Ok, I have to say this. After hearing pitch after pitch and question after question one thing frustrates me beyond all belief — the inability to answer the following question:
How can I help?
Your inability to answer this question is stifling your business and your life.
Exactly how to respond
First, let’s talk about what not to say. Do NOT say any of the following
- Money, Funding, Venture Capital – you do not need money, you need customers, possibly a different problem or a better solution. There are times when money is appropriate but always as a last resort and likely as an expansion or “scaling” strategy. If you’re ready to go from a $10M company to a $100M company then yes, by all means, ask for money. The best time to get money is when you don’t actually need money.
- Customers – do not respond with the generic phrase “customers” – nobody really knows who your ideal customer is (do you?) and if they do they are not interested in exposing their contacts to a sales call from you. See Game Changers below for how to properly ask for Customers.
- Help – Again, this is a generic answer. See Game Changers below for how to properly ask for people to improve your team.
What’s the Real Question?
To clarify the question here is what “How can I help you?” really means (and how you should interpret it in your head).
What three things will change the game in my business?
Here’s a few ideas for game changers –
- “Brand” – someone you can associate with your company that will greatly increase sales. Ex: Dr. Oz for a healthcare business. Oprah for a book. Richard Branson for entrepreneurship. Jay-Z and 50 Cent for electronics. You get the idea. Best way to phrase this – “Someone connected to ________”. Usually it’s the people around these people and sometimes entire companies that represent these people who you actually need to speak with. Consider scoping down. For a lot of businesses it’s a contact known within the industry and not by the general public that’s most effective. It’s someone your customers will recognize and say “oh, I don’t know if this company is any good but it’s worth a look because _______ is associated with it”.
- Customers – When asking for customers be very specific and clear on what you are offering in return. Here’s an example “looking for clarification on issues grocery chains are facing, specifically want to speak with an executive or purchasing agent at Publix and Winn Dixie”. One of the best things you can do is have “potential” customers who do not buy from you. When considering a product or improvements to an existing product guess who you should ask for an opinion? Yep, someone who’s a potential customer and of course your current customer base. It’s called customer development, get some.
- Guidance – What companies and people can provide insight into the industry? What sites and publications will increase my knowledge of the industry and help me identify the people I need to speak with? Who can advise you on the next steps to take in your business? Know who these key people are, reach out to them directly, and ask around to get connected.
- Team (“Help”) – What key people do you need on your team (part-time or full-time)? Someone with 20 years experience in your industry, financial advisor / CFO, executive with customer and partner contacts, advisors. When looking for employees answer very specifically “sales person with 10 years experience in healthcare systems and contacts in Tampa Bay”, “admin looking for 15-20 hours of work per week”, or some other very specific job description. This stimulates the brain of your audience and if they know someone they may actually connect you. “Help” doesn’t help anyone.
- Partner Companies – Contacts at potential companies that may partner with you. You have something to offer these companies (additional product line, distribution, or brand). If you do not have one of those three things then it’s not the right partner. Again, be very specific. List the companies and if possible 1-2 people at each company you are connecting with.
Guess what happens?
Attend 1-3 events each week in your industry and in the community. Build relationships with everyone, help whenever possible, and when they ask what you need respond with the answers you prepared ahead of time (sometimes on the drive over). Along the way you’ll get the connections you need to expand your business.
How can I help?
List your answers below.
(Photo Credit: Egan Snow on Flickr)