03/18/2014 03:37 pm ET Updated May 18, 2014

Don't Wing It -- To Strategically Position Yourself, Do Your Due Diligence

There's a difficult truth many of us need to face: When it comes to our due diligence, the more seasoned we become, the more likely we are to try to "wing it." If we really want to achieve strategic results from our most significant relationships, that's a definitive weakness.

I recently met with what could become a potentially strategic partnership. My goal in asking for the meeting was to explore whether I could add value based on a common vision, mission, or threat. The organization is a grant-making philanthropic foundation founded by our government. (If I told you more, I'd have to kill you, as I needed my U.S. Passport to get past the front door!!)

I've spent a quarter of a century focusing on making business relationships yield strategic results, working with leading brands, Fortune 100 companies, and professional associations. But never have I worked in a grant environment or a government entity for that matter. If I want to strategically position myself for this relationship to succeed, I can't wing it. I don't JUST have to do my homework -- I've got to enroll in a whole new school of due diligence.

What and who: subject matter and relational due diligence
When high-potential relationships are in development, the need for extensive due diligence increases. Your research before a meeting, contextual relevancy during it, and follow-through afterward are the three pillars that support your strategic position as an asset bringing significant value-add. Neglect your due diligence (before, during, or after engaging with a relationship) at your own risk.

In my research on the grant environment, I've seen that each grant-making body has a definitive market position and a philanthropic cause. These drive all strategic decisions. Before you can get your foot in the door, you have to deeply understand your target's position and purpose. Grantors publish information about their areas of focus and expertise. You can find out what they've funded in the past; whether they partner with other foundations; what results their funding has achieved. In private industry such information may be more closely held, but can be located through the business press, interviews with industry insiders, or other research techniques.

But that is subject matter due diligence. What about relational due diligence? Who are the program directors? How do they review their funding options? LinkedIn is a great place to start researching relationships, but don't stop there. The more research you can do in advance of a meeting, the more strategically you can position yourself from the offset.

Once you have a meeting, prepare to be contextually relevant in everything you think, do, and say. Your research prepares you to discern what will spark the attention of your new relationship. Let what I call the #New Norm drive the conversation -- objectives, measures, and value. Questions about these subjects should lead to candid discussion of this person's challenges and opportunities. Like a trial attorney who won't ask a question he doesn't know the answer to, I go in having done my due diligence; I know what I believe the answers to these questions will be. But I want to hear it in their words. I want him to say, "This is my top priority." I want her to say, "This is what I really get excited about."

Specificity drives credibility -- and it goes both ways
I look for specifics in the answers to my questions. The more specific examples you can uncover, the more directly you can relate what you bring to the table to others' needs. A specific answer to a question like "What partnerships work well for you?" opens the door for you to describe your value-add in the context of their strategic priorities. I strive to be specific in my responses as well.

It's critical that you follow their lead, but guide the conversation. Have the self-discipline to resist going on tangents or being verbose. There's value in brevity. Have the emotional intelligence to let them lead you where they need to go -- which is to believe that you can help solve their challenges. If you've strategically positioned yourself with due diligence, your new relationship should be ready to believe you, believe IN you, and buy from you -- not just products and services, but your unique perspective and independent insights.

Due diligence is never done
A contextually relevant interaction creates belief that you are well aligned on what they are looking for and what you bring. Before you leave a meeting with a potential strategic relationship, propose a definitive next step. Again, specificity matters: not "let's talk next month" but "let's check our calendars, how's Tuesday the 15th at 3 o'clock for a follow up conversation?"

Following a meeting with a strong strategic relationship, there will typically be many action items, some internal, some external. It's on you to prioritize and where appropriate, delegate the follow-through. Your role is one of a "Relationship Quarterback." You bring the pieces back together in tangible communications that reinforce your credibility and legitimacy. That's how strategic relationships achieve a positive trajectory.

To maintain that trajectory, the due diligence process must continue. If you've been successful in initiating a relationship, you will have additional meetings. How will you continue to background yourself in relevant subject matter and relationships? How will you keep asking contextually relevant questions? How will you exhibit the follow-through that makes you a valued contributor to others' desired outcomes?

The gravity of my recent meeting with the philanthropic foundation reminded me that too often, those of us with depth of experience allow ourselves to wing it. Especially if we've partnered with someone to get in the door, are we briefing in advance of that visit, and debriefing afterward?

The more seasoned we become, the more we trust our instincts, and the more our busy schedules conspire to block our good intentions. And yet, none of us can strategically position ourselves for success in new relationships if we neglect ongoing due diligence on contextually relevant subject matter and relationships.

Nour Takeaways
  1. When initiating new relationships, prioritize due diligence on both subject matter and key relationships.
  2. To increase your credibility, seek specificity in both the questions you ask and the answers you give.
  3. Be a "Relationship Quarterback" who reliably follows through by delegating, but never neglecting to deliver tangible next steps that reinforce your credibility.

David Nour is an enterprise growth strategist and the thought leader on Relationship Economics® -- the quantifiable value of business relationships. He has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics -- Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact -- Leadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE). Learn more at