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The Art of the Perfect Introduction

In air traffic control, there is a specific period where one radar control operator will “hand off” an aircraft to another operator. Obviously this requires a bit of coordination. In fact, three specific things need to occur:

  1. The aircraft has to be in the correct position.
  2. The aircraft has to be explicitly identified.
  3. Each controller must accept the hand off.

It’s only when these conditions are met that a successful hand off can happen.

If only business introductions were handled this effectively.

Why Introductions are Important

Imagine walking into a party with a friend who doesn’t know anyone there. Your friend would like to meet people with whom they have something in common. Without an introduction, this process becomes not only more difficult but also awkward. At the end of the night you find your friend slouched in a corner, naked and drunk, flinging his business card at anyone who comes within range.

Now imagine the same scenario where you walk in, your friend tells you the type of person that they’d like to meet and you bring them to the ideal match. You tell each side a bit about the other, perhaps giving an anecdote or warm recommendation and then you’re on your way.

Which of these two situations would you rather be in? If you chose the second one, congratulations! You have a long career in front of you as a connector.

Business introductions are no different. As a businessperson, you know the value in the network that you’ve gathered. You know that solid partnerships can strengthen that network. So a proper introduction of two people who can work well together not only serves those two people, but also bolsters your own position in the eyes of those involved.

It also works wonders for avoiding the passed out, drunken business card scenario.

A Recipe for Great Introductions

So how do you go about making great introductions? The list of ingredients is small, but important. You need:

  • A solid understanding of the reason behind the request. Details aren’t important but an overview is.
  • A bit of background on both people.
  • A great relationship with the requested party. A few solid introductions can often be the building blocks of this relationship, but it’s a fine line to walk without overstepping your bounds.

Using those ingredients, my introductions are informal, and often look something like this:

Hi Bart,

It was great catching up with you last week. I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to Ben Deda. Ben has been working on a project that is right up your alley and he’s asked me to introduce you so that he might gather some input from your experiences.

Ben, Bart’s shared some incredible ideas with me in the past that I think you could use. Make sure to ask him about his dog Parker, but be ready to for an ear-full.

Thanks guys. Go forth and do great things.

Brad

In my example I did a few things:

  • I pointed out the reason for the request.
  • I made certain that both sides could benefit from the request in some fashion.
  • I gave them a conversation starter that was outside the realm of the request to help break the ice.

Then I left it to them to take the next steps.

Opt In or Opt Out?

Back in my tech blogger days I met a lot of companies, knew loads of investors, and had a great, working relationship with people from Techstars. I would get a few emails each week asking for introductions. One practice that I picked up was, first, choosing a double opt-in. As Fred Wilson describes the process, “when introducing two people who don’t know each other, ask each of them to opt-in to the introduction before making it.”

This accomplishes two things:

  1. If the person doesn’t want the introduction, you aren’t going to make an ass of yourself by doing it anyway.
  2. It builds trust between you and others that you will only make introductions that you think are meaningful.

There’s a third part to this equation as well. After making a few solid introductions, people would begin to trust me. They’d eventually reach the point that they’d welcome my intros without me having to first ask permission.

When you’ve developed a good relationship, ask people whether they prefer to single or double opt-in – or if they’d prefer to opt out entirely. Let’s face it, we’re all busy, and at a certain point  you no longer have the bandwidth to field intros.

When You Should Say No

I’ve only had a couple of times that I’ve had to deny an introduction. (For my part, I chalk this up to not hanging out with jerks.) But sometimes people really don’t understand what they’re asking for, and you have to say ‘no’.

Figuring out if an intro will be worthwhile isn’t rocket surgery:

  • Do both parties stand to benefit from the introduction?
  • If not, does the requested person mind?
  • Does the reason behind the request make sense?

If the answers to those questions are acceptable, move forward. If not, it may be best to decline to make the intro. You don’t want to risk damaging any relationships.

For example, I once had an entrepreneur who wanted to be introduced to a pretty big-name VC. But this guy’s business was nowhere near the wheelhouse of that VC. I declined to make the intro. I also did my best to explain the reasons why I wasn’t comfortable doing the introduction. The entrepreneur unfortunately felt slighted. However, I didn’t run the risk of ruining a 3 year relationship with my VC friend.

Tips & Tricks

To finish this discussion, here are some things that I’ve picked up that have been incredibly helpful:

  • Use a contact management system to keep your data up to date (Hey, we have one of those!)
  • Apps like Gnito help you search and find the right people to meet with one another.
  • Make notes about your contacts. Who did they ask for? When was it? How did the intro pan out?
  • Remember that the introduction may be between two other people, but it’s your reputation is at stake.

Remember, the goal of an introduction is to help two people – and you’re putting your reputation and relationships on the line every time you do it. So be sure you do it well.

Have some tips of your own or horror stories to tell? We’d love to hear them.

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