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Seven Steps to Asking Your Way Ahead

"Ask and ye shall receive." How many times have you heard that? But how many times have you actually used this fundamental truth in your daily routine?

To put it another way: When was the last time you asked for a written endorsement from a client or colleague? How about feedback from your customers? Or the opportunity to renegotiate something that just doesn't work for you?

Far too often, business professionals—especially those in sales and marketing positions—falter because they simply stop practicing the art of asking. But were you to ask successful top executives how they got to where they are, most would likely admit they "asked to get to the top." In other words, they knew when and how to ask the right questions so they could gather the right information, build their reputation, seek useful referrals, generate new business, and expand their audience or customer base.

If the simple act of asking is so critical, then why don't more people do it? Because for some reason, people falsely think asking implies weakness and sets one up for potential rejection. It's easy to come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid asking questions that can return unexpected or critical answers. Yet, the world responds to those who ask. If you are not moving closer to what you want, you probably aren't doing enough asking.

Here are seven asking strategies you can implement in your business (and in life, for that matter) to boost your results:

1. Ask for information. You can never have too much information; in fact, the higher up you go, the more you need to know. To win potential new clients, you first need to have an understanding about their current challenges, what they want to accomplish, and how they plan to do it. Only then can you proceed to demonstrate the advantages of your unique product or service.

Ask questions starting with the words who, why, what, where, when, and how to obtain the information you need. Only when you truly understand and appreciate a prospect's needs can you offer a solution.

2. Ask for business. Would you believe that more than 60 percent of the time salespeople never ask for the order after giving a complete presentation about the benefits of their product or service? It's true, and a painful statistic that can put anyone out of business quickly if it's not changed. Always ask a closing question to secure the business. Don't waffle or talk around it—or worse, wait for your prospect to ask you. No doubt you have heard of many good ways to ask the question, "Would you like to give it a try?" The point is, ask.

3. Ask for written endorsements. These can be difficult to ask for if you don't like tooting your own horn, but well-written, results-oriented testimonials from highly respected people are powerful for future sales. They solidify the quality of your product or service, and leverage you as a person who has integrity, is trustworthy, and gets the job done on time.

When is the best time to ask? Right after you have provided excellent service, gone the extra mile to help out, or in any other way made your customer really happy. Simply ask if your customer would be willing to give you a testimonial about the value of your product or service, plus any other helpful comments.

4. Ask for top-quality referrals. Just about everyone in business knows the importance of referrals. It's the easiest, least expensive way of ensuring your growth and success in the marketplace. Your core clients will gladly give you referrals because you treat them so well, so why not ask all of them? It's a habit that will dramatically increase your income. And like any other habit, the more you do it the easier it becomes.

5. Ask for more business. Look for other products or services you can provide your customers. Devise a system that tells you when your clients will require more of your products. The simplest way is to ask your customers when you should contact them to reorder. Remember, it's often easier to sell your existing clients more than to go looking for new ones.

6. Ask for feedback. This is an important component of asking that is often overlooked. How do you really know if your product or service is meeting your customers' needs? Ask them the following: "How are we doing? What can we do to improve our service to you? Please share what you like or don't like about our products." Set up regular customer surveys that ask good questions and tough questions. It's a powerful way to fine-tune your business.

7. Ask to renegotiate. The negotiating room should never be locked up for good. Regular business activities include negotiation and often re-negotiation. Many networkers get stuck because they lack skills in negotiation, yet this is simply another form of asking that can save a lot of time and money. All sorts of contracts can be renegotiated in your personal life, too, such as changing your credit card terms and rate. As long as you negotiate ethically and in the spirit of win-win, you can enjoy a lot of flexibility. Nothing is ever cast in stone. It's only in stone if you don't speak up!

The first stumbling block for most is knowing how to ask. Luckily, there are five secrets to great asking that can guarantee you results, however big or small. If you ever find yourself hitting brick walls and coming up short in responses, just come back to the following:

•Ask clearly. No one likes getting a vague or fuzzy question. Be precise. Think clearly about your request. Take time to prepare. Use a notepad to pick words with the greatest impact. Words are powerful, so choose them carefully. For example, if you throw the "How am I doing?" question out without specifics, it may take time for the other person to understand what you're talking about. Instead, try "How is my attitude toward customers? Do you see room for improvement? Where?"

•Ask with confidence. People who ask confidently get more than those who are hesitant and uncertain. When you've figured out what you want to ask for, do it with certainty, boldness, and confidence. Practice in the mirror if you have to, or write out your question in advance. Be prepared to hear the unexpected or unwanted. Try to have an open mind and heart (it's okay to feel intimidated by the experience, but don't show it).

Don't get defensive if you hear something you don't like or that makes you uncomfortable. It's good to get a little uneasy once in a while upon the observations or insights of others. They will inspire you to stop, reflect, and take steps to make a shift for the better.

•Ask consistently. Top producers know they can't quit if they ask once and don't get a good response. Keep asking until you find the answers, and try different ways of asking if one doesn't seem to be working. In prospecting there are usually four or five "no's" before you get a "yes." You may, for example, want to ask a co-worker about your performance on an important team project, but you sense a reluctance from that person to offer an opinion.

You can always ask another person who is more receptive to the question, or consider how you are asking it and try again. Because people don't normally go around asking others for opinions on how well they are doing, it's not a question typically heard. So be prepared to ask over and over again before you hear a clear, useful answer.

•Ask creatively. In this age of global competition, your asking may get lost in the crowd, unheard by the decision-makers you hope to reach. There is a way around this, however. If you want someone's attention, don't ask in the ordinary way. Use your creativity to dream up a high-impact presentation. Bear in mind asking someone to stop and evaluate you can seem awkward or time-consuming. Show respect for them first and find the ideal time to ask the question.

Here's one way to engage the insights of a superior: "I highly value your opinion and honest perspective. I'd love to know what you think I could be doing differently on a daily basis that would make your life easier and make our clients happier."

•Ask sincerely. When you really need help, people will respond. Sincerity means dropping the image facade and showing a willingness to be vulnerable. Tell it the way it is, lumps and all. Don't worry if your presentation isn't perfect; ask from your heart. Keep it simple and people will open up to you.

Like speaking a different language, asking takes continual practice until it becomes a regular, reflexive habit. The sooner you build your ask muscle, the sooner you'll see results you've been waiting and searching for.

Jack Canfield is co-founder of the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand. Visit his online presence at www.FreeSuccessPrinciples.com.