A former colleague recently sought out some advice about a relationship she had with a customer.  I provided some ideas to think through how much she should invest in that relationship. This piece sets a framework to “codify” that advice.

The idea is to evaluate a relationship with a customer through this framework to see what actions, if any, are appropriate to advance your cause.

First, the dimensions:

Relationship – here we just want to establish if one has a relationship with a customer contact or not.  If you placed a call to a contact, would they take your call?  Would they return your call? 

Organizational power – is the person someone with the ability to advance your cause? Similarly, is their influence enough to subvert an initiative?  These people can make or break your goals.

Perception – how are your company and products perceived?  Here the idea is to disconnect you from the company.  If the customer contact has a positive impression of you, but a negative one with respect to your company, call this person a detractor. 

Activity level – this is an attempt to account for the possibility that people with power (or not) tend to sometimes act and sometimes remain quite complacent.  Sometimes people with strong opinions do nothing with them.  And sometimes, people may stir up quite a bit of noise on your behalf – which may work for or against your agenda.

Next, the framework:

RelationshipOrganizational powerCorporate or Product PerceptionActivity levelDO THIS
NoLowDetractorPassiveLow risk, move on
NoLowDetractorActiveModerate risk, monitor perception
NoHighDetractorPassiveModerate risk, improve perception
NoLowAdvocatePassiveLow potential, activate
YesLowDetractorPassiveLow risk, move on
NoHighDetractorActiveHigh risk, improve perception
NoHighAdvocatePassiveMed potential, develop relationship
NoLowAdvocateActiveMed potential, make a hero
YesLowDetractorActiveModerate risk, improve perception
YesHighDetractorPassiveModerate risk, improve perception
YesLowAdvocatePassiveLow potential, make a hero
NoHighAdvocateActiveHigh potential, find a sponsor
YesHighDetractorActiveHigh risk, improve perception
YesHighAdvocatePassiveMed potential, activate
YesLowAdvocateActiveMed potential, make a hero
YesHighAdvocateActiveHigh potential, leverage

Of course, human relationships are complex and multi-dimensional.  This model doesn’t attempt to cover all possibilities, just a few of the dimensions that seem most relevant. 

The pivot point is that to develop a customer relationship, you must first start from the current state.  Only then can you determine the type and level of investment you should make in such a relationship.

What other dimensions are useful when considering how to develop customer relationships?   

A Framework for Developing Customer Relationships
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