One of the easiest and fastest ways to grow your business is revealed in an ancient proverb: Ask and you shall receive. You’ve probably heard this phrase countless times in your lifetime, but how many times have you put this fundamental truth into practice recently? When was the last time you asked for a written endorsement from a client or colleague? How about feedback from your customers? Or the opportunity to renegotiate something that just doesn’t work for you?
Too often, business professionals—especially those in sales and marketing positions—falter because they simply stop practicing the art of asking. But if you were to ask successful top executives how they got to where they are, most would admit they “asked to get to the top.” They knew when and how to ask the right questions so they could gather the right information, build their reputation, seek useful referrals, generate new business, and expand their audience or customer base.
The simple act of asking is critical to success. Yet many people don’t do it because for some reason, people falsely believe that asking implies weakness and sets one up for potential rejection.
Here are seven asking strategies you can implement in your business (and in life) to boost your results:
1. Ask for Information
You can never have too much information. In fact, the higher up you go, the more you need to know. For example, to win potential new clients, you first need to understand their current challenges, what they want to accomplish and how they plan to do it. Only then can you proceed to demonstrate the advantages of your unique product or service.
Ask questions starting with the words who, why, what, where, when and how to obtain the information you need. Only when you truly understand and appreciate a prospect’s needs can you offer a solution.
2. Ask for Business
It’s shocking, but true: more than 60 percent of the time salespeople never ask for the order after giving a complete presentation about the benefits of their product or service. If you fall into this trap, beware: it’s a habit that could put you out of business quickly. Always ask a closing question to secure the business. Don’t waffle or talk around it—or worse, wait for your prospect to ask you. There are numerous ways to ask, “Would you like to give it a try?” Find the phrasing that feels most comfortable to you and ask.
3. Ask for Written Endorsements
It can be difficult to ask for endorsements if you don’t like tooting your own horn, but well-written, results-oriented testimonials from highly respected people are powerful for future sales. They solidify the quality of your product or service and leverage you as a person who has integrity, is trustworthy and gets the job done on time.
The best time to ask is right after you have provided excellent service, gone the extra mile to help out, or in any other way made your customer really happy. Simply ask if your customer would be willing to give you a testimonial about the value of your product or service, plus any other helpful comments.
4. Ask for Top-Quality Referrals
Just about everyone in business knows the importance of referrals. It’s the easiest, least expensive way of ensuring your growth and success in the marketplace. Your core clients will gladly give you referrals because you treat them so well. So why not ask all of them for referrals? It’s a habit that will dramatically increase your income. Like any other habit, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
5. Ask for More Business
It’s easier to sell your existing clients more products and services than to go looking for new customers. Look for other products or services you can provide your customers. Another approach is to devise a system that tells you when your clients will need to re-order your products – or to simply ask your customers when you should contact them to reorder.
6. Ask for Feedback
This is an important component of asking that is often overlooked. How do you really know if your product or service is meeting your customers’ needs? Ask them, “How are we doing? What can we do to improve our service to you? Please share what you like or don’t like about our products.” Set up regular customer surveys that ask good questions and tough questions. It’s a powerful way to fine-tune your business.
7. Ask to Renegotiate
Regular business activities include negotiation and often re-negotiation. Many business professionals get stuck because they lack negotiation skills, yet this is simply another form of asking that can save a lot of time and money. All sorts of contracts can be renegotiated in your personal life, too, such as changing your credit card terms and rate. As long as you negotiate ethically and in the spirit of win-win, you can enjoy a lot of flexibility. Nothing is ever cast in stone. It’s only in stone if you don’t speak up!
The 5 Secrets to Successful Asking
The first stumbling block for most people is knowing how to ask. Here are five tips to improve the way you ask, so you achieve results:
1. Ask Clearly
Vague or fuzzy questions confuse listeners, making it difficult for them to provide the information or help you desire. Be precise in your asking. Think clearly about your request, and take time to prepare. Use a note pad to pick words that have the greatest impact. Words are powerful, so choose them carefully. For example, if you throw the “How am I doing?” question out without specifics, it may take time for the other person to understand what you’re talking about. Instead, try “How is my attitude toward customers? Do you see room for improvement? Where?”
2. Ask with Confidence
People who ask confidently get more than those who are hesitant and uncertain. When you’ve figured out what you want to ask for, do it with certainty, boldness and confidence. Practice in the mirror if you have to, or write out your question in advance.
Try to have an open mind and heart when receive a response. (It’s normal and okay to feel intimidated by the experience, but don’t show it.) Be prepared to hear the unexpected or unwanted. Don’t get defensive if you hear something you don’t like or that makes you uncomfortable. It’s good to get a little uneasy once in a while upon the observations or insights of others. They will inspire you to stop, reflect, and take steps to make a shift for the better.
3. Ask Consistently
Top producers know that they can’t quit if they ask once and don’t get a good response. In prospecting, for example, there are usually four or five “no’s” before you get a “yes.” If the approach you’re using doesn’t seem to be working, try a different way of asking and keep asking until you find the answers you want.
For example, if you find a co-worker is reluctant to offer an opinion when you seek feedback about your performance on an important team project, you can ask another team member who is more receptive to the question or rephrase how you are asking the question and try again. Because people don’t normally go around asking others for opinions on how well they are doing, it’s not a question typically heard. So be prepared to ask over and over again before you hear a clear—useful—answer.
4. Ask Creatively
In this age of global competition, your asking may get lost in the crowd, unheard by the decision-makers you hope to reach. The way around this is to ask in an unusual way. Use your creativity to dream up a high-impact presentation. Bear in mind that asking someone to stop and evaluate you can seem awkward or time-consuming. Show respect for them first and find the ideal time to ask the question. Here’s one way to engage the insights of a superior: “I highly value your opinion and honest perspective, and would love to know what you think I could be doing differently on a daily basis that would make your life easier and make our clients happier.”
5. Ask Sincerely
When you really need help, people will respond. Sincerity means dropping the image facade and being willing to be vulnerable. Tell it the way it is, lumps and all. Don’t worry if your presentation isn’t perfect; ask from your heart. Keep it simple and people will open up to you.
Like speaking a different language, asking takes continual practice until it becomes a regular, reflexive habit. The sooner you build your Ask Muscle, the sooner you’ll see results you’ve been waiting—and searching—for. Remember that asking does not relate only to work-related goals and tasks. Bring this practice home with you to enrich your relationships with your family members, and your friends. You’ll be surprised and delighted at what you discover about yourself in this process – and at the greater results and satisfaction you’ll gain in all areas of your life.