Three Golden Questions to Create Deep Business Relationships

In business, we're meeting new people all the time. You chat or enter into a discussion, and then you may decide that you want to pursue the relationship.

What's next?

The normal procedure is to exchange business cards and promise to follow up. But I believe that this concluding moment of your first meeting is a "golden" opportunity to (1) create stronger connection, and (2) give and receive greater value that can benefit you both.

Before you leave any meeting or encounter, you always should ask what I call the Three Golden Questions.

First, "How can I help you?" This gives you an opportunity to add value immediately with a suggestion, a referral, or an opportunity, and it will establish you as a giver and potentially someone they want to know.

This question is particularly powerful if you can place your help in the context of something the other person considers important. If she's been talking about hiring new salespeople, ask, "Can I put you in touch with some personnel resources? I'm good friends with one of the top sales trainers in your field--he may know people who are looking for new opportunities." Helping people with causes in their personal lives are even better. If someone is fighting to stop a landfill project down the road from where he or she lives, for example, offer to call the county commissioner or other local representative.

Once you've added value, you can ask the second Golden Question: "What ideas do you have for me?" Asking for ideas allows them to add value to you as you have (hopefully) added value to them. You can follow this question with, "Are there other resources you think I should pursue?" Notice that you're not asking them to provide those resources (although they may volunteer to do so), just to recommend ways in which you could advance your interests.

The third Golden Question is, "Who else do you know that I should talk to?" The exact connection you need may be in this individual's network, or they may know of someone from their professional or personal background. Say you are looking to open a branch of your business in the southeastern U.S. The brother-in-law of the executive you meet at a local industry conference might have been doing business in that part of the country for 20 years. Letting others know what you are working on and then asking this question can open the doors to resources you could never access otherwise.

Once you ask the three Golden Questions, be quiet and listen. Take notes if appropriate--it not only will help you remember the resources mentioned, but it also will show that you value the help and advice given. Ask if you can follow up with them (a great reason to be in contact and to develop the relationship further).

As you leave, conclude your conversation with a simple yet powerful statement: "Happy to help." The other person will likely remember it when you contact him or her again.

Remember, in every meeting you can learn something new, gain a new experience, and perhaps find a new friend or associate. When you use the three Golden Questions, you will open the doors to greater opportunities for you as well as the people you meet.