What is a valuable business relationship?
According to Jerry Acuff author of The Relationship Edge: the most valuable relationships, have lots of AIR – Access, Impact, and Results.
Access is exactly what you think it is. People will take your calls, answer your emails, and believe that any time with you is time well spent.
Impact means that you have you have an opportunity to influence the relationship in a positive manner, and vice versa.
Results. Without them, you don’t have a great business relationship, you have some rapport or maybe a even a friendship. But not a successful business relationship.
When we have a valuable business relationship, people are proactively doing things to help each other succeed. It seems simple, but like in any pursuit, if you don’t focus on and master the basics, you’ll never succeed.
So that’s what a valuable relationship looks like, but that doesn’t tell us how to build them.
Building them includes mastering a conscious, systematic and routine process – having the right mindset, asking the right questions, and doing the right thing.
Of course, the process of building a relationship doesn’t happen overnight, and it will typically progress through six stages that Acuff calls the relationship pyramid. Here are his six stages, starting from the bottom of the pyramid and ending at the top:
1.People who don’t know you by name;
2.People who know you by name:
3.People who like you;
4.People who are friendly with you;
5.People who respect you;
6.People who value a relationship with you. This last step is your goal with any relationship you want to build to the highest level.
First, movement up the pyramid doesn’t have to be sequential. You can’t skip any of the steps, but you can jump through multiple steps at once.
Second, it is a lot easier to move down the pyramid than going back up. Trust is a big issue in relationships, and once it’s gone, it’s tough to get back. So, remember to continuously nurture the relationships that already have at the top of the pyramid.
Lastly, this process won’t work on everyone. Sometimes people just won’t want to have a relationship with you, no matter how hard you try. You need to learn to identify those situations and move on when it it’s clear that you are up against a dead end.
Acuff says in the book, to build any successful relationship, you must think well of yourself and of others. Without the belief that you are capable of building relationships with the people you want to business relationships with, you won’t get very far.
Zig Ziglar has a quote that is often repeated, and it’s worth repeating again here: “You can get everything you want in life if you simply help enough other people get that they want”.
If you don’t have the need to help others, then the entire process of continuing to build relationships is going to burn you out, quickly”. Why? Because as Acuff says, relationships are built over time, and time is one of the most important elements of relationship building. Spending time with people is just part of the deal. The more time, the better.
Things that will make this better and easier for you when you spend time with people include:
- Having a natural curiosity about others;
- Focussing on others instead of yourself;
- Appreciating and understanding the other person’s points of view;
- Having a desire to make people feel important;
- Listening to other people because you want to hear.
For some people this just comes naturally. But it can also be taught and starts with asking the right questions.
The best way to make connections with people you are building relationships with is to find out what they treasure. As Acuff points out, if you know what and who people treasure, and you act on that information to show you know you care – they are much more likely to tell you want they need professionally.
Use the acronym FORM to help you to start and then build your conversation. FORM stands for family, occupation, recreation, and motivation (as in what motivates them in life). Asking questions about those things will always get you to uncover the things that they treasure.
Once you have the right questions to ask, you need to make sure you ask them right.
People will often feel safer if you are open and share with them as well. For instance, after you ask somebody where they are from and they answer, you can respond by telling them where you are from and something about why you moved there.
The second thing you need to do is ask good questions. A good question doesn’t suggest an answer, it invites the person to answer openly and honestly.
When you transition from personal to business questions, the best questions are the one that gets your prospect to think differently about an issue than they did before.
Building relationships takes time and work. But sometimes there’s a path to accelerate the process, and it’s called pyramid hopping.
This is when you actively pursue contacts by leveraging the relationships you have with people on your Relationship Pyramid.
The higher you are on someone’s Pyramid, the stronger the endorsement you are likely to get when her or she introduces you to the person you are trying to connect with.
As Acuff says, it’s the difference between “I don’t know him very well, but I’ve been in some meetings with him and it seems like you two might have something in common” and “You need to meet Jerry because he can help you.”
Just like everything else to do with relationships, it works better if you have a strategy. The heart of the strategy involves three steps.
First, you need to uncover who has you at the top of their pyramid. You should have a pretty good sense of this already. But to be clear, it doesn’t include every one of your 500+ LinkedIn connections.
Second, you need to uncover who is at the top of those people’s pyramids. Those are the people you’ll most likely get a strong introduction to. This typically requires asking them specifically who they know in a particular field that you want an introduction to.
Third, when you ask for the introduction, you need to be as specific as possible about what you are asking for. The more specific you make your request, the more likely it is that you’ll get the introduction you are looking for.
As we rely more and more on technology and tools to help create connections with people, it’s easy to forget that we still need to build real relationships with people based on principles that work.
Building and maintaining meaningful relationships has always been, and always will be, critical to your success in business or your career.
Think about one specific action you can take to climb your way to the top of the relationship pyramid with just one of your contacts. Do that, and then keep doing that every single day for the rest of your life.
Eventually, you’ll get where you want to go.