Be Prepared to Answer the Question: “How Can I Help You?”

When was the last time someone asked you the question “How can I help you?”  If you’re conducting meetings, attend networking events or involved in business groups, it’s likely you get asked this question all the time.  It may not always be in those exact words, but variations of this question are probably posed to you on nearly a daily basis.  Many of us miss the enormous opportunity this question affords us because we either A: don’t recognize when the question is being asked or B: don’t have a good answer for the question that the other person can then act on.

Recognizing when the question is being asked is pretty simple: you just need to listen.  The person you are talking to may say, “How can we work together?” or “I’m excited about forming a partnership with you.”  She may ask who you’re looking to work with or which groups you’d enjoy getting involved in.  The key here is that the question comes in many different forms (and sometimes not in the form of a question at all).  You need to listen carefully to the other person and recognize when you’re being given the opportunity to tell them how they can help.

The second part is a little trickier because it will probably change depending on who you’re talking to, what you’re working on at the time and what your most pressing current needs are.  However, you always need to have an answer prepared for a number of possible situations.  Here are some tips:

Make it Easy for Them to Help  

If the person you are chatting with asks you how they can help, they clearly really want to do something to assist you in your business endeavors.  Your job is to make it easy for them to do so.  You don’t want to overwhelm your new ‘assistant’ by giving them a job that requires far too much effort (“I could really use three new clients!”), nor do you want to ask them for something they have no way of providing (asking them to utilize your services when they aren’t in your industry, for example).  Ask for small, easily accomplished ‘favors’.  Maybe you want them to like and share your new business Facebook page or they mentioned a colleague you’d benefit from meeting.  These are manageable ‘asks’ that could lead to bigger partnerships down the road.

Have at Least Two Answers Prepared at all Times  

Not everyone is going to be able to assist you in the same ways.  Telling a business owner how they can help you will probably sound much different than informing a stay-at-home mom how she can be of assistance.  Say, for example, you own a website design business.  If a CEO asks how he can help you, you might ask if you could take a look at his site and see if you can give any input on improvement.  If a stay-at-home mom asks the same question, you may be able to have her keep an ear out for any of her friends who have started a new business.  Always tailor your answer to the person asking the question.

Always be Ready to Reciprocate  

Business, just like life, is about give and take.  If someone asks how they can help you, you don’t want to jump all over it, shake their hand and walk away.  After you tell them how they can help you, turn the question around to them and—this is the big part—be ready to follow up.  It’s even better if you can find a way to help them before they help you.  This shows the person you’re serious about partnering and that you can bring value to the table.  It will also encourage them to follow up on their offer to assist you.

Every person you meet, whether in a strategic sales meeting or at a coffee shop, has an ability to help your business.  You simply have to recognize the question when it is asked and be prepared with the right answer.