The Developer Advocate's Guide to Asking for Things
Asking for things is an art. So much so there is a TED Talk titled “The art of asking.” As Developer Advocates, a significant amount of our work involves asking people for things. Whether we're trying to get buy-in internally or working on collaborations externally, we're generally in the business of asking.
As professional askers, our success as Developer Advocates will primarily be driven by how good we are at doing just that. Learn how to get better results from your requests by rethinking the nature of relationships and following the three Rs of asking for things: Recognition, Request, and Reward.
It's not uncommon to hear the term “transactional” accompanied by negative sentiment in the DevRel community. It produces thoughts of shady deals done at someone's expense. I challenge this negative sentiment, though. I believe all relationships are inherently transactional. It's just sometimes the transactions are more evident than others.
Let's use moving in with someone as an example. When folks decide to move in together, they essentially agree to a transaction. Sometimes, the transaction might be more apparent in roommates' cases, even including signed documents. Yet, the transaction might be a simple verbal agreement with partners or people more familiar with each other. The same outcome is achieved in both situations, but we see the first as a “transaction” and the second as a “relationship.”
So why is the term “transactional” so poorly received?
It's because when people don't understand the nature of asking for things, they do so in a manner where value is often realized entirely (or mainly) by one side. Relationships (or transactions) are about the transfer of value. Good relationships provide each member with value by constant spoken or unspoken transactions where value is realized by all involved. On the other hand, poor relationships tend to benefit only one or a few people involved.
Ever recommend someone's services to others? It's not uncommon to hear someone say something like, “Oh, I have a great relationship with my tattoo artist. They do such great work. Want me to connect you?” It's deemed a relationship because the client and the artist both received value from their transactions.
After a conversation with Patrick Woods, co-founder, and CEO of Orbit, this realization hit me. In our discussion, he shared the idea of “value capture vs. value creation” that he uses to help companies understand how to build their communities—essentially saying that there needs to be value capture and value creation for each stage of the community.
That's when it hit me that all relationships are inherently transactional. What matters is the distribution of value.
Over my years of asking (and being asked) for things, I've developed a framework I apply any time I ask for anything. This system has served me well in ensuring that any transaction I have with others results in all parties involved getting value from the collaboration.
Recognition is honestly the most crucial part of the ask. Make sure they understand why you need them in particular and why you sought out their expertise—also, recognizing that we're asking for something and getting consent even to make our request.
Here is an example of a poor request for help in sourcing engineers for a role and my response. I wanted to showcase the importance of recognition and consent.
Once we have gained consent and the other person(s) involved have accepted to hear the request, it's time to share our actual ask. Be as descriptive as possible about the required commitment. This way they can make an informed decision about the opportunity.
Is it a speaking engagement? Let them know as much as you can about the engagement. Is it live or recorded, what is the date of the event, any specifics in the recording process they should know about? Is it paid? Etc.
Not only does this help them with decision making, but also shows them you care about their time and energy and are doing as much up-front work as you can to make the process better for them.
Never preemptively thank someone! It makes the assumption they will say yes and can quickly turn a positive transaction into a negative one.
Recognition is great, but what will they actually receive of value if they decide to help you? Because we're asking on behalf of a company, anytime we make an external ask we absolutely MUST make sure it's valuable to the other person as well. Value can be anything really, it depends on the other party's needs.
If you're not sure how you can provide value to someone, money is always a great option. 💰
Asking for things is an important aspect of the job, and if you want to be successful at it you'll have to ensure value is captured AND created. One way to do that is by using the “Three Rs” framework when asking for things.