When Do You Blow Up a Relationship?

Recently, a number of salespeople have asked me when I would blow up a relationship to advance an opportunity. Here is the scenario.

You are working within your dream client’s company, and you have found a power sponsor to coach you and forward your case. So far, so good. But as you work together, over time you discover that you need another contact within the organization in order to win an opportunity. It shouldn’t be a problem, but it is. Instead of helping you to open that new relationship with the person that you need, your power sponsor doesn’t want to let you out of the box.

Sticking with your power sponsor alone might yield you a little business. Getting to the other person would give you a much larger, much greater value-creating opportunity. It would make the difference for both you and your client.

What to do?

First resorts and last resorts

We are sometimes too quick to act in situations like this one. A thoughtful approach is better than going forward half-cocked. For me, blowing up the relationship would a measure of the very last resort, not a first—or even a second—option. Fortunately, it is rare that you should have to blow up a relationship.

So what is the first option?

Understand their resistance

Your power sponsor’s resistance to letting you past may be completely irrational. It might be corporate politics. It could be a longstanding grudge. It could be a battle over internal resources. Maybe they’re jealous. Or maybe they just want to own the initiative because they need it to do well within their own organization.

The truth is that you don’t know why your power sponsor isn’t letting you through, and without that knowledge you can’t do anything about it.

Your first obligation to your relationship is to assume that they have some reason to resist allowing you to approach their counterpart, and that it is your obligation to discover that reason and mitigate it.

Relationships are built on trust. Be honest.

The easiest way to ask your power sponsor to let you past is to be honest. As decisions are made more and more by consensus, it is likely that you are going to need to develop relationships throughout your dream client’s company. You are going to have to talk about whom you need on the team, even when it is uncomfortable.

You might simply say: “I appreciate our relationship, and I appreciate what you’ve done for me. But my experience tells me that we aren’t going to be able to produce the results we need to unless we can get Jim on the team and address his needs. You’ve been hesitant to make that introduction, and I’d like to understand what you think we risk by bringing him into this discussion. Can you share your thoughts with me?”

This may be uncomfortable, but we build deep, strong, trust-based relationships so that we can have these conversations.

Mitigate the damage.

Once you know why your power sponsor is resistant to allowing you to pass, you can do something to mitigate the risk. If they fear losing control, you can insist that you will continue to meet with them to ensure that their needs are considered, that you won’t let them get buried. If it’s a grudge, you’ll be surprised how easily they let you go directly to your needed contact once you ask. In fact, most of the time your fears aren’t accurate at all, and by asking you will be given permission to bring in the other contacts—especially if you include them in the planning and management of that activity.

Here are a couple other important ideas to consider.

I would ask others to help me influence my power sponsor before I would destroy that relationship. This is politics. This is building consensus. You may not be interested in playing politics, but it’s interested in you.

It’s also a mistake to believe that you have to destroy your relationship and make an enemy in order to penetrate the organization. This is rarely true. There are plenty of options to take before you ever get to that point, including having someone else in your organization call on the other stakeholder you need so that you retain your power sponsor’s relationship.

I’d try like the devil to take an approach that builds advocates before adversaries every time. Unless there is a time sensitive opportunity and your client’s survival is at risk, I’d exhaust better options first.


Why do some contacts try to prevent you from penetrating deeper into their organization?

What do you to make new contacts without alienating or blowing up your sponsors?

What options can you take to bridge departments before you consider doing something that will alienate your contact and create an adversary?

How do you develop the trust that allows you to have difficult conversations?

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