Grow Your Firm Exponentially with Relationship Ecosystems

The connected economy is a phrase attributed to marketing expert Seth Godin. Economic value has shifted over the decades from a single focus on transactions or the production of things, to today, where relationships and connections are more crucial than ever in creating value.

In this series, I’m covering the topic of cross selling to clients. In the first article, we explored how to uncover cross-selling opportunities by leveraging existing client meetings. This article will look at how to cultivate the right relationships, so you can be well positioned for cross-selling opportunities within your existing clients.

Decision by Committee: Why Siloed Relationship Building No Longer Works

In the accounting profession, part of our work is identifying and creating relationships with the right decision makers and influencers. One of the trends that has given rise to the need for both better intelligence and deeper relationships is decision by committee.

In any given client, there are more decision makers and influencers than ever before. Research from the Corporate Executive Board shows that there’s an average of 6.8 stakeholders involved in major buying decisions. That’s up from 5.4 stakeholders just a few years ago.

While the reasons for that can be unique to your client, there are some common reasons why this is happening more and more.

  • The first is that business segments are intersecting more often. A decision in one area of the business has more impact on other areas, with questions like “should I outsource inside sales” rising more and more often.
  • Second, organizations are more matrixed than ever before, with dotted-line reporting. This creates more collaboration, and more input into the decision-making process.
  • Lastly, there’s also reputational risk involved in complex decisions. An executive decision maker will often seek buy-in via internal or industry peers.

Relationship Ecosystems: Your Strategy for Cross-Selling Success

In the past, we could focus our business development efforts to the area of those buying our services. The risk with that approach is that we may be missing a relationship that’s key to earning a client’s business. Today, we need to go beyond that siloed set of decision makers to work across the organization, and sometimes even outside of it.

If you picture a current client, the relationship ecosystem is the set of relationships you need to create, sustain, and leverage to reach the goal of earning initial business or growing existing business.

That ecosystem will have a few major characteristics. There will be internal and external relationships. There will be a variety of levels of influence. There will be strategic and functional relationships. And often multiple decision makers, depending on the opportunity and size of the organization.

An action step to take is building out your Relationship Ecosystem for a key client. I’ll walk through some of the internal groups you’ll want to identify within their organization.

  1. Decision Makers. Knowing who ultimately owns decisions is a key part of your ecosystem. Those decision makers may change depending on the business segment. It’s important to know the decision-making process as well. It will help you identify those who may not be an obvious decision maker on the surface but contribute to the overall process.
  2. Centers of Influence. A center of influence is an individual or organization that can connect you in a more meaningful way to the client. If it’s an individual, this is someone who’s a strategic thinker, perhaps a leader, and they’re someone you can learn from. Organizations are also centers of influence – for both the people that lead those organizations and are members, and for the overall environment they create.
  3. An advocate is slightly different than a center of influence. An advocate is often a center of influence, but a center of influence isn’t always an advocate. An advocate is someone who will actively provide you with insights you really can’t get elsewhere. They might open a door for you, they might use their own social capital for a strategic introduction or the opportunity to bid on a new piece of business. For every client, it’s ideal to have at least two advocates.

Of course, there are other connections that play a role in a Relationship Ecosystem. You’ll want to also consider strategic partners and alliances, as well as connections within your own firm.

I like to think of my relationship ecosystem maps as works in progress – they’re always evolving. Those groups will get you started, and you’ll likely identify additional ones as you build yours out.

Once you have a map started, here are some additional steps you can take.

  1. For each group you identify, list out as many people as you can that belong to those groups. And the same person may belong to more than one group.
  2. For each person, note if the relationship is internal, within the client, or completely external.
  3. Third, note which people are most likely to be part of the decision-making process in some way. And then star all of your advocates.

This exercise will show you where your strengths are, and where you have gaps. Gaps are your greatest relationship risks. A next step would be to fill those gaps in one or two key groups.

In my final article in this series for NSA in October, I will share how to open new doors and build engagement with prospective clients.

Amy FrankoAbout the Author

Amy Franko is a strategic sales expert working with professional services, insurance, and technology organizations to accelerate sales results. She’s a keynote speaker, sales strategist, and author specializing in B2B sales and sales leadership development. With over 20 years of client-facing sales experience, Amy began her career with global companies IBM and Lenovo before pivoting into entrepreneurship. Her book of business includes some of the world’s most recognizable brands. Amy’s book, The Modern Seller, is an Amazon best seller and was also named a 2018 top sales book by Top Sales World. Learn more and download a free chapter at

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