I tend to notice patterns. And, recently, I was developing communications best practices for a project at work, followed by helping a close friend tweak an email in her job search and I began to formulate an idea based on observations and lessons learned professionally and personally. The idea is simple. Provide ‘the offer before the ask’.
The Sales Call (An “Ask”)
Take, for example, a sales call. Say you call a prospective client and your goal is obviously to make a sale. Actually, that’s the end goal. The more immediate goal should be to build a relationship first. And, providing an “offer” – showcasing what your product or service can do before soliciting a sale from the person on the other side of the table or phone line (the “ask”) – helps create a two-way, relationship-based conversation, versus a one-directional, one-track goal-oriented message.
A Business Pitch (An “Offer”)
In the Public Relations (PR) field, a typical task is to “pitch” the media. If we think of a “pitch” in the same way as we do a baseball pitch, the pitcher is throwing a ball (the “offer”), or in this case, an idea or a story for coverage, to someone else, hoping they’ll feature it (or nail it with a bat). What’s in a successful pitch? Providing the facts of a potential news story or publication feature may seem like the most direct way to reach an end goal, but extending an “offer” may provide more of an incentive for a busy media professional to respond to your “ask”. Sometimes this “offer” in PR comes in the form of an interview with a key player in the newsworthy story, a sample product for a launch, a demo or trial of a service or even a photo or video to accompany the story to save them time developing the story. It may even be as simple as mentioning you recently viewed a similar story to show you’re a dedicated member of their audience. If the media professional you are pitching accepts your “offer”, the interview, the sample or their participation in the trial or service will result in the investment of time and energy, or simply attention, which then helps build a relationship and a story inspired by an experience versus just someone who asked for media coverage on one of many stories, companies, and organizations vying for the spotlight.
Research and Demonstrating Interest as The “Offer”
Sometimes, an “offer” may come in the form of demonstrating interest in the other party to build that relationship before the “ask”. For example, I recently planned to go to dinner on a Saturday night at my favorite neighborhood gem but discovered they didn’t take weekend reservations. However, I was determined to dine there for a special occasion. I called the restaurant, mentioned it was my favorite restaurant and that I had done my research (the “offer”) and knew they didn’t take reservations on weekends, but wondered if there was any way it could be arranged (the “ask”). The restaurant manager gave me her name and made sure that I got to experience their restaurant on the desired evening. Demonstrating my commitment to the restaurant manager minimized the risk for her that I would be a no-show and inspired her to make sure I got what I asked for.
(Along these lines, restaurants apply too! Waitors and waitresses bring guests a menu and “offer” the specials before the “ask” about what they’ll order. Bartenders may lay down a coaster or napkin as the “offer” expressing interest in the patron before the “ask” for an order, aka a sale, which should lead to tips.)
The Career “Offer”
I remember meeting an MBA student when I was an undergraduate business school student in college, who quickly became a mentor of mine, and was working for a company I had an interest in. I remember she met me for brunch the day after her last final of her MBA program to share career advice and I thought, “Why on earth would she take the time to meet with me when she should be sleeping in or celebrating? What do I have to “offer” her with a developing marketing career?” My wise mother provided me with part of the answer: it was likely that someone helped her along the way and she wanted to do the same favor. And in the process, I learned the second half of my self-posed question: I can “offer” admiration for her work, and express an interest in her experience and knowledge. And now I know, there’s always an “offer” to give, even if you think you may benefit more from the result of the “ask”.
The Job Seeking “Offer”
This concept recently resurfaced when a friend of mine was referred to a professional in her field at a reputable company from whom she sought to find a job opportunity. When I discovered my friend had not previously had contact with this executive, I suggested that in her introductory email, she express interest in learning about the exec’s career path that led her to where she is now and to meet for coffee, which was an uncomfortable “offer” not knowing this woman. However, I strongly believed that “offering” to meet in person, expressing interest in learning about the professional woman’s experience would help build a relationship that could lead to learning about potential job opportunities if they were to arise in the short-term or down the road. And, the “ask” before any such “offer” likely would have been uncomfortable for the executive and could give the perception of greediness. (For the record, my dear friend is anything BUT greedy, I simply provided a neutral perspective on her email approach since her main focus is securing a new and more advanced position to further her successful career.) The executive needed an incentive to refer this very worthy candidate to any open company positions – and meeting in person with the job seeker (the “offer”) would show initiative, would help build a relationship, and a positive and memorable reputation.
The Romance of the “Offer” and the “Ask”
Not only does this concept apply to professional experiences, I notice it in day-to-day interactions. Confession, I recently watched the finale of The Bachelor, ending in a marriage proposal. I made an observation that yes, could quite possibly only be exemplified on reality TV or romantic comedy movies – you’ll typically hear the proposer “offer” words about why they love the other person and spending a life together before the big “ask”.
And, a common dating conversation may include an “offer” such as, “we should check out that restaurant sometime” to feel out the other person’s interest before the “ask” to make concrete plans.
Before I close, I want to emphasize that the point of “the offer before the ask” is not to “scratch your back so you’ll scratch mine”. The purpose is to build a relationship and show your interest or buy in so that when you ask for a favor, a date, or even a purchase, an interaction takes place rather than simply a one-sided action (that could come with resentment in the response or the “ask” could possibly even be ignored).
What other examples do you have of situations where an “offer” precedes an “ask” to achieve a desired goal professionally or personally?
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