The Business Relationships Maturity Continuum

The business of sales is about people and it’s about relationships. I have written before about dream clients and nightmare clients, and how you should focus your limited time and attention on your dream clients (you don’t have time for anything less).

The chart below is something I sketched out called the Business Relationships Maturity Continuum. At first glance, you are going to start dumping your clients, dream clients, and nightmare clients into the appropriate boxes, and you will be tempted to use it to validate your beliefs.

But more than just your clients belong in each of these columns and the accompanying rows. You and your company also fit pretty neatly into the very same boxes in which you would put your clients.

alt text for the maturity continuum chartRelationships

When your client is immature in their business relationships, they treat you as an adversary. Anything you do that might be good for you is automatically perceived as a loss for them. Anything that they need to produce better results must come at your expense alone. They are completely inflexible.

On the other end of the spectrum, your clients and dream clients that are more mature treat you as a partner. They seek to find ways for you to gain efficiencies, and they are willing to work with you to make changes that benefit both of you in a positive way. They are flexible.

All this is true about your company, too.

Your company may speak poorly about your customers and refer to them in a manner that makes it sound as if your clients are your enemy, and that anything they want is unreasonable and done at your expense. Your company may believe anything that you do for your client is a loss for you, instead of seeking ways to make their needs mutually beneficial. It’s not easy to find ways to do so, but that is what separates the professionals from the pretenders.

Immature relationships are vendor-customer relationships, in the middle of the continuum these relationships are vendor-of-choice – customer relationships, and at the mature end of the spectrum are true strategic partner–client relationships.

For your part, you should be working towards the good end of the maturity continuum.

Responsibility for Outcomes

In immature business relationships, your client believes that you alone are responsible for creating the outcomes that your product or service is supposed to help to produce. They accept none of the responsibility for ensuring that the change initiative succeeds, and they are not willing to make any changes to ensure that they achieve the outcomes that they need.

In immature relationships, your clients believe all problems are your and yours alone.

Wrongly, they believe and behave as if changing vendors will result in an improved result, and they move from one vendor to the next, never accepting the fact that the failure is largely caused by their approach and a lack of maturity in business relationships.

Your organization may sometimes be guilty of the same. You may believe that it your responsibility to deliver your product or service to their doors, leaving the responsibility for ensuring that your client achieves the result to your client alone. You may believe that all problems are your client’s problems alone, sharing none of the responsibility for outcomes.

Mature companies and mature relationships are built on shared ownership of the results that are being pursued together. They work very closely to ensure that they achieve those results, sharing the responsibility.

When the inevitable problems occur, mature business partners seek first to understand and identify which part of the problem they are responsible for and how they can make changes on their end. They don’t begin by assuming or blaming their partner.

Immature business relationships produce poor results, in the middle of the continuum maturing businesses produce the industry standard results, and at the good end they produce the breath-taking, jaw-dropping, and earth shattering results that produce the best outcomes for both companies.

Information

In immature business relationships, information isn’t shared. Your client won’t give you access to the information that you need to help them produce the results that they need. They believe that sharing information with you is a threat to their business and to their holding the upper hand in the relationship.

More mature business relationships are built on trust. This trust enables transparency and shared information. Mature business partners believe that you need access to the information that will enable you to be a strategic partner for them, thinking ahead, identifying ways to add additional value, and participating as if you are an owner with them in the results produced—you are part of their team. They want—and need—for you to have information and to use it for their benefit.

All of this is true about you and your company. You may not share information because you perceive it as a threat, you may believe that your ability to protect your pricing is based on your ability to keep secrets and that anything you give up can and will be used against you.

Some of this might be true—depending on where your client is on the maturity continuum. But your first obligation is to take care of your end of the Business Relationships Maturity Continuum.

Questions

Why are some business relationships adversarial? How do you deal with adversarial clients and adversarial elements within your clients?

What are the elements for professional, mature, business relationships? How are they defined? How does the client think of the sales organization? How does the sales organization think of the client? How does what they believe dictate their actions and behaviors towards one another?

In great business relationships, how is ownership of the outcomes shared? What are the behaviors and actions that allow these outcomes to be shared, even when there are distinct and different responsibilities?

How do companies on the immature end of the continuum treat problems? How about more mature companies?

What are your responsibilities in regard to where you sit on this continuum?

For more on increasing your sales effectiveness, subscribe to the RSS Feed for The Sales Blog and my Email Newsletter. Follow me on Twitter, connect to me on LinkedIn, or friend me on Facebook. If I can help you or your sales organization, check out my coaching and consulting firm, B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, email me, or call me at (614) 212-4729.

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