If you’re in the line of work where you are frequently receiving or facilitating introductions to others, it’s crucial to learn proper introduction etiquette.
Many people might be surprised that sending a good introduction is not as simple as sending an email to the target with the person who requested the introduction cc’ed (the “interested party”).
Unfortunately, this approach is rampant, and it could be damaging your reputation and hurting the party interested in the introduction.
A personal story
When I was just a fledgling entrepreneur right out of college, I was connected with a prominent silicon valley entrepreneur who helped me navigate an application to Y Combinator. I was connected to him through a quality introduction of one of my peers.
Months later, feeling helpful, I offered to send him an introduction of someone else that wanted help with their application. He could have ignored the email and just written me off, but instead he scolded me and told me that it was poor introduction etiquette to simply send introductions without checking if the other person was interested or in a place where they could receive introductions in the first place.
I was certainly taken aback, but I am so thankful that he did this, because he was exactly right. I never checked with him to see if he was interested in the introduction or even had the capacity in his schedule to handle it. Frankly, I wasn’t even confident he remembered or cared who I was!
All I did was burn a bridge with him, make my network look poor to the interested party, and destroyed the interested party’s chances of connecting with him on a good note.
The only way to give good introductions
Those of you who practice good introduction etiquette know where this is going. In reality, there is only one good way to give an introduction: Double opt-in.
Double opt-in is incredibly simple: you get consent from both parties before making the introduction.
For example, let’s say Bob wants an introduction to Jill, and Bob knows that I would have a warm introduction. Let’s say I agree to facilitate an intro.
My next step is to gather context from Bob or from my own experiences, tell Bob to sit tight, and send an email with that context to Jill asking if she is interested in the connection.
If she is, I connect the two and ask them to take it from there.
If not or she never responds? I let Bob down and he tries another approach.
Why don’t more people do this?
I don’t know. I think there are a few reasons:
People that are known as hyper-connected and pride themselves on knowing everyone might be afraid to give the impression they don’t truly know the person the interested party wants an intro to. Simply sending an intro has worked well enough for them in the past and most people, being conflict avoidant, never pushed back.
Many people that send introductions might not themselves receive introductions or be bothered by cold introductions, so they aren’t aware of how annoying a cold introduction to a busy person can truly be.
You owe it to them both
Poor introduction etiquette isn’t just annoying for the receiver, it’s annoying for the sender!
I personally have been in situations where I wanted someone to make an introduction for me, and they did not follow double-opt in. I knew the target was very busy, and that my chances to enter on a good note were likely blown.
Also, sending a cold introduction tells the target of the introduction that you really don’t value their time as much as you value trying to help the interested party (or yourself). It’s incredibly imposing if you think about that kind of introduction as an attempt to drill into the defenses of a busy person’s schedule.
Finally, a cold introduction forces the target to engage or dismiss in a very awkward way that makes them look like the bad person. It’s not fair to them to put them in that position.
What to do if you are on the sending side of a cold introduction
Unfortunately, it’s out of the control of the interested party what kind of opt-in process the introducer will use.
If you find yourself cold in someone’s inbox that you wanted an intro to, there is only one wrong thing to do: wait for them to respond first.
I can’t tell you how many cold introductions I have in my inbox that went nowhere because I simply waited for the party interested in the introduction to respond and add context. I figure, I wasn’t given any heads up nor do I have any context, so the ball is in their court to follow up.
Why am I writing this?
I hesitated to write this because I don’t want to come across as high and mighty for not receiving introductions the right way.
However, I think back to that entrepreneur who took the time to teach me (however uncomfortably) that the way I was approaching introductions was seriously counter productive.
In writing this, I hope to help another entrepreneur or networker or investor avoid damaging their network and fail to help someone who could really benefit from an introduction.
Few people will ever truly tell you how they feel about your approach, they will just write you off. Remember that and make sure to double opt-in!