Why You Should Think Twice Before You Send That Intro Email

Posted on Mar 21, 2012 | 132 comments


Intros. They’re the lifeblood of networking – the currency of mavens. They are your route to angel money. Your entrée to sales meetings.

We couldn’t live without them.

But when misused, overused or abused they can diminish your personal brand, consume your valuable time and waste time of the relationships you value the most.

I would like to make the case for being judicious with your introductions. I would like to encourage you to closely guard your most cherished relationships. And in most cases I would heed Fred Wilson’s advice about the “double opt-in” email for intros – where you ask for permission before green-lighting an unsolicited introductions.

I give introductions frequently.  I also request them for time to time. So please don’t view this post as recommending not to do introductions. It’s a simple reminder that whom you do introduction for and how you do them will have a great impact on your credibility with those relationships you’ve worked so hard to build.

 The Details

Lately I’ve seen some friends and colleagues go nuts with intros. I’ve commented to several of them (so, no, I’m not talking about YOU. I’m talking in aggregate. Promise.) that I don’t understand their motivations.

At best “over introducers” are driven by a sincere desire to help other people. In reality it probably also has some element of ego because sending out many intros gives off the impression that you’re well connected. That you can “make things happen.” That you’re helpful. You’re trying to endear yourself to one side of the intro.

But here’s the thing – every time you send an introduction you’re obligating people. At a minimum you’re obligating them to ignore the email and feel like an arse for not responding to your introduction. More likely they either end up finding an excuse not to meet, delaying a meeting indefinitely or in most cases actually taking a meeting.

Over-introducers also consume a lot of personal time in making intros. It is very time consuming doing intros the right way. Ask yourself the tough question about how you might spend that time more productively getting your job done well.

There are many times when that meeting is a great fit and hugely appreciated. There are also many times where that meeting isn’t really focused or productive. Here are some of the underlying motivators and some thoughts about these introductions.

Helping with a Sales Lead
I do this often. Usually it’s on behalf of a portfolio company. After all, if your VCs won’t help you get access to potential buyers or business development partners – what will they do?

But I also try to help friends / close business associates get access to other people I know.

My personal rules are:

  • I must know the individual whom I introducing well enough to vouch for their character and therefore the likelihood that their product or service is of high quality
  • I must be able to mentally make a connection of how the person whom I’m introducing my friend / colleague to would benefit. If it’s strictly a favor I will ask before I intro and I will state specifically that it’s a person favor
  • In 80% of the cases I will ask permission in advance. Where I don’t it’s usually because I’m highly certain of the relevant of the introduction.

I recognize that each time I ask I’m putting my reputation on the line. If I introduce a time waster or somebody with a crap product then the person whom I introduced them to will necessarily think less of me. If I do it to them twice it may start to affect our relationship or at least their willingness to take more meetings from me.

I carefully guard this privilege that allows me to periodically do high-profile introductions.

Helping Access Money
People need access to angels and VCs. I frequently tell startups that the best way to get a meeting with money is to get a highly-qualified introduction.

But all too frequently people send angels & VCs too many unqualified intros. Regardless – I do my best to respond to as many as I can. The thing about an intro is that I know that one person is trying to help a friend get access to me. So I feel that not acknowledging this is disrespecting the introducers.

And I understand that many people who send VCs deals think they’re doing you a favor. But the reality is that unfiltered intros just create work for the VC. And if you send an intro to a company once without asking – no problem. But if you start the send multiple deals and if the quality of those deals is not super hight then you begin to erode the trust that the VC has in your judgment.

My belief – unless you know the VC really well (you’re a portfolio company of theirs, for example) I’d always ask for permission first. It’s best if you send a deck so that the investor can review it for a fit before the introduction takes place.

If I get a plan I find interesting from somebody I trust I am always hugely appreciative.

And then there is the email blaster / form letter introducer. They think they’re doing the startup a favor by casting a wide net to VCs. By the time I’ve gotten 4-5 of these garbage emails I just start hitting delete (or ask them to remove me from their list). Remember as a startup – the person who sends the intro to the VC matters a lot.

Helping with a Job Opportunity / Career / Information Interview
This is one area where I really try to go out on a limb. It’s a matchmaking service. Companies are always looking for highly qualified talent. Talent is always looking for interesting opportunities.

