Although most of us have acquired enough manners over the course of our lives that we know enough not to ask a stranger to give us his/her seat on a bus or train, when it comes to networking, I find that many folks don’t know when they have overstepped their bounds.
The approach I would suggest to you is what I call “asking for the world’s smallest favor.”
The silence is palpable when you are face to face with a networking contact and you ask for something you shouldn’t. It is much harder to see this same “stormy silence” through email when often times it is a non-response.
The first “smell test” on a favor you are about to ask for is: If you were on the receiving end of your request, would you do it? (Now no cheating here. You have to assume that you don’t know what a wonderful, honest and hard working individual you are, and how deserving you are of this other person’s help.)
For example, asking someone you don’t know to let you borrow his/her entire Rolodex just isn’t going to happen. Even a good friend isn’t going to let you do that. So, the question you want to ask yourself is how many names can I ask for? If you ask for too few, sure you may not get as many as you want, but on the other hand, by giving the other person an opportunity to be “generous,” you may end up getting more. And, at a later date, even more.
Just like the granting of favors, asking for favors is an art form not a science.
There are many factors that need to go into the calculus of determining how far to push. How well do you know the individual you are contacting? What is his/her REAL ability to connect you to people you wish to reach? Are you asking your networking contact to put his business relationships at risk for you? What is the nature of the favor you are asking for?
I have often said that attorneys and lawyers appear to be in a position to help in the networking process, but, unless they know you VERY well, they are more likely to only PRETEND to help. The reason is that their clients who you want to meet are their livelihood. If you blow it, they get fired and lose their source of income. (As you know, money is somewhat important to most people.)
If you take my approach of asking for “the world’s smallest favor,” you suggest the absolute minimum in any first conversation. In selling terms, it can be thought of as a “trial close.” As you build your RELATIONSHIP, you can then move on to bigger and better things.
Like a frozen lake, it is always smart to step out ever so carefully. Asking for the whole enchilada the first time out is going to leave you with salsa on your shirt a high percentage of the time. (And, this is not a time you can afford cleaning bills.)