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six steps series

The Art of Selling: Moving Along the Intimacy Curve

Learn about the intimacy curve and its role in the art of selling in this insightful article series by Georgina Smith. In part three, Georgina explores moving up and down the intimacy curve and the importance of knowing where you are on the intimacy curve.
3 min read

The past two articles have introduced you to the intimacy curve, a simple framework to help you understand your critical relationships. You can read articles one and two here.   

The intimacy curve is not from a book or scientific study, it’s a result of my observations of human behaviour over several decades in several industries.  

This week I want to explore moving up and down the intimacy curve and the importance of knowing where you are on the intimacy curve.   

Those of you who know me well know I swim and cycle a fair bit. Like many other ‘athletes’ I use Garmin and Strava. Garmin has brilliant metrics to tell me how effectively I’m training (threshold training, improving my VO2 max, recovery, etc.), and Strava tells me whether, because of my training, my fitness has increased, and it gives me a score. It also acknowledges if I’ve been slacking and, as a result, decreases my fitness score.  

A relationship is also dynamic. Just like fitness, it can improve if it’s nurtured and given attention, and conversely, it can go bad if neglected.  

An exercise:  

Review your critical business relationships and plot them on the intimacy curve. Look at where they currently sit and if they are moving up or down – and consider whether the interactions are merely transactional or deeper. A good test question is, ‘If you asked for a favour, would it be okay?’  

But you need to ask yourself whether you want to move every relationship down the intimacy curve. It’s a huge investment of time and resources. Or is it time to cut loose? You’ve been putting in tons of effort (sunk cost) and not seeing much reward. Is it worth it? More on that in a later article.  

Once you’ve analysed your relationships and decided on the ones you want to move down the intimacy curve, the question is, how?   

There’s a common misconception that you have to be an extrovert, the life and soul of the party, to connect with people and be good at sales. That’s absolutely not true. Most of the best salespeople I know are measured introverts with exceptional listening and reflective skills. The key to moving a relationship down the intimacy curve is making someone feel special, like they’re the only person that’s important to you. It’s as simple as that.   

That will be different from person to person and from industry to industry, and keeping the human element at the forefront of your mind when thinking about this is so important. It’s a combination of conscious and strategic thinking: what are the actions and events we’re going to do, who from our organisation will be involved where, and what’s our target point on the intimacy curve.   

Connection is deepened by a whole range of efforts, from story sharing (tell a story to get a story), to how you celebrate special days for clients, to a check-in call from various people in your organisation to support them in their efforts to grow, to big-bang dinners and parties. All of them have to be carefully choreographed for maximum impact.   

Conversely, how do you react when things go wrong? What’s the plan? Who calls and when? Do you have predetermined levels of seriousness and a relationship recovery plan? Do you have enough depth on the intimacy curve to weather difficult storms?  

Take the time to strategically plan which relationships you’re going to develop, how, and with whom in your organisation. Thinking about how you’ll react to disaster, who you’ll get involved with, and at what point, could well save you hours of wasted effort and heartache further down the line. 

Key points:

  • Understanding the intimacy curve and its importance in critical business relationships.
  • Plotting relationships on the curve and determining if they are moving up or down.
  • Tips for deepening connections, reacting to challenges, and strategically planning relationship development.
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