People like to talk about themselves. Furthermore, people refer business to people they like. Therefore when networking, remember the quote from the Greek philosopher, Epictetus (c. 50 – 135 AD). “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. When networking, give yourself the time to truly listen to others when they are explaining what their business is all about. Everyone has a story, so find out what their story is. By listening to them explain their story with genuine interest, you are making a real connection with them. With this initial introduction, you are building an atmosphere of trust and rapport right from the start. All it takes is asking the right questions when you are networking with someone for the first time.
Here are the five right questions to ask when networking that will keep the conversation rolling, set you apart from other networkers, and eventually lead to referrals:
1) What do you like best about what you do?
“What do you do?” is one of the first questions most people ask when networking. Therefore, when somebody begins their networking with the statement about “what they do” with me, I usually follow-up with, “That is interesting. What do you like best about what you do?” This leads to a deeper understanding while you learn about their business as the conversation flows naturally to the next question.
2) You mentioned that you were in [industry]. What got you started in that field?
This question allows them to talk about their personal history and goals. Furthermore, you learn what sparked their career interest and led them to where they are today. It also provides insight into their dedication to their profession and how proficient they are at it. Finally, as the relationship builds over time, you begin to see ways that you might be able to provide referrals to them for their products or services from people you know. However, you need to understand how and when they network their business.
3) Where else do you usually network?
I determined years ago through personal research that people who say they are successful with networking spend on average 6.3 hours per week networking with others. Furthermore, the people who say that networking doesn’t work for them reported spending on average less than two hours per week networking. So the people who are out there and they’re successful at this, they’re networking in other places, so asking this question is a great way to find out good places to network (in addition to OR along with BNI). Therefore, this question is a great way to learn about other networking events in your area that you may be missing. Finally, this question is a great opportunity to refer them to visit a local BNI chapter meeting (online or in-person) near them or to other networking groups that you are in. Now that you are building rapport with them, it is time to learn about some of the current problems they are experiencing in their business.
4) What are some of your biggest challenges?
This question strengthens the rapport you have with them. It is an opportunity to give them a referral when they share with you their current challenges. You can say, “Hey, I know somebody who might be able to help you with that”. Please remember that this is NOT an opportunity to sell to them. Do not attempt to close a personal deal before the two of you have established your credibility between each other. At this stage, it is only an opportunity to find ways to help them.
5) How can I help you?
Only ask this question if the conversation has gone well so far and you believe that this person is someone you would like to have in your business network too. If not, do not ask this question. However, being helpful is the best way to start building a solid relationship. This final question demonstrates that you have the other person’s interests in your mind and that you are willing to help them to grow their business. Therefore, it is an excellent way to build the credibility necessary for a valuable networking partnership.
Asking the right questions is really about earning trust and gaining rapport with a new contact and doing it as quickly as you can. Therefore, asking these five questions when networking can help you become a farmer and sow the seedlings for building strong relationships over time with others. If you need additional questions to ask, here are ten great questions to ask someone while networking. Furthermore, these would be great questions to pose during your next one-to-one meeting. Finally, I would suggest that you take the time to know your own personal answers to these questions. They are likely to be asked of you in return.