Everyone has problems that need solving. Sales aren’t good, funnels aren’t optimized, their son wants tickets to the playoff game on Friday.
Once you realize that, you’re just one step away from being the person everyone likes to have around—a problem solver.
The secret to becoming a problem solver is locked up in five short but magical words. When you learn to use them well, you’ll find that whatever you’re working on—your career, relationships, or network—immediately begins to improve. And over the long-term, the results become exponential.
But there’s a time and place to step in and solve someone’s problem. To do it effectively, you need to build a relationship of mutual trust between yourself and the other person.
Here’s how to work your way up to that point:
Start with the right motives.
If you’re looking for a tit-for-tat type of relationship, you’re already starting on the wrong foot.
Your motives don’t have to be entirely altruistic, they just have to include a real interest in helping someone else. That could mean making their business more efficient, optimizing their processes, or helping them out in one of a hundred other ways. It just has to be sincere.
When people in my network are successful, that makes me happy. I know their success doesn’t detract from mine, and I know my success doesn’t detract from theirs.
That win-win mentality is the foundation of all good relationships.
Listen when people tell you what they’re interested in.
Everyone has interests outside of work. Even the most buttoned-up execs go golfing on the weekends or fly fishing in Montana. Traveling, fine dining, rescuing dogs—everyone has something they care about.
You don’t need to get really personal to find details about someone you just met. Instead, listen to what they tell you. Ask a question or two about what they like to do, and pay attention to their answers. Even little details will give you some insight into who this person is outside of their job.
When you learn someone’s outside interests, you often learn about a problem or two they could use a hand with.
Set up industry alerts.
Setting up alerts may sound a little creepy, but I promise the intentions here are good. Personally, I have a large network, so in order to keep track of everything that’s going on, I’ll set up industry alerts for the name of a contact’s business.
If they put out a press release about a new partnership or funding round, I’ll be notified. And I can send them a little congratulatory note or give them a call. No sales pitch necessary. Just a “Hey, just wanted to say congratulations. That’s amazing. Let me know if you need help with anything.”
Out of sight is out of mind. If you have a great date with someone, you follow up, right? You don’t just sit there staring at your phone, hoping they’ll send you something. The same thing applies here. You don’t need to be pitching someone every week, but you don’t want them to forget about you entirely.
Stay consistent and show effort.
If you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, you have to persevere through years of school. You have to be persistent and follow through over a long period of time.
The same goes for building relationships and being a problem solver. That doesn’t mean pestering people and sending them messages every Monday. It just means that if you come across something truly worth sending to them, then you follow through.
And when it becomes clear that you’re genuinely interested in what they’re doing and keeping in touch with them for the right reasons, they might just decide that they could use a hand, after all.
Here’s where it all comes together. Whether you’re on a call or meeting face-to-face, don’t lead with, “Do you want to buy from me?” or “What can you afford?”
Instead, use those five magical words:
“How can I help you?”
And when you ask, they’ll tell you. They’ll tell you exactly what they need. And in that moment, you have the opportunity to be a problem solver.
Maybe they specifically need what you’re selling. In that case, you’re already in a win-win position. Or maybe they’re unhappy with their accountant. Well, you know a few CPAs, why don’t you put them in touch?
Just remember, sometimes when you lend a hand, it opens doors for you. Sometimes it doesn’t. Asking people what you can do for them isn’t about keeping score or trying to gain favors, it’s about building long-term relationships—putting aside your own immediate interests for a moment and focusing on someone else.
They may not immediately decide to do business with you. They may never return the favor. But you’ll find that a lot of people will remember what you did for them and somewhere down the line, they’ll reciprocate.
There isn’t enough time in the day to tell you how many doors “how can I help you?” has opened for me. It’s the question that everyone wants to hear, but few people ask. If you can become a part of the latter group, you’ll find that those five words really do help you build a powerful network and advance your own career in the process.