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The Relationship Threshold

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"I can't get my client to call me back."

"He's ordered product from me for years for his department, but he resists introducing me to people who run other departments at his company."

"That couple come into my restaurant about once every two months, but I know they eat at other places all the time, where the food isn't as good as mine."

"We've always done a good job for them, but they still put every project out for a competitive bid."

"I can't get that customer to pay attention to what I have to say."

Are you frustrated that customers won't do the things you want them to do?

Let's explore why -- and what to do about it -- but first, let's review a key Yastrow principle: The connection between customer action and business results.

Customer Actions lead to $$$

Your actions don't create the profits in your business. Your customers' actions create the profits in your business. Your job is to encourage customers to act in ways that drive your business results.

The premise of this article is this: If your customer won't do things you want him or her to do, your relationship hasn't grown to a point where the customer would want to do those things.

If I am your customer, and we have a strong relationship, your phone message will be one of the first I will return.

If I believe we are in a 'We' relationship, I will happily introduce you to other people in my company who could become your customers.

If I develop a strong relationship with you and your restaurant, and need to reduce my dining budget, I will cut back on visits to other restaurants before I visit yours less.

Your customers are more likely to do things that improve your business results when their relationship with you has reached a certain point, or threshold.

Relationship Threshold Model
(Download the full-size Relationship Threshold Model, Adobe PDF)

Working with the Relationship Threshold Model includes understanding another key Yastrow principle: Customer relationships are built one encounter at a time.

Each time you interact with your customer, you have an opportunity to improve your relationship with that customer. If that happens, you have created an encounter. If, however, you interact with your customer and your relationship doesn't improve, you have created a transaction. (For more on relationship building encounters, please download my free ebook, Encounters, or see Chapter 2 in my book, We: The Ideal Customer Relationship)

If your customer won't do what you want him or her to do, it's because you have not had the right relationship-building encounters to reach the threshold where your customer will act.

Here's a real-world example of putting this idea into place. I have a client with an innovative approach and process that differentiates them from their competitors. Because their process is so unique, the most effective way to close the potential customer is to have that prospect visit their plant for an interactive tour and brainstorming session. Those meetings have a very high closing rate.

But we all know what happens. Getting a prospective customer to spend the time to travel cross-country to visit your facility, even if you offer to pay for the plane ticket, is not easy. They'd rather have a 15-minute phone call, or an hour meeting at their own office than donate a full day or more to a visit.

To deal with this isue, we applied the Relationship Threshold Model in this way: We recognized that the reason a customer would not travel to my client's office was because the relationship with my client hadn't developed to that level. The first key milestone they needed to reach in a relationship with a prospect was "I'll get on a plane," when the customer became interested enough to dedicate the energy and time to hop on an airplane, fly to Chicago, and visit my client's plant and offices.

We then looked at the company's sales and marketing efforts that were designed to attract new customers. Not surprisingly, there were many efforts that were not directly related to reaching this key threshold. We scrutinized this list and evaluated everything by asking: "Does this marketing or sales effort help create a relationship-building encounter, improving the relationship to the point where we reach the relationship threshold, and the prospect says, 'I'll get on a plane'?"

It was a fascinating process. Talk about focus! By recognizing that the purpose of all customer interactions is to improve your relationship, leading to the point where the customer says, "I'll do it!" it becomes much easier to identify what you should do. Just as importantly, it identifies what you should not do.

Each relationship can have many important thresholds, and every situation is different. So, it's important to identify the thresholds that are crucial for you. As I develop relationships with consulting clients, my two key thresholds are, "Steve, I'd love to meet with you," and "Steve, can you come up with a proposal for how we can work together?" I focus my interactions with prospective customers on reaching these thresholds. But it doesn't stop once someone becomes my client. I think of many thresholds with existing clients, e.g., "Steve, can I introduce you to more people you can work with?" and, "Steve, we'd like to have an ongoing arrangement with you so you can make sure we stay on track." By recognizing that customers will only think or say these things if our relationship has reached a certain threshold, I can focus my relationship-building efforts on reaching those thresholds.

Remember, there is always a reason a customer won't do what you want him or her to do: Your relationship isn't strong enough.

Take Notice

When you are the customer, how often are you more likely to do things that help the provider's business if you feel the two of you are in a strong "We" relationship?

How do you compare?

Now, look at your business, and your relationships with customers. Is there a correlation between those customers who act in ways that help your business and those customers with whom you have a strong relationship?

Try this

Draw the Relationship Threshold Model shown above. Identify the key thresholds in your customer relationships, like those I illustrated in my business. Then, look at the customer interactions you have leading up to those thresholds.

Are these efforts focused, specifically, on reaching those thresholds? Or, are your customer interactions fragmented and not reinforcing each other to build up to your thresholds? (Warning: You may cut your advertising budget after doing this exercise)

As I described above, customer action is the key driver of your business results. And, the key driver of customer action is whether your relationship has reached a threshold where the customer is willing to take those actions. The Relationship Threshold gives you a great opportunity to focus your limited resources on what counts: Building We relationships.

Steve Yastrow
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Steve Yastrow

When Steve Yastrow writes, I pay close attention. - Tom Peters

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Encounters, free ebook

Download your free ebook, Encounters: The Building Blocks of We Relationships.

The Relationship Threshold Model is dependent on you creating relationship-building encounters with your customers. This ebook shows you how!

We: The Ideal Customer Relationship

Buy Steve's new book, We: The Ideal Customer Relationship

In We, you will learn:
How to create relationship-building encounters, instead of relationship-eroding transactions
How to connect multiple customer encounters into an ongoing conversation that creates a strong We relationship
The power of We among many-- a relationship between many people in your organization and your customers

We is both a manifesto and a how-to guide that will change the way you interact with customers ... and change the way your customers think about you. 

More praise for We

“When Steve Yastrow Writes, I pay close attention. He is at once a wonderful storyteller, a sophisticated purveyor of ideas, and an effective change agent. I think We is a superb book-and I am mesmerized in particular by Yastrow’s critical differentiation of ‘experience’ and ‘engagement’. Bravo!”
- Tom Peters

"This is a fundamental shift in thinking that offers up a what's-next-beyond experience marketing."
-Tim Sanders, former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo and author of Love Is The Killer App: How To Win Business and Influence Friends
"Steve Yastrow is at the forefront of the next evolution in marketing"
-Mike Depatie, CEO, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

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