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This is the title of a fairly vibrant discussion on Quora.  Most of the commenters argue in favor of “qualifying” and “closing.”  I disagreed; here’s why.

The first step is the most important; without it, subsequent steps don’t exist. By this reasoning, the most important step in a sale is establishing your relevance to a prospect’s world.

Think about the simplicity of what we call the Impact Ladder, on which Relevance is the first rung.

If you’re not relevant, you represent an interruption in my pursuit of success. I have no reason to interact with you. Follow the earned progression shown on the Impact Ladder:

Relevance > Usefulness > Value > Indispensability.  

Of these, the only one you can control, or influence directly, is Relevance. If you’re relevant, a percentage of people will choose to engage with you. They read your articles, subscribe to your blog or Facebook page, follow you on Twitter, accept your email communication, and attend your speech or conference session instead of others. Over time, they’ll give you a chance to be useful to them. Actually, by inserting themselves into your communication stream, they’ve already given you a chance to be useful. Your ideas are useful.

If your usefulness yields meaningful impact on a problem or challenge of significance, you’ll be perceived as valuable.  If you repeat the Relevant > Useful > Valuable progression consistently, over time you may become indispensable.  (Isn’t that what we all want?)

By sustaining relevance, you also protect yourself against the inevitable obsolescence of products, services, solutions — and contacts.  After all, problems go away, replaced by others.  Stakeholders leave companies, replaced by others.  Relevance is the key.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
— Lao-Tzu, Chinese philosopher, founder of Taoism


The easiest way to establish and sustain relevance is by associating yourself with business problems or challenges that your market must care about. RainmakerVT teaches you how in its online course, Door-Opener: Associate Yourself with Business Problems that Drive Demand for Your Expertise.

Get unlimited access to this course for ten days for only $35.