Yesterday we talked a bit about the importance of asking good questions when we are with a networking connection (or a potential one). We also talked about how we should have the answers to any question we ask since they are likely to reflect that question right back at us. Today I want to talk about one of the most important questions you can ask:

“How can I help?”

More specifically, I want to come up with a variety of ways we can ask it and which ones might be better to use than others. Let’s look at a few.

  • “How can I help?” This also includes “What can I do?”, “What would you like me to do?” and other similar direct queries about what you can do. Of course, none of these are bad questions. They all convey your concern to the other person. The only downside is that they can also cause the other person to freeze. Unless they have actually considered the question ahead of time, they might not be able to think of an answer. This is kind of like asking someone to tell you a good joke or the name of a good song. They undoubtedly have answers, but when put on the spot, won’t be able to think of it.
  • “Who can I introduce you to?” Also “Who are you trying to reach?” or “Who would you like to connect with?” I like these a little more because they are a little more specific and therefore a little more likely to jog someones memory. It’s also an acknowledgment of the importance of extending ones network — a task with which you are willing to help. They still may cause someone to freeze up if they aren’t thinking about who they need to meet. Assuming they do have a response, it might be a specific person (“Bob Smith”), a position (“the director of marketing at ABC Corporation”), or one of a group of people (“accountants practicing within twenty miles of Ann Arbor”).
  • “Who is your perfect client?” or “What is your target market?” Where the previous category was an attempt to help them extend their network. This is a specific offer to help them get business. Despite the value of having a narrowly defined target market, many people will have a tendency to be a little too general. You may need to help them narrow things down a little bit with some follow-on questions.
  • “What challenges are you expecting in the upcoming month/year?” or “What are your goals for the year?” or “What do you hope to achieve in the future?” These are probably my favorites. While the other categories are offers of help, they tend to focus on the mechanism (extending the network, getting more clients). This group focuses on the ultimates outcomes. You actually get to help them chart the journey toward those goals. This ends up being a big win as far as strengthening the relationship goes.
  • “What’s your problem?” or “What’s your major malfunction?” We should probably avoid these. Even if we mean well, our intent may be misconstrued and cause more stress to the very people we are trying to help.
The best networkers know that their success is dependent on how well they can help other people succeed in their own lives. The best way to know how to do that is to ask. While the person we are trying to help may not always know the answer, sometimes just our asking can take them in a direction that they may not even have been considering. Sometimes that may be enough in itself.
So go ask some questions. You might be surprised at how quickly you can help the members of your network.

Photo credit: Sigurd Decroos