This is the kind of intro I do most frequently.

It falls into 2 categories:

1. I know the company and the specs they’re generally looking for. I come across a person looking for a new role. This might be somebody I know well (thus the email will come very highly referred) or somebody I just met for which the company will get the “I just met this person. I haven’t referenced him/her. She looks very competent but you’d have to apply your own filter / check reference.

1. I know the individual well and they’re wanting information interviews to find a good home. Here I will usually ask in advance. I will make a clear instruction in the email that the meeting is 30 minutes. I will strongly encourage the person to respect time boundaries and to make sure to send a thank you note.

“You Guys Should Meet”
This is the worst kind. If you find yourself writing this in an email – think twice about sending it. I see way too many of these. You sorta / kinda know s0-and-so because you had a few too many beers together last year as SXSW. You remember that they work for Google / Microsoft / Zynga. You meet somebody new in business. They seem like “a nice guy.”

They mention something about trying to do a deal at Zynga. “Hey, I know a guy at Zynga. I should introduce you guys.”

I know you think I’m exaggerating. The tech world is filled with these kinds of intros. These drive me bonkers. They’re generally disrespectful of all involved unless previously clear with everybody. Even then you’ll find that some people just aren’t good at saying no. But they’ll still likely be frustrated that they now have one less hour of one less day.

In Summary

Introduce people. It’s good karma. But be judicious. Introduce people that would genuinely each benefit from meeting. Whenever possible ask permission. And if you’re tempted to be an “over introducer” please know that you probably damage your personal brand as much by burning people’s time as your perceived positive brand perception by making each individual connection.

  • panterosa,

    My parents met on a blind date. I agree, one never knows what will come of a meeting – a connection, or maybe no sparks, or perhaps a back burner thing. Good judgement, good will, and some wonder and respect at the mysterious ways the universe moves, along with some patience, makes the glass half full. For the rest it’s half empty.

  • panterosa,

    I am very happy to hear you and Tereza talking here. I thought you two might get along ;)

  • http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com/ JLM

    Glad that blind date turned out OK.

  • http://www.bluecoastrecords.com/ Cookie Marenco

    Dear Introduction, perhaps you are in a financial position to not have to worry about the bottom line or have more than 24 hours in a day.  Are you feeling that someone isn’t giving you an introduction that you want?  Maybe you should consider a new tactic on ‘how to make friends and influence people’ and you’ll have more introductions.  :)

  • http://byJess.net/ Jess Bachman

    ” Does that mean you are less of a determined entrepreneur because you couldn’t make the connection?”Yes, yes it does. In today’s social world, there is no excuse for being unable to make a connection somewhere in the chain.

  • Heres mare

    …regarding “over-introducers” it doesn’t help that “networking” is being crammed down our throats, either. i’m all for it, but networking works in different ways for different people…and sometimes doesn’t work at all. 

  • http://www.multiculturalmatters.org/ Elias Kamal Jabbe

    Excellent article. I think a useful thing to do is provide something of value when you are being introduced to someone who could help you and could be doing you a favor in the future. Even something as simple as an article they could benefit from reading or anything else which could be a useful resource for that person. After researching the person on LinkedIn and finding out about their interests and the specifics of the industry they are in you can come to a decent conclusion.

    A good option to pursue rather than coming empty-handed.  “No sitting at the table if you’re bringing Nothing to it.”

  • leshes123

    Omg people, you are made of plastic.

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com/ Donna Brewington White

    Is that honestly what you got from this article?

  • Mukund

    Point take about double opt in.

  • Winkieboy

    Agree. But people keep trying.

  • http://cynthiaschames.tumblr.com/ Cynthia Schames

    Yes, thank you for the intro! I am looking forward to getting to know Tereza when we each have time. :)

  • http://thebusinessbuildershelpdesk.com/ Peter Beddows

    Beautifully, simply and clearly put. I like and agree with this perspective on this subject.

  • http://www.beatsbydreheadphones.net/ Slive

      I take my network really seriously so this is totally annoying.
    Sometimes when I have a moment I respond by saying, “Hi! Thanks for
    reaching out. Your background seems great, but I don’t recall that we’ve
    met.

