When I was younger, I had a practice of going up to food trucks toward the end of the day and asking if they had any leftover food I could eat—completely for free. It initially started because I was a struggling 20-something New Yorker on a tight budget, but I ended up noticing I was also curious to see what would happen—if only I asked.
Sometimes, of course, I got “nopes,” but more often than you’d think, the chef would say, “Sure, I have to get rid of this at the end of the day, anyway,” and share a small snack or pile me a plate of delicious food.
I didn’t fully realize at the time how much those silly experiences were preparing me for what I would need to be able to do in business. So often in my day-to-day as a CEO, there are things that my company doesn’t just want, but needs, to move forward—and other people or organizations are the key to getting it. By knowing how to not just ask, but to ask in a persuasive way, I’ve been able to get publicity for a fledgling product, food for a cash-strapped organization’s launch party, and even free conference passes for early Muse employees.
Even if you’re not running a business, you need things from other people in order to succeed. You might need a professional contact to give you an intro at your dream company. You might need the expertise of someone in the next department over to get a project done. You might need a vendor to cut you a deal in order to stay within budget. You get the picture—learning how to be persuasive, particularly in a professional context, is a skill that pays dividends over and over.
So how do you do it? There are a lot of different strategies here, but my specialty is sealing deals by finding ways for both parties to get something they want, even if those two items aren’t directly related.
For example, let’s say you want some new software for your team at work, but you can’t afford the price tag. Instead of just asking if the company can cut you a deal—or assuming they’ll say no and throwing in the towel—consider whether there’s something you can provide in return. If it’s a small company, maybe they’d trade a testimonial and some social media promotion about their product by your company in exchange for a discount.
Similarly, if you need a colleague to put in extra hours to help you with a project, you could offer up your expertise for a “work swap.”
You don’t even always have to give something away to create a win-win deal. Sometimes, simply by helping you, other parties are helping themselves. Maybe by helping you with your project, your colleague will get more visibility in front of higher-ups or experience in an area of the business that they’d been curious about. Or maybe by discounting your services to get your company on board, your vendor would have its first client in your region. And those food truck vendors? Well, the food they gave me resulted in less they had to take home or throw away at the end of the day. And many of them were bored and happy to have someone to chat with for a while. If you can find that value-add and demonstrate it to other people—either explicitly or subtly, depending on the circumstances—they’re much more likely to be willing to want to help you.
At the end of the day, remember you’re talking to another human being. Yes, your deal may be “with Forbes” or you may be trying to sell “into Facebook.” But ultimately, it’s another person across the table—someone with his or her own personality, preferences, and goals. The more you treat your contact like a human—and understand what he or she wants—the more likely you are to get what you want as well.
This article was sponsored by University of Phoenix. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.