04/06/2015 04:43 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2015

To Be a Priority to Your Strategic Relationships, Reduce Pain or Bring Gains

Do you have a methodology for helping your strategic relationships achieve their desired outcomes? If you don't, you have slim hopes of becoming or remaining a priority to them. You cannot be impactful with them if you cannot sustain their interest in you.

To be a priority to your strategic relationships, you have to focus, prioritize, and hustle--in that order. Focus allows you to prioritize where to put your effort. Then, you hustle. If you get this sequence wrong, you waste precious resources. On a recent ski vacation with my family, I quickly realized that if I'm exhausted after a two-minute run, I'm expending too much energy. If you're tired after hustling, you're expending too much fuel pursuing the wrong priorities.

To focus your effort for maximum relationship results, understand what others are trying to accomplish. Not what activities they're doing, but what outcomes they're trying to achieve. The authors of The Innovator's Toolkit identified four outcome dimensions:
  1. Functional: task accomplishment
  2. Social: status, acceptance
  3. Emotional: personal wellbeing
  4. Ancillary: secondary, complementary outcomes

Your relationships seek out solutions (and don't forget, YOU are a solution) when constraints, such as limited knowledge, or a lack of influential relationships, prevent them from achieving their outcomes. To have positive impact on your relationships--the kind that gets your emails and phone calls returned--focus on accelerating their outcomes by reducing their pains or generating gains.

Reduce your relationships' pain

People will do more to avoid pain than to attain gain. If you have a headache in the middle of the night, you'll tear the house apart to find an aspirin. If you have a craving for chocolate, you're more able to say "that can wait." What are your relationships' pains?
  1. Functional pain: the old solution to a particular process is no longer working adequately.
  2. Social pain: that problem is causing perceived lack of status.
  3. Emotional pain: the function and social pain is causing personal stress.
  4. Ancillary: evaluating and selecting a new solution, then making the switch, will is just plain annoying to deal with.
In my relationships I look for pain triggers: Perhaps something is...
  • Too costly, in terms of time, resources or dollars.
  • Simply not a strategic priority; will never be worth that individual's time to try to do or learn on their own.
  • Currently underperforming. For example, newly hired talent isn't working out and team can't get the results it needs.
  • Fundamentally flawed. Root causes are not properly understood; the individual is framing the wrong problem.
  • Causing a negative social impact, such as loss of status.
  • Simply too risky, in financial, social, or technical terms.

Examples: As a consultant with global experience, I have attained growth for my relationships by focusing on reducing pain from cross-cultural relationships gone awry. I've seen situations where a new executive comes in with new initiatives but lacks skill at change management, or a team selects a good solution but deploys it in the wrong manner. All cause pain. If you reduce that pain, you deepen your strategic priority to that relationship.

Drive gains for your relationships

Gains are the ways you and your relationships are of mutual benefit to each other. Like pain triggers, four "outcome" dimensions can analyze gains. What are the potential gains that together, you can achieve better than either of you could alone?
  1. Functional: accomplish more, more quickly.
  2. Social: be recognized for accomplishments.
  3. Emotional: Create positive feelings for individuals and teams.
  4. Ancillary: save money or another resource as a consequence.
With strategic relationships I look for ways I can contribute to others' gains. What would...
  • Make them happy? Perhaps I can accelerate their time to results, or make their staff shine.
  • Exceed their expectations? I can understand what they expect; and then go above and beyond.
  • Delight, wow? I can set myself apart by adding value; "Look at what we got in a half day with David!"
  • Make life easier? I try to be a good relationship partner: easy to get hold of, adaptable to their needs, pleasant to work with.
  • Have positive impact on the social dimension? I seek ways I can increase their repute.
  • Aspirations? I work to uncover what they want to be remembered for.

Pay close attention to what your relationships mention, for their language holds clues to the outcomes they value most, and how they prefer to interact. I believe that what we hold in our subconscious effects our conscious actions. If they say "I need to see that" they have a visual style. If they say "I need to hear more evidence" they have an auditory style. Listen for how they define success. What are their metrics of success? I like to phrase this as, "Fast-forward to the conclusion of this engagement. What would success look like? What did we accomplish?"

Insights into others' pains and gains are the key to being truly useful to your strategic relationships. And that utility is what helps you become and remain a priority.

Nour Takeaways
  1. To sustain growth in your relationships, and remain an object of interest, you need a methodology, such as the framework of function, social, emotional, and ancillary outcomes identified in The Innovator's Toolkit.
  2. People will do more to avoid pain than to attain gain, so use this framework to find pain triggers you can alleviate for your relationships, and thus deepen your strategic priority.
  3. Use this framework to identify potential gains that you can achieve better together than either of you could alone.

David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® - the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Siemens, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour 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