  • http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com/ JLM

    Would it not be likely that you had NOT met since it is an intro after all?

  • http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com/ JLM

    Again, go back to the comfortable v uncomfortable binary decision point. It’s perfectly OK to say no.

  • http://www.esalesdata.com/email-list/salesforce-crm-users-list.php CRM Users Lists

    True ! It takes too much pressure unless you find a good relationship for long period time.

  • http://www.howbler.com/ Howbler.com

    Haha!

  • http://twitter.com/ChuckPapaG Chuck Papageorgiou
  • Brian Patrick Cork

    This is a reasonable dissertation around using our collective networks (we need a better word for this) as part of the solution, and not being part of the problem. Maybe ironic is a good word, here, for this information being dispensed on Linkedin where the “introduction” button gets overly used amongst people that hardly know one another. – Cork

  • http://thebusinessbuildershelpdesk.com/ Peter Beddows

    Very good point. In fact just earlier this week I noticed someone in LinkedIn claiming to have built a network of well over 1K and I immediately wondered just how well could anyone ever really KNOW that many people at anything above a very cursory and superficial level let alone well enough to make a cross-connection introduction to anyone else.
    Sent via Network Solutions MS Exchange from my BlackBerry. Please accept my apologies for errors & brevity.

  • http://www.hytekmfg.com/ John @ Machined Parts

    Isn’t it nice to watch a relationship you seeded blossom and grow and then come back to thank you.

  • http://moneyandrisk.com/ Kim @Moneyandrisk

    Mark,

    This is excellent advice that many professionals on Linkedin should read.  People don’t understand that concept of “trust” when it comes to busy, high level executives.   Your contacts trust you not to waste their time especially the higher up the food chain.

    I’ve been burned when I get pressured by some of my networks (community leaders) to refer people to my contacts.   These business owners run a viable business, seem professional, intense, driven and are absolute flakes.   They are spread so thin that they don’t even know what  help they actually need or asking for.   I would email out an introduction and the person asking for the contact never followed through.  It embarrassed me and ruin my credibility. 

    And then there’s the other end where I get referred people even when I don’t want them and said so.   I was forced to be on the phone with a private equity fund lawyer and her client last week even after I said no.  They called in with an assumptive close.

    Kim

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com/ JohnExley

    I understand this post is a week “old” and Mark/others might never see this comment, but I have studied this stuff a lot and want to share my own process for making intros. 

    No matter what, any time ‘Friend 1′ asks me to intro her/him to ‘Friend 2′ that I know, I will only consider it if I believe it to be a GREAT fit for both parties. Then, I **ALWAYS** ask ‘Friend 2′ for his/her permission. Every. Single. Time. For example, let’s pretend Ryan Born didn’t know Mark and assumed I had a good enough relationship with Mark to intro him to Mark. This is how I would ask Mark’s permission:

    Subject: Request for private intro: Mark, may I intro Ryan Born (CEO, AudioMicro) to you?

    Dear Mark,

    [One liner of catching up, then:] So, can I have your permission to intro my friend Ryan Born to you? [I would hyperlink Ryan's LinkedIn to his name in this case]

    WHO IS RYAN:

    Ryan Born (Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/bornryan ; Email: ______) is the CEO of AudioMicro, a content licensing network based in Los Angeles. Ryan and I…
     
    PURPOSE OF INTRO:

    [Here I would explain why I believe it would be a good idea for Mark to connect with Ryan.]

    **

    Then, assuming Mark said yes, I would send an email introducing each person. I really, really, REALLLLLLY do believe it ought to take this much time and meticulous effort to make intros. I’ll copy/paste a recent intro I made, 

    [EXAMPLE EMAIL WITH NAMES REMOVED]:

    SUBJECT: Private Intro: First_Name, please meet my trusted friend First_Name Last_Name (VP of Ops, Company Name)

    Hey Friend 1,

    As I was just saying, it gave me a shot of energy reading your email a few minutes ago. Really good to be back in touch. Alright, I can imagine you are short on time so I will get right to the intro:

    FRIEND 1’S FIRST NAME:

    [Friend 1's First Name], please meet my very trusted friend [Friend 2's First and Last Name] (Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/______, email: _______). His story moves pretty quickly. Right about one year ago this month, he took a ‘leave of absence’ from [University Name] and hustled his way into being a TechStars NYC Associate. At the culmination of the program in April, he joined ‘graduate startup’ [Company Name] as Director of Strategic Partnerships. By the end of the summer, he was promoted to Director of Operations. Then, just a couple months ago, he found his groove and settled down into an operations role at [Company Name, hyperlinked] – a real time trends platform with revenue in the [amount] and [VC firm] backing. 

