How to Ask for Business

Confession time: we used to encourage our clients to “ask for the business.” This advice was being interpreted as “bully your clients and referral sources into coughing up some work.” 

Let’s set the record straight. Here is what doesn’t work in business development: You’re sitting across from a client or referral source and after a few minutes of obligatory chitchat, you say, “so, when are you going to send me a referral or give me some business?” 

Maybe you can get away with saying that if your demeanor is exceptionally disarming and you’ve known the other person for twenty years. In most cases, you will come across as pushy. 

The best way to ask for business is to identify their difficulties. Shift the focus of the conversation away from what you want and over to what they need. Start with, “what are your biggest challenges right now?”

Chances are, they will have an answer. Your follow-up questions will help you understand the details and nuances of their situation so that, if hiring you is an appropriate solution, it will flow naturally out of the conversation. If your services are not immediately required, make an introduction to an appropriate colleague or business resource, thereby demonstrating that you are a solution-provider regardless of whether it benefits you directly. 

So, the next time you are meeting with a prospect, make a concerted effort to seek out the business opportunities on the table, and then clarify how you can be of assistance. Granted, this requires a certain degree of courage and directness, but it certainly doesn’t require bullying. 

This is an excerpt from the upcoming book, The Shortlistby David Ackert, Greenleaf Book Group.