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The Art and Science of Relationship Economics

April 27, 2016
Learn to drive performance, execution and results in a systematic, disciplined manner, through the art and science of relationships.

Your personal and professional success depends on the diversity and quality of your relationships. Yet most of us don’t spend nearly enough time identifying, much less nurturing those relationships. It is not surprising then that we are rarely able to capitalize on them.

When I say “nurturing relationships” most people assume I’m talking about networking. I am not. I’m talking about learning how to meld the relatively “soft” skills of relationships with the “hard” science of economics. I’m talking about learning to drive performance, execution and results in a systematic, disciplined manner, through the art and science of relationships.

I have identified five stages of strategic relationships. Consciously developing the skills, knowledge and behavior associated with these stages is where mastery of relationship rconomics begins. The five stages are:

  1. Identifying: Recognizing the people who can add specific value to your life and how you can connect with them.
  2. Relating: Creating connection with a person on which a relationship can be built
  3. Nurturing: Making relationship currency deposits and confirming you have delivered value.
  4. Sustaining: Keeping the relationship strong by proactively staying in touch.
  5. Capitalizing: Accessing the value you have built in the relationship.

Identifying: In the identifying phase, you ask yourself “who can help me achieve my goal?” The “who” can be a specific person you know or to whom would like to be introduced.

Relating:  Once you make that invaluable first connection, the relating phase begins. In this phase, each person estimates what the return might be on the investment of time this relationship will take. Both sides must demonstrate a sufficient degree of likeability and integrity for this phase to lead to the next.

Nurturing:  In the nurturing phase, both partners to the deepening relationship invest energy in actions that deliver value. It is very important to confirm that each exchange of value is recognized. Without that confirmation, you can easily lose sight of the mutual benefit of this relationship.

Sustaining: The sustaining phase requires that you create a process to manage your relationship portfolio, which will be swelling as you invest in the relationship economics approach. Start using a reliable CRM system, even if that simply means being more disciplined in how you use your address book. Include a consistent outreach program in your weekly to-do list. Focus on deepening your relevance through exchanges of value.

In this phase, watch for signals that you need to move back to the relating or nurturing phases, or that this relationship is ready for you to move on to the capitalizing phase. Start monitoring relationship-centric metrics. Since relationships are inherently dynamic, you need some measures to show you how your pipeline is performing. Goals can be measured in direct achievement (Close $3 million in sales by Dec. 31), influence (Gain 20 percent more referrals this month.) or equity (Mr. X thinks of me as his go-to person for _______.).  

You will know your relationship is in the sustaining stage by your degree of access. If your emails and phone calls are promptly returned, and especially if the other person initiates invitations, you have a sustaining relationship that may be ready for capitalization.

Capitalizing: In the capitalizing phase, you may occasionally reach out to a sustaining relationship with a request for help. Do you need introductions? Do you want to be invited to speak at a certain event? Are you eager for an introduction into a specific company? Go ahead, ask.

But it is essential to frame your requests so that you are most likely to get a yes. When you reach out, be clear and specific so you don’t waste anyone’s time, and be sure to make it clear why this request is important to you. Allow a reasonable amount of time for the other person to respond, and make it easy by giving them any supporting information they may need. After receiving what you asked for, express gratitude in a timely fashion. If someone chooses not to assist you, gracefully take no for an answer and don’t force the issue; it will only erode your relationship.

Once you have an established relationship, the phases become fluid. At this point, it’s not necessary to stay in any specific order. You can always shift back to a previous phase without losing momentum, but you can only move the relationship one stage further than it has gone before and then only when it’s ready.

When people have developed proficiency in relationship economics, they proactively build relationships for strategic purposes. They play the long game, making value-add investments in other people in order to achieve personal and professional goals.


  1. Identify people you can add value for and relate to them by finding ways to stay connected. 
  2. Nurture these relationships by investing energy, and sustain them by creating opportunities for regular interactions.
  3. When you have sufficiently invested in identifying, relating, nurturing, and sustaining, you can capitalize on these relationships with an occasional ask.

David Nour, CEO of The Nour Group Inc., has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. He is the author of nine books, including Relationship Economics.

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