An intro email? Read this before hitting ‘send’

Making connections can be hugely beneficial, but make sure you do right so you don’t waste everyone’s time and damage your own reputation.

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

We can’t live without them. But when misused, overused, or abused, they can diminish your personal brand, waste your time, and tarnish the relationships you value most.

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

I give introductions frequently. I also request them from time to time. I’m not against introductions. This article is simply a reminder that whom you introduce, and how you do them, will affect your credibility.

The details

Lately I’ve seen some friends and colleagues go nuts with intros. I’ve commented to several of them 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 egotism, because sending out a slew of intros gives off the impression that you’re well connected, that you can “make things happen,” that you’re helpful. You’re trying to impress or endear yourself to one party (or both) in the introduction.

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 a jerk for not responding. They either end up finding an excuse not to meet, delaying a meeting indefinitely, or, in most cases, actually meeting.

Over-introducers also eat up a lot of personal time. It’s time-consuming doing intros the right way. Ask yourself the tough questions about how you might spend that time more productively in doing your job 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 job opportunity/career/information interview

This is where I’ll 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 one of two 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 endorsed) or somebody I just met for which the company will get this: “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.”

2. I know the individual well, and they want 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 should last 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 sort of know so-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 they’ve been cleared with everybody. Even then you’ll find that some people just aren’t good at saying no, but they’ll still probably be frustrated that they will lose an hour because of it.

Helping with a sales lead

I do this often. Usually it’s on behalf of a portfolio company. After all, if your venture capitalists 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 gain access to other people I know.

My personal rules are:

  • I must know the individual whom I am 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 would benefit from an introduction to my friend/colleague. If it’s strictly a favor, I will ask beforehand and I will state specifically that it’s a personal favor.
  • In 80 percent of the cases, I will ask permission in advance. When I don’t, it’s usually because I’m highly certain of the relevance 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 crappy product, then the person to whom I introduced them will accordingly think less of me. If I do so twice, it may start to affect our relationship or at least their willingness to take more referrals from me.

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

Helping access money

People need access to angels and venture capitalists. I frequently tell entrepreneurs that the best way to get a meeting with money is to get a well-qualified introduction.

All too frequently, people send angels and venture capitalists too many unqualified intros. Regardless, I 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 gain access to me. So I feel that not acknowledging this would be disrespectful to the introducers.

In summary

Introduce people—it’s good karma—but be judicious. Introduce people who would genuinely benefit from meeting each other. Whenever possible, ask permission. And if you’re tempted to be an “over-introducer,” understand that you would probably damage your personal brand by burning people’s time, negating any positive effect of making these connections.

Mark Suster is a general partner at GRP Partners. A version of this post first appeared on his blog at Both Sides of the Table.

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