Avoid This Networking Blunder: Don’t Ask This Question!

Have you ever been out networking, meeting and greeting, and towards the end of your conversation with someone, they ask you, “So, how can I help you?”  What’s worse, have you been asking that question to people that you meet?

That is a dangerous question to ask for a couple of reasons.

One, it might be a clue that you may have been making the conversation all about you. The general rule of thumb is that a good networking meeting will consist of discussing yourself thirty percent of the time and engaging the other person to talk seventy percent of the time. If a conversation has been going great and that question pops out, perhaps you have been talking more than listening.

Two, if that’s not the case and they have shared a good bit of information about themselves or their business, it indicates that you either don’t truly understand what problems they face, or you don’t have a clue as to how you can help them.  Either way, it’s not good.

In the first instance, not only can it totally breaks rapport, but it puts the person on the spot and places them in a situation where they’re supposed to figure if and how they fit in your business model, instead of you focusing on the problems they encounter, understanding their needs, and showing them how you might be able to help.

Alternatively, if you do understand the problems they face, but still ask them how you can help them, you run the risk of appearing like you don’t know how to tackle their issues which is not likely to foster trust and ruin your credibility as an expert in your field.

The reality is, if you have been asking questions, getting the other person to speak to you and been engaged, you should be able to get a pretty good idea of their problems and challenges. People more often than not, will tell you at least a couple of areas where they can improve something in their business.  From there, you can pretty easily determine whether or not you can help that person.

If it’s a good fit, fantastic, forge ahead, but if you see that you cannot or do not know how to solve their problems, add value by connecting them with someone who can.  After all, that’s what networking is all about!

Do you have some networking tips?  Share the wealth!  Comment below!

3 replies
  1. Wade
    Wade says:

    Very good post, I see people all the time asking me what they can do for me? My basic belief is that if you don’t know, then you probably can’t help much at all.

    When I am meeting people for our consulting firm in Thailand, I generally try to get them to tell me about their company, problems or issues they are having and then give them a few tips on how they can improve or legal areas they should explore, recommend possible solutions to their issues, or tell them straight out how I can help them and what the results will most likely be.

  2. H.
    H. says:

    I completely agree. Twice now I’ve met people for breakfast meetings and as our conversations came to a close they asked me, “what can I do for you”. This said to me that 1. they felt they could offer me more than I could offer them, 2. they most likely discounted my value and felt they had the upper hand, 3. they’re not interested in allowing the relationship to evolve naturally in which case we’d both learn each others strengths and weaknesses thereby identifying what we both can bring to the table. Furthermore, how does one respond to a question like this? I find myself posing the question back to them, “what can you do for me?” Acknowledging that it indeed is an interesting question, and then backing out as gracefully as I can by offering that an opportunity will present itself as our relationship continues to develop.

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