We're all familiar with the phrase: “It's not what you know, it's who you know.” In all walks of life, whether navigating your next career opportunity or searching for a "diamond in the rough" investment opportunity, the strength of your network is critical to your success. Alas, most people focus their efforts on boosting “what they know” rather than “who they know”.
One of the most effective ways to grow your network is to perfect the art and science of asking for an introduction. Introductions are critical because they build trust and credibility. We’re more likely to trust someone who we’ve been introduced to via a close connection than a stranger. Here are six tips to secure an irresistible introduction.
1. Draft a forwardable blurb
In requesting an introduction, you’re asking for someone to go out of their way to help you. The last thing you want to do is to create unnecessary work for the person you’re reaching out to for the introduction. When asking for an introduction, be sure to include a brief summary that includes the three “Ws”—1) who are you? 2) what do you want, 3) why should I (the recipient) care?
A forwardable email is especially important when asking for introductions to investors, who typically have flooded inboxes. Alex Iskold, Founder and Managing Partner at 2048 Ventures, explains, “A forwardable email from the founder reduces the work I have to do, because the founder explains the business and the reason for asking for the introduction. All I have to do is click the Forward button, add a sentence or two about my experience with the founder and the company and send it over.”
When asking for an introduction, you should expect that the person who you are asking for the introduction from will use the “double opt-in” strategy and ask for permission before sending the intro. This is best practice.
2. Keep it short
Humans have incredibly short attention spans brevity is your friend when asking for an introduction. The longer your email, the more work that is required of the person you are asking for an introduction from.
Take the advice of Roy Bahat, head of Bloomberg Beta, “A good forward email...Uses only as many words as you need — the receiver is going to glance at the email, and decide whether to talk to you. A recap of other things we talked about when we met distracts.”
3. Be specific
It’s important to make your ask specific. The best way to do this is to do your homework. What are you looking for? Advice? Investment? A partnership? If you’re looking for an investment, don’t ask for advice. Chris Fralic, a Partner at First Round Capital, explains, “vague requests for “help” waste everyone’s scarce time. Specific requests for certain kinds of assistance are more actionable.”
4. Take advantage of the similarity principle
When deciding whether or not to trust someone, we all take mental shortcuts. One such shortcut relies on the similarity principle —a phenomenon whereby we like and trust people who are similar to us.
When construction your blurb, try to exploit the similarity principle. Did you attend the same alma mater? Are you co-investors in a company? Perhaps your desired contact wrote an article on a topic that you’re passionate about. Mention this. Remember to keep it short—no more than one sentence.
5. Leverage relationship intelligence
LinkedIn and similar networking platforms assess your relationships superficially. They can lead you astray when you’re trying to determine the best paths to introduction.
In reality, not all first degree connections are created equal. The strength of a connection is based on several factors, including the date of last contact and frequency of contact, that are not accounted for by LinkedIn and others. By using relationship intelligence tools such as Affinity—which uses AI-powered patented technology to determine your actual relationship strengths—you’ll be able to determine your best path of introduction.
6. Be a giver
You’ll have a much better chance at securing an introduction if you’ve been a giver in the past. Adam Grant famously proclaimed that the most effective individuals are givers. By putting other peoples’ interests ahead of their own, they exude high levels of trust and respect. In turn, the members of their networks are more inclined to go out of their way to help out. You’ll have a much better chance at securing an introduction if you’re proactive at giving to members of your network.
BONUS: Be a thanker
One of the simplest and most effective ways to increase your referral flow is to just say, "thank you." Beyond just good manners, people want to know that they have helped. It actually energizes them to help again and humanizes the transactional nature of asking for favors. The goal is to have your network thinking about what you need, even when you don't ask.
Who you know matters. When looking to boost your personal and professional success, it’s in your best interest to nail the art and science of the introduction. As a jumping-off point, check out this email template by Alex Cavoulacos, Founder & President at The Muse. Over time, you'll be able to make the template your own. Regardless of whether the introduction spurred a lucrative opportunity, be sure to write a follow up to the person who has helped you, thank them, and describe the impact they’ve had. Everyone wants to be a giver. It feels good to give.