The Art of Asking for Important Introductions
One of my favorite things about the startup world is how generous people are about making important introductions. Everyone on the challenging adventure of building a company knows that you can’t do it alone, and there’s always someone out there— another founder, a potential customer, a mentor, an investor—that can help get you through tough times.
Unfortunately, most of us suck at getting or making introductions. It’s not something taught in high school (though it should be), at business school (it really should be), or at your job, but it’s one of the most critical processes to nail down.
Why is this so important? For starters, tell me if any of these scenarios sound familiar:
- Someone offers to introduce you to a friend, and you get super excited, but that introduction never comes.
- You get an introduction, but the person introducing you mischaracterizes who you are or your goal in connecting.
- You email back and forth so many times looking for a right time and place that the meeting never gets scheduled.
- When you show up to a meeting, the other person has no idea what’s going on or is uninterested.
Yeah, I’ll raise my hand for all four. When a productive meeting could be the difference between your company having a good or bad week, you want to ensure the introduction is a quality one. And when you’re getting 10 or more introductions a week while fundraising, you really want to make sure you’re handling these as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Here are four important concepts you need to know:
Send a Forwardable Email
When you ask someone for an introduction, you’re creating more work for them. No matter how happy that person is to make an intro, they’ll appreciate it if you make their life easier.
Once an introducer agrees to an intro, send them an email that describes you/your company and why you’re hoping to meet this new person.
Try to write it in a way that allows the introducer to easily forward your email along. If not, at least include a blurb with all the information below that they can copy and paste into their email.
Wait for The “Double Opt-In”
Most people despise receiving introductions without being asked first. This is a crucial social norm to understand, especially with people as busy as founders, mentors, and investors.
When you send the introducer a forwardable email or blurb, assume they will want to check with the other person if they’re okay with receiving an introduction. When I’m introducing a founder to an investor, I’ll usually send an investor an email like this first:
This double opt-in process can be a double-edged sword, but is usually a net positive. The introduction will likely take more time, and there’s always a chance the person will say no. But if you meet, the person will more likely to be happy and engaged while speaking with you because they’ve given permission first.
Send Some Quick Reminders
Sometimes, the double opt-in process takes time: the introducer may have forgotten to forward along your email, or the person may be slow to respond. Either way, it’s on you to send quick reminders and see how things are going after a few days. If the introducer is happy to make the introduction, they won’t be annoyed to get a friendly nudge here or there to move things along.
Respond First and Offer Times
When done wrong, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.
When you finally do receive the glorious introduction, try to respond ASAP! Some simple steps:
A) Respond before the other person does.
B) Thank the introducer and move them to BCC.
C) Reiterate how excited you are to meet (and, if appropriate, what you’re looking to accomplish).
D) Offer 3-5 specific dates and times. If possible, mention how or where the meeting will be conducted (usually either a place to meet or a number to call).
E) Mention that you’re flexible to change time or place if something is more convenient for the other person.
F) Offer to send the calendar invite if/when they confirm.
Here’s an example:
After giving and taking hundreds of introductions, I’ve found that this is by far the most effective and efficient process. D) is where most people mess up—assuming that the person we’d like to meet is busier than us, we write “please send me some times that work for you.” But being too accommodating, in this case, isn’t a good thing. It’s more work for that person to look at their whole schedule for gaps than it is for them to check availability for particular windows of time that you propose. If they are busy during all the times you suggest, they’ll usually appreciate your specificity and respond with a few available times.
All of this seems minor, but it’s imperative: it will help shorten the number of back-and-forths needed (and increase the probability) of getting a meeting on the calendar that can change everything. And then, don’t forget to follow up.
James Li is a product manager at Meltwater, leading and building the Executive Alerts product. Previously, he was the co-founder and CEO of Encore Alert–a machine intelligence platform that helped digital marketers at brands like IDEO, the Denver Broncos, and CES identify and act on emerging trends, crises, and important people in their industry. The company was acquired by Meltwater in March 2016. This article was originally posted on jamesli.com, it’s reprinted here with permission of the author.