Managing Your Three Relationship Time Horizons
Winning new revenue in the short term while building relationships for the future
Have you felt this way?
- “I know I’ve got to make these investments in building long-term relationships, but I keep getting consumed fighting fires on a day-to-day basis”
- “We’re under pressure to get revenue now, this quarter—it’s hard to balance that with the need to focus on the long term”
Anyone who works with clients has to manage multiple tensions. You have be able to show you’re a deep expert to get new business, but you also have to develop breadth so you can talk about your clients’ broader issues and be seen as a trusted advisor. You have to be a great listener, but you also have to communicate with conviction and have answers.
Most importantly, you must manage and reconcile multiple time horizons—three to be exact. The activities required to master these three horizons will, naturally, overlap on a week in, week out basis. But you must plan for them separately and think about them as distinct challenges.
Let’s look at what these are and how you can master them. Excellence at managing each horizon will supercharge both your relationships and your revenue.
For each of these horizons, I have summarized three things: your Challenge, your Mindset, and your Toolkit.
Horizon One—30 Days: “Sales Mastery"
In the next 30 days, you (hopefully) have some important client interactions to manage that have to do with winning new business. You might have a meeting coming up with a prospect, and you need maximize the impact of that encounter. Or, perhaps you have a proposal that you have to present next week to a group of executives at a current client.
Your Challenge: Turn these leads and proposals, rapidly, into new revenue.
Your Mindset: A sense of urgency and a desire to win. For the next thirty days, with regard to these upcoming meetings, you need to focus like a laser on winning. You need to be so effective in your client conversations, and add so much value, that your clients are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about saying “Yes.”
Your Toolkit: Here’s a summary, presented as a set of questions, of some of the principles you must incorporate into each business development conversation over the next 30 days:
- Have you built a relationship with, or at least met, the economic buyer—the person who will decide?
- Do you understand the client’s agenda of critical priorities, and how the potential engagement supports them?
- Have you explored the breadth of the problem or opportunity sufficiently to present the most complete, highest-impact solution?
- Are you adding value in each conversation with the client? That is, sharing best practices, making thoughtful observations about their own organization, presenting points of view and market insights, and so on?
- Are you making yourself memorable in each client interaction by being challenging and provocative, and asking the thoughtful and original questions that your competition isn’t asking?
- Do you understand the client’s buying process, and who the key stakeholders are?
- Have you built trust in your capabilities and integrity, through sufficient face time, use of case studies and examples, and provision of third-party references and endorsements?
Horizon Two—Six Months: “Network Mastery”
The next six months is a good time frame to plan and execute activities that will both deepen and expand your network.
Your Challenge: Deepen connections with key individuals—clients and others—and expand your network into new circles.
Your Mindset: Patience and a long-term focus. A generous spirit and long-term perspective must infuse your networking efforts. You may feel some interactions are a “waste of time” but the fact is, you don’t know this for sure right now. This more open, patient attitude contrasts with the focus on winning the sale that must prevail for Horizon One.
Your Toolkit: Here’s a summary of some of the principles your behavior must embody over the next six months:
- Build your relationships around great conversations, not showing the other person how brilliant you are.
- Build your network before you need it
- Love your work and show that you love it to others—enthusiasm is attractive and contagious
- Help others and share your wisdom with no expectation of receiving anything in return
- Follow the person not the position. Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, and ambitious people—and follow them throughout their careers
- Be authentic: Be who you are–introverted, extroverted, cerebral, empathetic, whatever it is–all of the time
- Give some trust to start the trust-building process
- Be genuinely interested in others
Horizon Three—Two Years: “Personal Brand Mastery”
Whether you are a solo practitioner or work for a large firm that itself has a great brand, you must develop your own marketplace renown. If potential clients don’t know who you are, you will spend a lot of your time cold-calling and responding to competitive RFPs (“Requests for Proposals”). The difficulty is balancing these long-term investments in your market reputation with your short-term opportunities in Horizon One and your medium-term network-building activities in Horizon Two.
Your Challenge: Become known as one of a handful of truly “go-to experts” in your field and your chosen market, so that leads and inquiries flow to you on a regular basis. This is a multi-year challenge, not something you do in a few months.
Your Mindset: Spreading your thought leadership to the world. Your mindset in Horizon One is determination to win the sale, and in Horizon Two it’s around creating long-term connections with others. For this Horizon it must be singularly focused on cultivating your thought leadership and getting it in front of buyers and influencers.
Your Toolkit: Here are a series of questions you should ask yourself about your marketplace renown or personal brand, by way of chrystallizing what you need to be focused on:
- Can you summarize your value proposition—how you help clients—in one short sentence?
- What evidence do you have of the strength of your personal brand or marketplace renown? (e.g., a steady stream of high-quality, unsolicited leads? High search engine rankings? A record of publications? High-profile speaking engagements? Endorsments from the most respected companies in the marketplace you serve? Etc.)
- This year, what brand-building activities do you have in your calendar? (note: you should probably have selected three or four things you’re going to focus on–e.g., publish one article, moderate a panel at a conference, etc.)
- Do you protect the time allocated to your brand-building activities as if these were client engagements? Or do you cancel them whenever something more urgent and immediate comes up?
These three Horizons are summarized in the table, below:
You must concurrently manage your activities for all three of these time horizons. On any given day, you may do something that pertains to each one–e.g., give a sales presentation, have lunch with a past client, and pitch a speech idea to a conference organizer. The secret lies in thinking explicitly about each horizon, planning for it, and approaching it with the right mindset.
ABOUT ANDREW SOBEL
Andrew Sobel helps companies and individuals build clients for life. He is the most widely published author in the world on the topic of business relationships, and his bestselling books include Power Questions, All for One, Making Rain, and Clients for Life. His clients include many of the world's leading companies such as Citigroup, Hess, Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cognizant, Deloitte, Experian, Lloyds Banking Group, Bain & Company, and many others. Andrew's articles and work have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, USA Today, strategy+business, and the Harvard Business Review. He spent 15 years at Gemini Consulting where he was a Senior Vice President and Country Chief Executive Officer, and for the last 15 years he has led his own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors.
He can be reached at andrewsobel.com