Architecture has a perfect analogy to help you nurture your leads. Fancy that.

So you’ve got this promising list of leads. What’s the best way to approach them? How do you avoid coming on too strong? How much detail do you go into in any given exchange?

Would you believe that a design pattern used in creating ideal living spaces has a pretty great answer? Because it does.

There’s this exquisite idea in architecture called the intimacy gradient. First put forth by Christopher Alexander in a groundbreaking book called A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, the intimacy gradient explains why spaces can feel at turns oddly impersonal, overly intimate or jarringly inconsistent. It also puts forth a solution to this problem – a way to create a smooth and appropriate transition between progressive states of intimacy.

Wait – so what is an intimacy gradient?

We’ll let a quote from A Pattern Language do the heavy lifting here:

In any building – house, office, public building, summer cottage – people need a gradient of settings, which have different degrees of intimacy […] When there is a gradient of this kind, people can give each encounter different shades of meaning, by choosing its position on the gradient very carefully. In a building which has its rooms so interlaced that there is no clearly defined gradient of intimacy, it is not possible to choose the spot for any particular encounter so carefully; and it is therefore impossible to give the encounter this dimension of added meaning by the choice of space … 

All buildings, and all parts of buildings which house well-defined human groups, need a definite gradient from ‘front’ to ‘back,’ from the most formal spaces at the front to the most intimate spaces at the back.

It’s deep stuff, and certainly something to bear in mind for the design of an office. But its metaphorical applications go deeper still.

Now let’s apply an architectural lens to the tradition of categorising leads into states. Let’s have some fun with it, shall we?

The Stranger on the Street

Crowds. Endless crowds of people. It’s overwhelming. But in these crowds, somewhere, is somebody you’re looking for – and somebody who is looking for somebody just like you. A prospect! Who would have thought?

This is your pool of potential but unfiltered leads. In terms of the intimacy gradient, the Stranger is wandering about on the street, the most public of publics. When you’re in this stage you’ll want to make sure you’re in the right neighbourhood, if you catch our drift.

The Interesting Stranger in the Public House

Pubs are great little spots. Nothing like a drink after a long day to loosen the braces. And when a person of business inclinations goes to a certain kind of pub, well. You never can tell what kind of opportunities might await.

The pub is still a public space, but it holds a constrained set of the public. This is your qualified list of leads; some of them might have heard of you, some might not know you at all. At the very least you know you’re in the right place, with the right people. (Right?) Now’s the time to make introductions and extend invitations – but gently. Nobody likes too strong a come-on.

The Acquaintance in the Parlour

Visitors, eh? There’s no end to them. Only wait, this one is a potential client. What’s their name again? Alex, that’s it. Do come in! Let us talk about things in general but friendly terms.

The parlour is the area in which to receive formal visitors – approached leads who have displayed enough interest to take things further. It’s here that you’ll discuss general terms over tea and little cakes.

The Tentative Client in the Dining Room

Alex has indicated continued interest in your services. Of course Alex has, for you are essentially the best in this business. In any event, you’ve extended an invitation to dinner further discussion.

The dining room is on the cusp: it’s considerably more intimate than the parlour, but it’s still reserved enough. Here’s where you get to talk nitty gritty and feel one another out. You’re closer, but you’re not yet sure where this is going. Questions are asked and questions are answered. Aside from the initial come-on, this is probably the most critical time. Do it right and you get…

The Just-About Client in the Smoking Room

Things have gone well with Alex. Really well. It goes against protocol, but it’s your mansion, after all. It’s time to nail down that deal.

Things are mostly wrapped up now. Your lead is both highly interested and satisfied with the technicalities. Now’s the time to let things lie and await a decision with patience. If there is talking to be done, do it about other things. This is a fantastic time to hone the rapport you’ve been developing, to really draw out the humans behind the deal.

Get this right and, assuming your offering satisfies, you’ll have more than a client: you’ll have an evangelist. You’ll have…

A Convert in the Boudoir

Ahem. Okay, okay, that’s enough. You get the idea.

Move along, now. Nothing to see.