Feb 3, 2011

Making An Email Introduction--or Declining to Do So Graciously

"I’ll send you an introduction via email!”

Sound familiar? How many email introductions have you made in your busy career? If you’re like me, I bet you routinely take sloppy short cuts:

Have you simply copied both parties to the introduction in your email, without first checking with each of them to see if they want to be introduced?

Have you been unclear about WHY you are introducing them (who gains, and why)?

Did you forget to give both parties an “out” if they don’t have the time or interest to meet?

The short cut to which I am most prone is the first one: I am always pressed for time and don’t always call or check with both parties before making an email introduction. According to the
Harvard Business Review this is a BIG DEAL. My friend Bob always makes a practice of calling people to make sure they are open to an introduction. Other people send TWO emails, one to the first party, await a response, and only then forward the introduction to the second party. This seems cumbersome, especially if I am doing 5-6 email introductions at a time, which is typical after a BRN or networking meeting.

Recently, I discovered an elegant solution. Called “Introduction Agent,” it is a double opt-in Web-based tool that requires both parties to opt-in to the introduction before the stored introduction is sent. Created by two software developers in their spare time, it offers a pure Web-based method for doing email introductions right. It is free. Try it yourself.

The Introduction Agent forces you to be clear about why you are introducing, gives either party a way to opt out, and makes you look very professional! I talked to Introduction Agent Co-founder Allan Grant about this need to “pre-confirm” email introductions:

“Most Introductions, however well-intentioned, fail. When we started working on Introduction Agent — this was something we believed from analyzing the success rates of our own introductions, but we didn’t have any proof for it. Now that we’ve built the service, we are starting to see some meaningful data to support this. In analyzing the last three months of introductions created using Introduction Agent, we’ve found that only 47% percent of sent introductions are accepted. That means that when someone sends an introduction asking two friends to connect, the introducer is wrong more than half the time.”

So the key point is – either do it virtually (on the web or with separate emails) or in real time with a quick phone call, but it is critical to check first before sending out your virtual introduction to all parties.

But what if you don’t want to make an introduction?

Have you ever been asked to make an introduction that you didn’t want to make? I have. I took the easy way out and made some excuse to the person seeking an introduction that the person to whom he sought an introduction was traveling or in the hospital with a tropical disease. But again, a recent article from Jodi Glickman at HBR offers some great advice for this sticky situation. If you don’t think the introduction is a good idea, don’t make it. But if you decline, how can you do so without incurring hurt feelings? Unfortunately, for this dilemma there is no Web app. But I have some advice:

1. Be honest—more or less. Explain why connecting the requestor with one of your contacts is not a good idea. Offer specific reasons.

2. Offer a consolation prize. Is there something else you COULD do that might be helpful to the requestor?

3. Stay in touch. Leave the door open for a future introduction. Perhaps circumstances will change in the future, and you will feel different about facilitating the desired contact.

Email introductions are a powerful network-building tool. Take a few minutes to examine your past practices, then resolve to be better at helping yourself and your contacts expand their networks.