As ever, more good sense from Mr Maister. I like his distinction between illustrating and asserting – much like my example of "show" versus "tell" in connection with press releases.
DM: Virtually every company I meet says they have a strategy of growing their key relationships.
However, whenever I ask to see the plans of what they intend to do to build these relationships, it becomes immediately clear that what they have is a sales plan, not a relationship plan.
The difference should be (but clearly isn’t) obvious. A sales plan is about getting straight to what the provider wants: assignments and revenues. Sales plans, which are almost always aimed at a short-term impact, are filled of activities about "cross-selling’ – making more contacts and setting up CRM systems to ensure that coverage and frequency is adhered to.
I have no moral objection to this approach, except for the misappropriation of the word "relationship" as a proxy for the word sales.
However, I do have doubts that this kind of approach will produce what the firms are looking for.
A relationship plan is what it says it is: a set of activitites designed to build and deepen an asset – the relationship. The theory is that, where there is a strong asset – a strong relationship bond – there WILL BE a (greater) stream of revenues in the future. But to get there, you must focus on activities which are not designed to generate sales, but to earn and deserve the relationship.
A relationship plan, to be effective, is all, about figuring out what you could do FOR this client (unpaid) to invest in the relationship, in order to predispose the client to use you more frequently (and for more interesting things) in the future.
A good "invest in the relationship" tactic passes three tests:
1. It shows that you are willing to invest your own time to earn and deserve the relationship
2. It’s done insuch a way that, by doing it, you get to learn more about the client
3. It’s done in such a way that you get the chance to illustrate, not assert, that you can be useful to the client above and beyond the specifics of what you are working on now for the client.
Tested against these criteria, few firms (or individuals) have well-thought-out relationship plans. All they have are vague plans to go see someone in the hopes that a job will come out of it.