The Relationship Edge

By: Jerry Acuff



The Relationship Edge is a reminder that business always has, and always will be, about building relationships.

In this summary, we'll learn what a valuable business relationship actually is, and how you can go about building them.

The payoff for following the principles you'll learn in this summary and book are huge. Most importantly, you'll have a systematic way to engage with people with whom you don't naturally connect - people you meet for the first time, people you don't know well, and people you haven't connected with in a very long time.

If you ever get the chance to meet the author - Jerry Acuff - in person, you'll know that he walks the walk. And he's got the results to prove it. This is a guy you want to learn how to build relationships from.

Let's get started.

What is a valuable business relationship?

Of course, it's not enough to just build a relationship, because everybody . What we are talking about here are valuable business relationships.

The most valuable relationships, Acuff tells us, 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.

Last but definitely not least, there's results. Without it, 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.

The relationship pyramid

Here are the 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.

In any relationship you have you'll probably recognize it at one of those stages. Before we move on to discuss how we can start moving up the pyramid, there are a few points to keep in mind.

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.

Now let's move on to the tools you can use in building a valuable business relationship.

Having the right mindset

Think well of yourself

As Acuff says in the book, to build any successful relationship, you must think well of yourself. If you can't see yourself having a relationship with a high powered executive, you can't have a relationship with a high powered executive.

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.

Once we've got over that hurdle, we can move on to...

Think well of others

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.

In order to do that, you need to have a genuine desire to help other people. If you don't, 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. In the next section we are going to talk about asking the right questions, which will help you uncover information from people that will help you make a stronger connection with them, which will help you think better of them, which will make you want to spend more time with them, which will ultimately end with you building the relationship you want to build.

It all 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.

The best way to find out what people treasure is to ask them questions. Lots of them.

Asking the right questions

Acuff lists out 20 questions you can use to get the ball rolling with anybody you meet:

  1. What do you do when you are not working?
  2. Where did you go to school (and how did you choose it)?
  3. Where did you grow up and what was it like growing up there?
  4. What was your high school like?
  5. What do you enjoy reading when you have the time?
  6. How did you decide to do [whatever it is they do for a living] for a living?
  7. Tell me something about your family.
  8. Where is your favourite place to vacation?
  9. What kind of vacation would you like to take that you have not taken?
  10. What community associations, if any, do you have time to be involved in?
  11. What sports, if any, do you enjoy participating in?
  12. What sports do you enjoy watching?
  13. If you could have tickets for any event, what would it be?
  14. How did you decide to settle in this area?
  15. Tell me something about yourself that would surprise me?
  16. What things would you really want to do more of, but don't have time for?
  17. What challenges/issues in your work might I, or my company, be able to help you with?
  18. What is the most frustrating thing about being in your business these days?
  19. In your opinion, what two or three qualities make a top-notch [insert your job role here]?
  20. If all work paid the same and you could go around again, what would you do?

Of course, these are just some of the questions you can ask the people you meet.

If you want to create more questions, or make it easier to remember those 20, remember the acronym FORM. It 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.

Asking these questions right

Once you have the right questions to ask, you need to make sure you ask them right.

There are two things you need to do in order to expect the questions to uncover anything of substance.

First, you need to create an atmosphere of comfort and safety. People will often feel more safe 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.

Another technique for making people feel comfortable is to ask their permission to ask a question. For instance, you might say something like the following:

"Before I talk about my product, I thought it might make sense for me to ask you a different kind of question. Do you mind if I ask what you enjoy reading when you have the time?"

As Acuff points out, almost nobody will answer "no" to the permission question, giving you the ability to continue asking personal questions and building the relationship on a personal level.

The second thing you need to do is ask good questions. A good question doesn't suggest an answer, and 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.

Doing the right thing

As Acuff points out, relationships aren't built on your mind-set or the information you gather, they are built on your actions. Ultimately, you don't build them on what you say, but on what you do and how you do it.

One way to show that you value a relationship is to give inexpensive, unexpected and thoughtful gifts based on information they have shared with you. Let's say that somebody told you that they really enjoy a particular author's work. And let's say that you happen to be at a conference where that author is presenting. You might suck it up and stand in line to get an autographed copy of the book to send to them.

But as Acuff points out, gifts like golf balls, pens or coffee mugs with your logo on them don't count. Neither do things like dinner or taking somebody out golfing. Those things don't show any special thought or care for the person you trying to get closer to - those are expected on thoughtless gifts.

Other things you can do to show you care about them is remembering important dates like their birthday or wedding anniversary, important family names, or special interests the person might have.

Being alert for when something relating to those things pops up, and acting on it in a timely manner, will go a long way in building the relationship.

Another thing that most people value highly in a business relationship context is access to people they view as important. So if you know somebody that the other person respects and looks up to, find a way to connect them to that person.

You can also remain alert to major events in their lives. Things like a marriage, promotion, or a negative event like a serious illness or business downturn stand out here. When it comes to the negative major events, most people turn away. If you are genuinely trying to build a real relationship with these people, being there for them in good times and bad are opportunities to bring you even closer.

Pyramid Hopping

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 continue to dive deeper into technology and tools designed to help us 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.

So, as we wrap up today, 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 to exactly where you want to go.