In his book, Business by referral (and also here), Ivan Misner identified three levels of networking relationship, defined by their strength: visibility (V), credibility (C) and profitability (P). However, characteristically, Misner omitted any consideration of emotional intelligence. I have added the essential fourth stage: trustworthiness (T).
This is the weakest level of relationship. Each party is aware of the other, they will probably have observed each other and may have spoken briefly. However neither person knows much (or anything) about the other or their business. Although this would not seem to be a useful level of relationship, it is in fact essential—firstly, as a stepping stone to the later stages and, secondly, because it is too much effort to maintain every relationship in the later stages. So, although relationships at this level may not be productive, some effort has to be put into maintaining them.
Credibility has a chance of developing when each party understands what the other does; probably has some background knowledge about the other person; and certainly will have obtained other people’s views about the other person. In particular, each person will have demonstrated several times their competence and reliability to the other—whether by helping them or just showing up on time to a meeting. In other words, each party’s confidence in the other has grown.
Credibility is obviously needed for A to be willing to refer a colleague to B: after all, who would refer a colleague to someone they did not find credible? But this is a behavioural assessment: how well do they do their job? But trust is also needed. The colleague would be reluctant to accept a referral if they knew A didn’t trust B, however competent A thinks B is.
This is a nice story about how trustworthiness is needed as well as credibility: Shiny red car.
A profitable relationship is one where both parties feel rewarded by it, feel satisfied. This satisfaction may not be financial though, in business, it often is. In a networking context, it is likely that at least one party is referring his/her contacts to the other and these people are then becoming clients because of who made the referral.
An important point is that a relationship can be shifted from V to C to T and then to P. It can also slip back, either through neglect or because the relationship becomes less important to the parties. Businesses change over a time and a relationship which was quite legitimately at the T stage can become more important and need to be uprated to the P stage. For example, when emotional intelligence at work decided to enter the health sector, it suddenly became important to develop our relationships with people who know NHS managers and directors.
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2018 Jeremy Marchant Limited . added 13 june 2015, last revised 9 march 2018 . image: Free images