I was recently conducting some training with a client’s business development team and we got to the topic of setting objectives for each meeting.

When I asked what they thought the objective was for each business development meeting, each member of team had an adamant response along the lines of ‘to close the deal’, ‘to get the sale’, ‘to get them over the line’ or ‘to sign the contract’ etc.

I clarified, ‘Is this the objective for every meeting, with every client?’

‘Yes’, they confirmed, ‘it is always our objective.’

‘Interesting,’ I said, ‘and what if it is a prospect you have only just met?’

‘Yes, it is still our objective,’ they said.

Hmmm. I decided to flip the script to see if I could make a point from a different perspective.

‘Let’s look at it from a different angle… Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sales call and felt like the salesperson was too heavy handed? Too pushy? Too aggressive?’

Most of them had. They described the experience as uncomfortable, unpleasant, disingenuous and insincere, and they described the salespeople as sleazy, dishonest, bad listeners and artificial.

When we dug a bit deeper, they said that what put them off about the salesperson was how they seemed to only be interested in rushing to the finish line and making the sale. In several cases, the team said that there wasn’t necessarily anything specific that the salesperson had said or done; it was something they could feel.

It was at this point that I introduced the team to the concept of the 12 stages of intimacy.

In our personal relationships, particularly in western cultures like Australia, we progress through a consistent series of stages as we form our acquaintances, friendships and intimate relationships.

It all starts with ‘eye to body’, where we first become aware of the other person, such as if we see the other person standing across the room, or in a group, or sitting at the table, etc.

From there, we progress to the next stage where we make eye contact, ‘eye to eye’. Now we’ve established an initial bond of having seen and acknowledged each other.

The next step is ‘voice to voice’, where we speak to each other. This might be an introduction, an opening casual remark or an exchange of names.

‘Hand to hand’ comes next, typically where we shake hands to finalise the introduction. Relationships with acquaintances might never progress past this stage of intimacy.

The next level of intimacy is ‘hand to shoulder. In our culture, the shoulder (or any part of the arm) is not considered a particularly private part of the anatomy, so this type of touch indicates a closeness and level of care for the other person, without being sexual. We might touch a person’s shoulder or arm to get their attention, draw their focus to what you are saying, or perhaps to adjust their standing in a crowded room such as if a waiter is brushing past. A relationship with a close colleague or distant friend might sit at this stage.

If a relationship moves to ‘hand to waist’, it signifies a deeper, more physical and more intimate relationship is forming because the person’s hand is now touching a more intimate and guarded part of the other’s body. This stage might also involve touching the back – the lower down the back, the more intimate.

Next, we move to ‘face to face’ such as a cheek kiss greeting between close personal colleagues or close friends. Often this might be paired with a hand-to-shoulder or hand-to-waist hug. For a professional relationship,this is typically the limit of intimacy. For a personal intimate relationship,this stage might involve kissing on the lips. (Depending on the culture, a cheek kiss might come before a hand-to-waist connection. I’m thinking particularly of when I greet my French or Italian colleagues and share a double or even triple cheek kiss as a greeting, but a hand-to-waist touch would be inappropriate.)

Once we go beyond face-to-face contact, we’re really in the realm of personal intimate relationships. ‘Hand to head’ is where we touch the other person’s head, hair or face which is very intimate, and ‘hand to body’ is where we touch any other part of the other person’s body.

Once, we’re gone past that stage, we’re in to various combinations of body-to-body contact. I’ll leave those stages to your imagination.

The important thing is that the 12 stages are a progression. Each stage needs to be progressed through one at a time, in order, with the permission and consent of the other person.

Generally, if we skip a step, it’s considered rude, too forward and awkward.

That’s all very interesting, but how does this apply to business development? 

If we say that our objective is always to ‘close the deal’,‘make the sale’, ‘sign them up’, etc then we’re trying to fast track intimacy, regardless of which stage we’re actually at in the relationship. It’s too rushed, too forward, too aggressive. Especially if what you want is a long-term, meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship.

In business development, our objective for each meeting should simply be to move forward to the next stage. Just one stage forward. That’s it.And only with the other person’s permission and consent.

The table below extends the analogy to show how a business development relationship progresses.

Stage Description
1. Eye to body YOU: You become aware of the prospect on a surface level. You know generally what they do.
PROSPECT: The prospect becomes aware of your business on a surface level. They’ve noticed you or have heard of you, but don’t know what you do or how you can help them.
2. Eye to eye YOU: You develop a high-level understanding of the prospect’s business and what their challenges and needs might be. You gain a general idea of their pain points. PROSPECT: The prospect becomes aware of the solution you provide and how you can potentially assist them. They share with you their vision and some of their challenges and needs, and start to see how you can solve their problems.
3. Voice to voice You both agree to engage again, such as to ‘stay in touch’, arrange another meeting, send some information etc…
4. Hand to hand YOU: You provide something of value at no cost to demonstrate your insight and expertise, such as an article that you think might be interesting to the prospect, some samples of your methodology, a copy of a report or presentation on a certain subject etc… PROSPECT: The prospect sends some information through to you to help you understand their business or their needs.
5. Hand to shoulder YOU: You make them a low-level initial offer, such as for a small-scale engagement, a preliminary activity in preparation for a bigger activity, etc… the idea is to propose a low-cost, low-commitment engagement so that the prospect can assure themselves of your expertise and capability. PROSPECT: The prospect agrees to trial your services in a low-key, toe-in-the-water way so that they can verify how well you work together and if you suit as long-term partners.
6. Hand to waist YOU: You successfully deliver your low-level initial offer. In doing so, you develop a better understanding of their business, meet their key team members, and demonstrate that you are a capable, reliable partner. The prospect is now a client. CLIENT: The client benefits from your expertise, learns more about your capability and develops a relationship with you and your key personnel.
7. Face to face YOU: You make another, higher level offer, such as for a larger engagement or for an engagement that is deeper in to their organisation. CLIENT: The client agrees to re-engage your organisation or to extend your engagement.
8. Hand to head YOU: You successfully deliver a more significant engagement for the client. In doing so, you are moving to becoming a trusted partner.  CLIENT: The client benefits from your deeper engagement and increasingly shares their strategies and objectives with you. They are learning to trust you as a part of their team.
9. Hand to body YOU: You make another, even higher-level offer, such as to be part of their core business, an exclusive partner or an embedded part of their organisation. CLIENT: The client agrees to engage you as a more integrated part of their organisation, which involves committing to a more significant, exclusive or embedded engagement.
10-12. Woo! You have become trusted partners, each making a significant contribution to the other. You understand each other’s vision, your people are aligned and you work together to achieve your mutual objectives. You become raving fans of each other, willing to promote, refer and advocate for each other.

There is no rule for how quickly or slowly you need to progress through each stage, just that you need to progress through each and every stage in order. In a single meeting, you may speed through stages 1 to 5, but it might take weeks to complete stage 6, and years to move from stages 6 to 9, and maybe you never reach stages 10-12.

If you can keep these stages of intimacy in mind as you develop your relationships with clients and prospects, you’ll develop more genuine and trusted relationships and dramatically improve your long-term success.  

Aurora Marketing specialises in helping companies succeed in tenders, proposals, bids and submissions. For assistance, call us on 07 3211 4299 or email us at info@auroramarketing.com.au.