predict where a relationship might go. How are they supposed to be able to see that opportunity after a single encounter?

When we talk about identifying the potential relationship, it doesn’t mean that you have to KNOW for sure whether this person is going to transform your technology or your business. It starts by simply understanding the bucket that they fall into and the value proposition for them to continue working with you. At the end of the day, they need to get something out of it or it is unlikely they will stick around.

This, truly, is the bedrock of the concept of Social Capital. It might sound like we are reducing relationships to something much more transactional than we want them to be, but in our next post we’ll talk about how to avoid that “icky” sales feeling when offering your vision for a relationship or a collaboration. Before you tell people what you want from them you need to be able to see it for yourself. How you tell that story to someone else is different than how you analyze it at home. Below we are going to walk through the questions you want to be asking yourself when you meet someone new. This is essentially how you accomplish the interactional goal we talked about in our last post.

Question 1 - Is this person involved in my work?

If this seems basic, it’s because it is - but you need to start at the very beginning and cover all your bases. Not everyone you meet is going to be directly connected to what you do, though they might find it interesting. Before you beat your head against a wall trying to make a relationship, be honest - do they have any stake in what it is you are doing?

Question 2 - What type of stakeholder are they?

Once you have established that, yes, this person can benefit or be involved in the work that you are doing, then you have to figure out where exactly they fall. Most everyone will fall into one of the three following categories:

  1. People influenced BY your work (direct customers or tangential/adjacent markets)

    Example: If you are a dairy farmer, the people who drink your milk are direct customers, as are companies who make ice cream and other dairy products.

  2. People who can impact and influence the work YOU do (industry leaders and shapers, competitors, regulatory bodies, and companies who build products you use or need)

    Example: In our dairy farmer scenario, this could be everything from the people who came up with the “got milk?” campaign to the bloggers who are arguing that soymilk is better, to the soymilk producers themselves. They are the people who can dramatically change the landscape and market in which you will be forced to work.

  3. Industry and technical experts (people who can validate your product or in some way change or influence the decisions you make as a technologist and/or business owner)

    Example: A dairy farmer may want to talk to a food scientist, GMO expert, or agricultural economist to find out how they can make the best decisions for their business for years to come. The big distinction between these experts and the influencers in the second category is time - the people in the second category are making those impacts in the here and now, while the folks in this category are looking at where the industry is going long term.

To really grasp what this looks like for you, sit down and brainstorm different people and entities that fall into each of these buckets. If you’re not a dairy farmer, what sorts of examples fit for your business?

Question 3 - What value do you have to offer this person?

This is of course the beginning of the deeper conversation, and this is the part of the story that is essentially where the relationship development takes place. You won’t be able to fully answer this question after a single conversation, and the answer may change from your initial vision to something completely different. But you need to be able to give SOME sort of structure to a future engagement so that you have something productive and concrete to talk about when you propose a second discussion. The easiest way is to take the examples you came up with above and map out what that value proposition is for each category of people. We’ll keep on with our dairy farmer example.

  • People influenced by your work either want to buy your product or they experience an impact indirectly. They might buy your milk at the store, or they might experience the difference in quality of their favorite ice cream if your milk is incorporated into the recipe. Another useful approach is to think of yourself as one of the category 2 influencers in this person’s business. The market is after all just one big interconnected web. Bottom line: You offer them a great product that they want.

  • People who influence your work are invested in the market in some other way. They might have a massive social media following that influences how your customers make their choices. They might have strong opinions in how dairy farms operate because they are concerned about the cows. They might be a competitor, whether direct or indirect. Bottom line: These are your potential advocates, partners, and collaborators. You offer them an opportunity to further their own brand or agenda.

  • People who are experts in the industry or field are dedicated to sustainability and long term growth. These are the people who can offer a third-party validation of your work (i.e., this farmer’s methods are sustainable and ethical and healthy and the milk is high quality). You offer them a credible contribution to the field and the opportunity to carry out their goals and legacy in some way. These are your advisors and champions, and connections to other key influencers in category 2.

There will be overlap between categories - people rarely fit into archetypes like this. But walking through this exercise and considering your network and the market in this way will help you start to differentiate between the types of relationships you are engaged in and perhaps will help you see where you have some gaps. From there, it’s a question of communicating your need and opportunity to the other person. Up next - asking for what you want. Stay tuned!