    He’s one of only two or three people in the entire city that I would literally trust my life and family with. A good guy, mature/fatherly type of dude who you wouldn’t believe is only 21 haha. 

    FRIEND 2’S FIRST NAME:

    [Friend 2's First Name] my man, please meet the lovely [Friend 1's First and Last Name] (Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/_____ ; Email: _______). Raven a soft-spoken hustler from Cali Cali (graduated [University Name] in ’09) who I met this summer when she was doing UX for [Company Name]. She is part entrepreneur, part-programmer (HTML/CSS, PHP, etc.), part artist, part UX developer, and part-technical-things-that-sometimes-go-over-my-head! She has a series of very interesting projects she has either launched herself (e.g. [Project Name], a hand-made clothing line for women that she designed and sewed and sold herself from scratch) or been involved with from a UX/design/programming standpoint over the past few years (the latest project she’s involved in, [Company Name, hyperlinked], hasn’t launched yet). 

    From my interactions with [Friend 1's First Name], she proved to be a very sweet person who hustles hard, wicked talented, def usually thoughtful, and will no doubt be running her own startup or creative agency one day in my mind. 

    PURPOSE OF INTRO:

    [Friend 1's First Name], as I was detailing you in my email last night, [Friend 2's Company Name] is considering hiring someone who has done projects in both “branding/corporate identity and in interface design”, and [Friend 2's First Name] asked me who my favorite designer(s) was in NYC – to which I recommended you.[Friend 2's First Name], [Friend 1's First Name] told me tonight that she’d love to grab coffee with ya – although she’s up to her eyeballs in hustle right now with [Friend 1's Company Name] (launching in next 4-6 weeks), at which point she will have a decision to make… east coast/west coast/Europe/etc. 

    I hope yall are able to get together sometime soon. Def hmu if there’s anything else I can do. Take care guys, I really miss the city. Back to the college grind for me now, ahhhh! [Friend 2's First Name] much love brother, and thanks for the thoughtful note just tonight [Friend 1's First Name]. Holla soon yall. 

    Sincerely,
    – John X

    ***

    Hope this is helpful… I think this stuff should really be taken seriously and loved Mark’s post.

  • http://www.rebeccarachmany.com/ Rebecca Rachmany

    Great post. There’s a condition you don’t mention explicitly, but is implicit in your post. The person being introduced should appropriately respect and appreciate the introduction. 
    I had someone ask me to make a job introduction for him. This was someone who is extremely good at his profession and someone I could vouch for on a personal level as well. But his resume looked like crap. I gently made some suggestions to him for upgrading the resume and he got back to me saying “It’s good enough as is, just send it.”. I didn’t (and I told him so). It *is* my reputation, and even though I had no doubts about his qualifications for the job, it makes me look bad if I send someone who can’t present himself appropriately to the initial introduction. 

  • http://thebusinessbuildershelpdesk.com/ Peter Beddows

    I’m inclined to agree with you on that score Rebecca: Good decision. In such a case, you could be also representing someone who has no awareness of his overall impact on others, never mind his having no awareness about the state of his résumé and regardless of otherwise being “extremely good at his profession, etc”. Taken overall, that could definitely backfire. Know of an actual case where a head-hunting firm had presented someone as being very good at his profession, well qualified and well recommended yet this person turned out to be a “sexual harassment case in waiting” from the moment he was hired.

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  • http://sanforddickert.com Sanford Dickert

    Completely agree Mark.  Quite.

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  • http://betaprogram.com/ Vik Chaudhary

    Looks like “you two cool women should REALLY meet” (ok, that was in jest).

  • Dan Durocher

    I really like this post. I will certainly keep it in mind.