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I wrote a post here last week called “Can’t-Miss Marketing: Just Ask” that got a lot of interesting responses. Sure, people said, asking is all well and good, but what does “asking well” actually mean?

It’s an interesting, and important, question to consider. If, as I’ve seen time and time again, good things really come to those who ask, what do they do right? What traits do they have in common that make those people more likely to be successful? And what differentiates the no’s from the yes’s?

In my experience, it really boils down to five things. These are five tips on how to ask well, and how to set yourself up for a lot more positive responses to your questions.

Don’t Overwhelm

This is one of the trickiest parts of this whole prospect, and arguably the hardest part of any kind of sales as well: reminding and prodding people a bit, without putting them off by being too forward.

There’s no cut-and-dry solution to this, unfortunately, but my rule has always been this: I initiate contact. Once. I wait a week – if I don’t hear back, I ping them again. If I don’t hear back after that one, it’s over. This keeps future options open because I haven’t harassed them until they can’t stand me anymore, but makes sure they didn’t just miss me the first time.

Show Mutual Benefit

Often, we tend to focus constantly on what we bring the table: our skills, background, education, etc. What many people ignore, however, is that many people just flat out like helping people. We all love being the one who “gave them a chance when no one would,” especially when it turns into a success story. Don’t be afraid to talk about how what you’re asking for would benefit you, too.

That’s not to say ignore the benefit to the other party – that’s definitely the most important part of all this. But don’t overlook people’s desire to help someone out, and play into their feelings of being good people by helping you out.

Be Direct

If you’re looking for a given job or opportunity, odds are you’re not the only one. And odds are, the person you’re contacting doesn’t have tons of time to spare. So don’t waste it – get to the point. There are right ways and wrong ways to do this, obviously, but don’t dance around an issue. A 13-paragraph email isn’t going to get read nearly as often as a two-paragraph email that says essentially the same thing. They’ll appreciate your effort and consideration of their time.

Be You

In talking to various employers, they’ve all said the same thing: the unique people get noticed. Most people, frankly, do exactly the same thing, in the same format, without any personality or interest; somehow, we’ve come to think of that as “professional.”

That’s terrible. And it doesn’t work. Funny, interesting stuff gets much more attention than the “professional” stuff. So be you, and let your personality affect what you say and do. Everyone can fill out and send a form letter – don’t even try. Know what makes you unique, both your skills and your personality, and run with that.

Ask Not What They Can Do For You

This is a tip I was given when I was first starting to apply for “real world” jobs: when you contact someone, don’t ask anything from them. Don’t say “please get in touch,” or “call me back,” or anything like that. Instead, ask them what you can do – who can you get in touch with? What can you do to get the ball rolling?

Put the onus for action on yourself – the less the other person has to do, the more likely they are to do it. And odds are, they’ll do something to help you out anyway.

From either end of the equation – asker and askee, for lack of a better phrase – what can we do to be better at asking for what we want?

Photo: saikofish

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