Back in 2009 I was helping lead a career support group at the church I was a member of. With many folks going through some major career transitions, we met weekly to offer advice on networking, social media and feedback on cover letters and resumes. In one of the sessions I heard Mecca Robbins say something that has stuck with me ever since.
DON'T ASK PEOPLE FOR HELP, ASK THEM FOR ADVICE!
It's so simple and yet so powerful. When you reach out to someone for help and they don't have any answers they often won't even respond. If they don't know how to help you, often they don't want to admit it.
But by changing the word "help" to "advice" the request takes on a completely different meaning. When you ask for advice, you are basically demonstrating reverence for that individual. You see everyone loves to give advice, even if you don't ask for it.
ASKING FOR ADVICE AS CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT INTERVIEWS
I'm fortunate to mentor start-ups at the Dallas Entrepreneurship Center and I recently offered this same advice regarding customer development. By asking advice from respected leaders in your target audience you not only get the opportunity to get some great product validation but you also just had your first sales call with them. If you can impress them with your approach to the interview they most likely will inquire about what your working on.
If you position this right, they'll tell you far more than if you had pitched them on buying your product. Better yet, you may have just found your first Alpha customer. There is an art to good customer development so be sure to heed Justin Wilcox's advice under the customer development link above.
ASKING FOR ADVICE IN YOUR JOB SEARCH
Once a semester I guest lecture in the journalism department at University of North Texas and the marketing department at University of Texas at Dallas. These talks typically center around digital marketing and the importance of demonstrating your interests and insights through a personal brand online.
I often encourage the students to connect with me on LinkedIn to offer any help that I can. Typically about 8-10% of the class immediately connect and about 1% take it the next step and ask to meet with me. And of course, because I've already advised them to ask to advice they often inquire about what companies they should target for their profession.
Leveraging alumni networks is one of the first places I tell them to start as they have a common experience. Even better is a shared fraternity or sorority or student body leadership position as that's even a smaller audience. Some alumni will get overwhelmed with these types of requests so I advise them to be creative and brief in their email requests.
So that it's. Next time ask for advice not help.
Mike Merrill is an Enterprise Account Executive for Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, the world’s most powerful digital marketing 1:1 platform. We power customer journeys across every touch point—email, social, mobile, web, and beyond—helping marketers put customers at the center of everything they do. He's also a digital strategist and keynote speaker. Make sure to check out his TEDx Talk.
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