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A new model for building enduring business relationships: Organize, connect, and grow

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Author photo: Dennis Fois

Dennis Fois


In my last post, Why the 35-year-old CRM model needs to change, I addressed the need for a new model around which to orient CRM — one that doesn’t impose a rigid, one-size-fits-all sales funnel onto our business relationships. What I proposed instead is a new approach built around the three key principles of organizing, connecting, and growing relationships.

Let’s dive into those principles, what they might look like, and how we can begin to set them up.

Notice there are no arrows between the boxes. This model does not represent a linear process. It represents three facets of relationship-building exercised multiple times throughout a customer journey. Customers consistently look for functionality along these facets:

  1. They need to achieve a very high level of organization around their prospects, customers and employees. Organization is extremely specific to defining the steps they'll take to chart the growth of a relationship.
  2. They need to establish a cadence across their teams for the conversations held between the business and a prospective or current client, along with full and clear visibility into all of those conversations.
  3. They need to take intentional — but flexible — steps to grow a relationship before, during and after the sale. This is the ultimate way to grow the business.

Let’s dissect each of these facets in detail.

Organizing principles: relationship types and levels of influence

Think about the personal system you have in place for staying connected with the people in your life. It probably looks like some combination of labeling emails, marking things as unread, searching for contact information, combing through sent emails to jog your memory, taking notes in a separate app or on paper, and a bunch of other discrete and frustrating tasks in an attempt to keep order.

This system is no different in a business environment, and while today’s CRM solutions will give you a neat list of leads and opportunities, they don’t do nearly enough in terms of contextualizing those line items for you.

Labeling relationship types

So we start with categorization. When I think of my own relationships I can quickly come up with some labels like Colleague, Prospect, Customer, VIP, Investor, Analyst, Vendor and Influencer. CRM should help me easily label my business contacts and move personal contacts or cold outreach out of my view.

I know what you’re thinking right now: CRM does this already. I just set up a custom field. But that thinking is highly impractical for three reasons:

  1. Custom fields require common field values or they’re useful to no one in a database-oriented platform. This means everyone has to centralize on the same values, which sets a rigid tone. They should be free to create their own labeling system.
  2. Custom fields have become a crutch — and a proxy — for supposed flexibility in CRM. If we create a custom field for everything we need, we end up with nothing more than a glorified database with legions of custom fields. This mess is frankly what happens with CRM today.
  3. The most important issue is this: For 35 years, CRM systems have forced you to look at lead lists outside of the system where you’re working. You go to the CRM, look at the lead, go back to your email, send the note, rinse and repeat. It’s confounding. In my mind CRM and my communications platforms need to be perfectly intertwined, to the point where I can operate and organize from a single platform. This will put me in the optimal position to start the real work.

Labeling degree of influence

There’s a second degree of categorization among prospects: How does an individual relate to a target company? Is this person the buyer, the sponsor, the champion, the informed, the influencer or the advisor? What is their perceived stance? Pro, neutral or against? This information indicates the level of influence they’ll have on the buying process, and tells me something about how I should be communicating with them.

Understanding network connections

In addition to relationship type and degree of influence, it pays to understand the network connections with the prospective customer. LinkedIn provides us with a guidepost here: If you were to look at your prospect’s LinkedIn profile, you could see any and all of the connections you share in common. Imagine doing that across your entire organization and your prospect’s entire organization. Let CRM discover the strongest connections that already exist between the two companies, and then lean on those connections to further develop the relationship.

Even here at Copper, I see leads come in from companies where I personally know people. That isn’t necessarily why they became a lead — in fact they may not even know I work here — but I always offer my account executives an introduction.

Now, this is not some fluffy, soft nice-to-have; it’s a critical “in” with a prospective client. How is it that something that calls itself “Customer Relationship Management” is completely ignorant of networked connections across a team and a prospect?

Supporting experiences for genuine outreach

CRM is not remotely experiential today. But relationship building is. There’s a ton of psychology behind how we build relationships. Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion are a good start. I cannot tell you how many times we hear requests from customers to provide a mechanism to store and recall small bits of personal information about prospects that help them establish trust and reciprocity. (“Did you break 90 yet?” “I heard Ken Follett has a new book out.” “Can you believe that French Poodle won Westminster?”).

Remember, the Principle of Liking states that people are more likely to be persuaded by someone if they actually like them. The development of this affinity is generally based on the establishment of shared interests.

There are other principles of persuasion we all use to cultivate relationships:

  • The Principle of Reciprocity states that you’ll do something for me if I do something for you.
  • The Principle of Commitment and Consistency, where I do what I say I’m going to do, and I manage your expectations of me correctly.

There are more, and I could easily write a separate post on this. The point is, relationship building is more coded than we think. A lot of us do these things naturally — especially in our personal relationships. Thinking about them more intentionally within the lens of CRM would help us ensure nothing falls through the cracks and enable relationship growth to happen optimally but still organically.

It’s hard to imagine a checklist of psychology concepts showing up alongside your leads, but I believe that we can use nudges in CRM to ensure that we’re doing all the things we should be doing.

Taking the next step in building relationships with CRM

So to recap: Organize my inbox to show me only what matters, hide what doesn’t, and contextualize everything. That is the first ask of today’s CRM. And now that we’ve applied some levels of organization to our relationships, we can then determine when and how we want to connect with these contacts. Stay tuned for more on connections in my next post.

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