9 Ironclad Rules for Successful Business Introductions

 In Networking

There is nothing more powerful in the world of business than a trusted introduction.  Instantly, you cut through the walls of distrust that prevent even the best cold outreach from resonating with an executive you’d like to meet.  One simple intro note from a trusted source saying “you should meet Pat” and you are instantly “one of us” rather than “one of them”, a feeling that resonates with hundreds of thousands of years of primate evolution.  The value of an intro means that it is something that needs to be taken seriously and performed carefully.

At Nudge.ai, since we are working on understanding the relationship graph, I have found myself on all sides of introductions, both good and bad, in quite large numbers.  While my perspective might not be perfect on this, I feel I’ve seen enough to offer a bit of guidance on the mistakes you can avoid, especially if you are the person who is being introduced.

Here are 9 rules to follow to ensure that the intro goes well and you don’t ruin your relationship with the person making the introduction.

  1. Double Opt-In.  Always make sure that both sides are interested in being introduced.  There is nothing more awkward than an introduction that comes as a surprise and puts someone in a difficult situation.  This means that if you’re the person asking for the introduction, you can’t expect immediate results, and in fact there may never be an intro made.
  2. Power Dynamics Matter.  An introduction is a social act, and whether we like it or not, it is influenced by power dynamics. So always consider the power dynamic between your collaborator and the person you want to reach, as you may put either of them in a challenging spot.  If the person introducing is significantly more powerful than the other, it’s more of a request/mandate, and less of a peer-to-peer introduction. Similarly, if the person doing the introducing is less powerful, they are using a lot of social capital to make it happen.
  3. Understand THEIR Relationship.  The person making the introduction is putting the most social capital on the line.  If there are ways to make it easier, such as finding an event you’ll all be at and making a quick face-to-face intro, or getting their permission simply to “name-drop” them, you may find yourself having more success in accessing intros.
  4. Help VERY Carefully.  Sales people are often tempted to offer to write the intro and have their colleague just send it, thinking that it would save time.  The trouble with this approach is that the first temptation is to write a very glowing description of what your own company does “the industry’s leading…. doing all these amazing things”  But if you are asking your colleague to send that, you are implying that they endorse you as the most amazing thing since sliced bread.  That’s a big ask. On the other hand, you’ve now made it awkward for them to tone down your glowing claims. Use language you’d be comfortable using conversational such as “they are tackling challenges in…” and keep the superlatives to a minimum.
  5. Acknowledge the Intro.  The person asking for the intro goes first after the intro is made.  Once your mutual colleague has sent an introductory email, be the first to say hello, and take the conversation where you want it go.  Even if the introductory email says “Chris is looking for X”, don’t expect the person being introduced to run with that – so pick up the email thread from the introduction.  This is also a great time to put the colleague who introduced you in the bcc line, so they know the conversation picked up but their inbox is not cluttered with your conversation.
  6. Keep it Real.  If the next step for the conversation is to find a time to meet, suggest between 3 and 5 time slots that work.  Don’t make them do the work. Don’t ask them to suggest times, don’t ask them to pick a time off of your online calendar tool, and don’t pass them off to your EA (either robot or human).  
  7. Don’t Start With a Lie. A very common mistake is the little white lie, like saying “I just need 10 minutes of your time”.  While there are some calls that last 10 minutes, many do not, and chances are you know which is which.  If you’re asking for 30 minutes, make that clear. If you need an hour, be honest about it.
  8. Don’t Hide the Favor.  If you’re asking someone for an hour of their day to provide advice and guidance based on their own hard-won experiences, you are asking them for a favor.  Don’t try and mask that by saying something that inverts the dynamic like “I’d like to buy you a coffee”.  Yes, if you meet over coffee, you had better pick up the tab, but phrasing things in a way that sounds like you’re doing them a favor diminishes what they are doing for you.  
  9. Show Gratitude.  Obviously thank your colleague for the introduction.  If a conversation develops into something more, be sure to re-thank the colleague who introduced you (as appropriate) to keep them in the loop and aware.  Keep a note of who introduced you wherever it’s most convenient so you don’t forget – there are many horror stories of people who awkwardly said “you should meet my friend Rob” to the very person who first introduced them to Rob.

Business introductions are the single most powerful way to make new connections and have them turn into real opportunities.  The act of making an introduction is an expression of being “of the same tribe” which immediately confers trust and kinship. So introductions need to be treated with the care and respect that they deserve.  Following these 9 rules will keep you safe and keep your relationships with your well-connected colleagues healthy.

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Experienced SaaS CTO. Founded and guided the building of Eloqua to a market leading position in Marketing Automation. Now Co-founder and CTO at Nudge. Author of the book “Digital Body Language" with a passion for innovation, cloud computing and software evolution.
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