30-Jan-2011 14:55

‘How Can I Help You?’ - A Networking Turn-Off

The most successful networkers understand that the strength of any relationship is based upon the questions asked & the supplementary responses.

In 2011 ‘networking’ may be all-encompassing and opportunities abound to connect…

Whether chatting on the phone, meeting at organised networking events, over a latte & bun at your local coffee shop or a booked 1-2-1, questions should be raised about the other person’s interests, their goals and achievements, their business and industry or, and depending on the trade, product or service, even their personal lives.

However, there remains a distinct skill and art to networking: the ability to be personable without being contrary, to be incisive without seeming pushy, and to show empathy and understanding…

Our individual networking experience confirms that the optimum way to succeed in networking, business and indeed in life is to show a willingness to help and assist others. Ivan Misner of BNI may have coined the term ‘Givers Gain’ but we can all appreciate the concept.

The one question however most likely to be misunderstood or even ignored is the one that should provide the greatest success…

The well-meaning & innocent offer, "How can I help you?" is often incorrectly misinterpreted as a demand, "Do you have any work for me?"

A common and almost knee-jerk automatic response may be a brusque & terse retort that ‘they don’t have anything for you right now, but they will keep you in mind…’

Know that what was proposed as an innocently helpful offer of support has suddenly caused them to perceive you as a ‘salesman’ with all the negative connotations. The likelihood of proactive and future networking reciprocity will be limited.

So how indeed can we better network and what may be a preferred way of asking, "How can I help".

Far be it for me to offer guru-style succinct and failsafe answers, but my personal, albeit limited, networking experience may offer alternatives…

Perhaps, woven into the conversation could be the simple phrase, "What are your specific needs in 2011?" and assuming you receive a positive response, you could follow up with your supplementary reaction, "Oh that’s interesting, so how can I help you with your xxxxxxxxx problem?"

This simple dialogue has now not only improved the possibility of assisting your networking partner but has possibly laid the foundation of a mutually trusting & beneficial association…

By increasing your chances of being able to help them, you have also grown the likelihood of becoming more memorable… & with word-of-mouth marketing is that not the ultimate goal?

So, the next time you may be networking directly at an event or perhaps simply chatting whilst waiting in line at a corporate buffet, remember, that in order to help them, you really need to know "what they need"… and the most effective way to find out, may simply be "to ask ‘em".

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Contributed by Norman Feiner on 02-Mar-2011 14:12
Pleasure Rob.

Oh & btw - had a meander through your posts and can recommend a decent read at:
Contributed by Rob Nugent on 02-Mar-2011 14:01
I'd never even thought of it like that Norman, many thanks for the heads-up!
Contributed by Keith Lawrence on 02-Feb-2011 23:21
Hi Norman,

Thanks for this; it's a great 'stop and think' question...

Too often we hear it (and use it?) in a well-meaning and helpful sense, but you're totally correct in that it can easily be misinterpreted as 'what can I sell you today?'. And I for one am definitely guilty of an 'It's OK, I'm only browsing.' response...

When networking, and genuinely wanting to help, I try intead to use something along the lines of, 'How can I best identify the type of people that you're looking to help?' Only a few more words but hopefully moving the question definitely into the giving rather than taking arena...

So, on the basis that you probably don't need or want my services today, how can I best identify the type of people that you're looking to help?

Best regards,

Keith Lawrence
Contributed by Ian Brodie on 02-Feb-2011 23:20
I'd certainly agree with Richard's point about generalities vs specifics.

If someone I've just met says "how can I help you?" my response would be "I have no idea". But if they take the time to ask me about my business find out some specifics and then make some suggestions (or better yet - help discover things for myself) - that's helpful.

To often people ask how they can help (in my opinion) because they're taught that's what you should do because "givers gain". But they don't really want to work for it.

Contributed by Richard Maybury - Sales Club for Consultants - Li on 01-Feb-2011 20:55
Good points, Norman.
I'd like to add 2 observations:
1) Help:
I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the whole notion of 'Help'. It increasingly appears to me to be a disempowering notion. Given that the way we speak and the words we use carry so much weight with the people we communicate with, I am increasingly careful not to position within a Help/Need context.

