If I said “we should give more than we receive,” I wouldn’t exactly be delivering groundbreaking advice.
Yet asking for something before providing value is the #1 complaint from successful people like these:
They’re all preaching the same thing — we need to give (many times) before asking for anything. We need to provide value up front.
And if we don’t … we will fail.
Many of us are hustling for connections. We want to build our network. We need to grow our business. We want to win friends and influence people. So we get caught up in our own priorities (ex. earning a new client, getting introduced, etc) that we forget the priorities of others.
Instead of focusing on earning something for ourselves, we should focus on helping other people earn something.
… But we don’t. Successful people, such as Mark, Maya, and Paul, cannot stand when we ask for a favor without offering value first.
Why is this happening? I believe there are two reasons:
We don’t understand why it’s vital to provide value before asking for something.
We don’t understand how to provide value. What does “providing value” even mean?
First, let’s understand why providing value before asking for something matters.
The importance of providing value can be illustrated here:
Here’s what this graph shows:
- Y-Axis: the probability of receiving value from someone (ex. a sale, introduction to someone, etc)
- X-Axis: the number of times we provide value (ex. introducing them to a contact, educating them, sharing a resource, etc)
- Intersection of probability and providing value: Iff we add value at least six times before asking for something, we have a 50% probability of getting what we want. The more “important” the person is, the steeeper the line.
Thus, every time we “add value” to someone, the greater the probability we’ll get something in return.
There’s one last element of the graph – what I call the Line of Value (L.O.V.). Because in order to get LOVE from someone, we need to give love first:
In the original graph, we used 50% and six times providing value as the example. However, we can also move up or down the curve.
For example, if we provide value nine times before asking for something, we have a 90% chance we’ll get what we want:
The more value we provide (we’ll explain HOW to provide value in a minute), the higher chance we’ll receive value in return.
But not everyone’s Line of Value (LOV) is equal. Reaching the CEO of Uber is more challenging than reaching a new blogger. As a result, the more “important” the person (ex. CEO of Uber) has a more shallow LOV:
If we’re getting ahold of a new blogger, we don’t need to provide as much “value” to catch their attention. As a result, the curve is more steep, as we can receive value faster:
Regardless of the “importance” of someone, the theme is similar — give, give, give, give, give … and then ask.
But this brings up our second challenge — HOW can we add value?
What does “adding value” even mean? What are some examples?
When I hear people vaguely say “just add value” … it’s like they’re referencing a “just add water” box of $1.99 pancake mix. It’s not that simple. The term “adding value” requires further elaboration.
Thus, below are nine ways to add value before asking for something in return. Follow these examples and you’ll be strengthening relationships, building rapport, and rapidly growing your business:
1. Introduce them to someone
Introducing someone to an important new contact is one of the best ways (if not the best) to provide value. That could be a:
Role model or someone they admire
Potential new hire (if they own a business)
Potential new manager (if they’re looking for a new job)
Potential client or business partner
But if we’re asking for an introduction, we should know the person introducing us. This is something that annoys Paul Brunson, someone who works closely with Oprah Winfrey:
Every single day, I receive a message like the following: “Hi Paul, I’m working on an incredible new project. Can you introduce me to Oprah so I can pitch it to her for funding?”
I wonder do they really expect my reply to be “Sure, let me fire-off an email immediately to her and make an introduction.”
The biggest problem people have with networking is going in for the “ask” too soon. If your networking strategy is simply about getting what you want, that’s called “using” not “networking”.
2. Appreciate them
We strengthen relationships by genuinely appreciating someone.
Yet it’s important to know the difference between genuinely appreciation, because we actually admire that person, and using cheap flattery to get what we want. To comprehend the difference, try this genuine appreciation three-step exercise:
1. Write down the name of someone you care about
2. Write down WHY you genuinely appreciate that person
3. Read what you wrote, word-for-word, to that person
Those who’ve completed this exercise have seen a 4% to 19% bump in happiness. Give this exercise a try and I guarantee you’ll feel amazing afterward.
3. Offer your expertise for FREE
Are you an expert in closing deals? Or SEO? Or web development? Or Facebook ads? Lend your expertise to someone for FREE.
For example, a web developer emailed Ramit Sethi, a successful blogger, and offered to work for free:
Minutes after clicking send, Ramit called him. He gave him a project. Soon after, he was offered a full-time job. All because he provided value up front, offering his expertise for no charge.
4. Make them laugh
Research proves that those who laugh more with others report higher relationship satisfaction. Laughing may accelerate new relationship growth and help strengthen current ones.
We can send the person a funny article, picture, or video related to a previous conversation. Or when we meet them, crack a joke. Anything that will make them laugh.
5. Adding value through social media
If the person we’re attempting to contact uses Twitter or Facebook … mention them! Share their projects and/or advice with your followers. Or offer to help in a unique way.
For example, here’s a tweet that started a conversation with Uber’s CEO:
@KonaTbone I’d love to meet you while your in Boston… anytime tomorrow or Sunday?
— Jeremy Levine (@JerLevine) May 29, 2010
@JerLevine can you meet near Newberry St. in the next hour or so?
— travis kalanick (@travisk) May 30, 2010
6. If they blog, write comments or reply to their emails
Does the person you’re trying to reach have a blog? If so, engage with them in the comments or reply to their email.
As someone who writes full-time, I always respond to email replies after emailing a blog post. Likewise, I try to reply to every comment (but I admit, I sometimes fail in this category). Regardless, I’ll consistently see the same names commenting on articles.
So if that person sends me a cold email to set up a product demo, I’d be more inclined to accept because they’ve previously engaged with me.
This rule applies to anyone who writes. Engage with them, providing thoughtful feedback.
7. Feature them in an article you write
Featuring someone in an article is a great way to break the ice. It touches on the fourth principle, Esteem, in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
That’s our innate desire to feel important. Thus by featuring someone’s advice in a list of other “experts,” they’re deemed important by our standards. And if we consider them important, it’s psychologically proven they’re more apt to like us.
8. Buy them a book (Kindle is easiest)
Know the email address of the person you’re trying to influence? Send them a book for Kindle!
They’ll be grateful with your gift, then feel inclined to return the favor. This touches on Dr. Robert Cialdini’s reciprocation principle, which states that by giving someone a gift, they feel naturally inclined to return the favor.
That’s the power of reciprocity. And sending a book is just one strategy to leverage this psychological effect.
9. Give them insightful feedback on their product, company, or work
Thoughtful feedback for a product, service, or business is priceless. If you have an idea for something, tell them!
At HubSpot, we’re always encouraging customer feedback. It helps us create a product that solves people’s problems. Customer feedback, both positive and negative, are essential for healthy business growth.
Remember: Give, give, give, give, give, give, give …. then ask.
If we don’t provide value up front, we’ll always fall short. To receive value we must provide value.
So let’s shift our focus from ourselves for a moment — and toward the needs and wants of everything else. How can we provide value, multiple times, without expecting anything in return.
If we can do that, we’ll be amongst the ranks of incredibly successful people.
And following the rules of reciprocity, if we can do that, I think we’ll all be surprised how quickly it all comes back around.