Mastering the Call to Action—the ASK
Once I organized a dinner at which I introduced an upcoming political candidate to six well-connected, wealthy and active party donors in New York. The candidate was from another state and launching a tough campaign against an incumbent. These dinner companions were exactly the type of friends she needed to make.
Once we all were seated, I couldn’t do much more than watch the candidate perform. So I held back and hoped she would shine. At the end of the meal, all six donors brought out their checkbooks. Pleasantries were exchanged. A success … right?
By my account, half a loaf—at best.
This is politics we’re discussing, so money is vital. But of even greater importance are connections. The six donors had them in spades, but didn’t share them.
There was a simple reason why: the candidate never asked for them.
This story illustrates some essential points about the ask—which is the thing you want in an exchange with a potential client, customer, or anyone who can influence your situation. Like the candidate, most of us need a near miss or two to catch the drift. If all you’re after is money, that’s all you’ll walk away with.
You won’t gain contacts … or ongoing relationships … or referrals. To win those benefits, which deliver continuing returns, you need to ask for them. Sometimes, you need to ask for them instead of money. But when you ask well, money will follow.
Always go for the big ask first.
When you are networking, there often is more than one ask on the table, and they can be ranked in importance. In the candidate’s example, money was a big ask, but contacts to even more influential New York party people should have been the big ask. The candidate made a classic mistake reversing the ask order: starting small, hoping for bigger over time.
To refine your ranking abilities, you’ll have to do some thinking before you walk into a networking situation. But a few key questions can help prioritize the potential outcomes:
What am I after in this particular situation? Sometimes it’s not evident at first; ask the candidate who—make no mistake—is brilliant and accomplished. You need to be conscious of your goals: are you looking to expand your market or make quick sales? Do you need a name or a commitment?
Assess the room: who’s here? Is this event filled with people you want as clients, or with people who can introduce you to clients?
What cues am I being sent? You won’t always have time to conduct research on the people you meet. So listen to what they’re saying; better yet, observe their manner to determine if they feel powerful, or need something. You can tailor your ask to the impressions other people make.
Remember that money isn’t everything. That takes effort, especially for those of us who have to meet quota, but this awareness will pay off—literally—over time. Sometimes, the person you’re networking with has experience you’d find invaluable. They might have influence with people already in your network. Is this a connector, one of those electric folks who always seem to be bringing people together for mutually beneficial results? Watch those cues, and let the money talk wait.
Plant your ask in hope, not fear. We all want to be inspired. Fear messages—invest or be destitute, vote for me or the bad guy takes all—may win battles, but they don’t win wars. Find the reason why your ask is good news for your potential client. Inspiration is a much more effective motivation than agitation.
Remember, an ask is a call to action. It should be stimulating, like a good idea. Which, if you have your goals in clear sight and the determination to meet them, is how your ask will be received.