I have been mulling over this and browsing through some texts on the subject and my thoughts are not fully formed yet, but - for the time being at least - i am training myself away from the whole 'How can I help..' 'Happy to help..... ' language constructs.

2) Generalities versus specifics
Generalities are lazy. Specifics require some work, which requires energy and interest. I have found that simple, specific questions are a great way to engage people in conversation that may or may not lead to a business opportunity.

Thanks for your posting here, Norman. If anyone has any material, references or links that I can use in exploring my outline notions around ‘Help’ above, I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Contributed by Helen Williamson on 01-Feb-2011 10:24

Thanks Georgina for the happy memories and at the same point putting over the point.

In addition, to whatever words you may use, your real intent will usually show through in other non-verbal signals that the other person will pick up.
Contributed by Sam Borrett on 01-Feb-2011 09:23
Nice post Norman and well thought out and expressed IMHO.

It is a delicate affair and hard to put any slant on the right words. We have all fallen into the "how can I help you trap," but not anymore.

if there is no engagement then no amount of "helping" you will succeed. Nothing beats sincerity and people smell it or not.


Sam Borrett
Executive Coach, Real Estate, Mentor, Lawyer, Entrepreneur, Facilitator,
Life Constellations
Alchemy of Love
Men's Health
Jupiter Properties Pty. Ltd.
PO Box 241 Brunswick Heads, NSW, 2483
Contributed by Milton Rodrigues on 01-Feb-2011 09:22
Most Sole-Traders, SMBs, SMEs ...
are going to say in the conversation :

" You can help me us to get More Sales ".
Plain and Simple.

So if they tell you this, it remains to sort out a COMMISSION Fee for a Referral.

This assumes that you have understood clearly what their Business is ... Their Product or Service.

Always get any Fee Arrangement in writing, else
it will lead to misunderstandings later on, I am positive.

Milton Rodrigues
Surge-ITS Network Engineers, Wembley.
Contributed by Georgina Lester on 01-Feb-2011 09:21
I think that it is a deep seated issue that has been prevalent for many many years. The context may have changed and the words tweaked to suit the new arena but the essence remains the same.

Remember "Are you being served?" There are plenty of examples a great and not so great selling techniques in this sitcom. Some would no doubt be deemed funnier than others.

"Can I help you?" is the worst question that any shopkeeper can ask a customer as it all to often leads to a "No" slamming a door on any future conversation and so any further opportunity to 'chat' to them. If we can't find out more about the customer then we can't find a way to help them. But, how often are we accosted, even stalked by attendants chasing after a bonus or commission cheque?

About 2 minutes into this video - you will see a classic example of someone selling without listening. Sadly when people say "How can I help you?" they don't always actually bother to find out if they have been heard making one feel like the offer was never genuine in the first place. After a while it can become as cheesy as a Big Mac and Fries dished up with "Have a nice day!"

As with anything - authenticity, listening, originality and integrity are key ingredients in my view. I connect and converse with people I can relate to - even if it is only in a small way. I am genuinely interested in people and they tend to get that.

Mrs Slocombe's skills at selling ...... how many people have we seen taking this approach? Whilst this may be comedy here - in the arena of doing proper business it's not quite so humourous.

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Contributed by Phillip Khan-Panni - Wordsmith 0845 165 9240 on 31-Jan-2011 19:48
I have written an eBook called "How to get better results from Networking Meetings", which I'd be glad to send, with my compliments, to members of this group.
Just send me an email with Networking in the subject line, to:
Contributed by Richard White on 31-Jan-2011 18:57
Great article Norman
Contributed by Ziona Etzion on 31-Jan-2011 12:23
The well-meaning & innocent offer, "How can I help you?" is often incorrectly misinterpreted as a demand, "Do you have any work for me?"

How many times has this phrase been used and it has NO MEANING!
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