I work with a lot of different people. Sometimes there are two people I know might be able to do some business together. This represents a great opportunity to bring people together and help them create a business relationship or forge a friendship. But it has to be done carefully, otherwise you risk alienating someone, or worse, creating bad will between them, or with you. Let’s look at how to make a professional introduction that removes the risk of putting someone on the spot, and increases the odds that the two parties will hit it off.
The Benefits of Introducing People
Networking is essential in a professional environment. You need to know and work with other professionals – whether you are looking to grow your own business, or advance your professional career. The easiest way to speed things along is through introductions among mutual acquaintances. That is why LinkedIn is such a great tool when used correctly. LinkedIn is actually set up in a way that you can get introductions without a 3rd party, but it isn’t always the most effective way to get to know someone. Most of the professional relationships I have today came the old fashioned way – through personal introductions. Let’s take a look at the art of professional introductions and how you can use them to bring two or more people together.
Many of us tend to handle much of our business online, but in-person introductions are still the best way to go. In-person intros are easy, just introduce each person by name and a one sentence description of what the other person does, then let them take the reins.
“Hi John, this is Bill, he works as a social media coordinator for a major company.”
“Bill, John is the representative for a major firm out west and he mentioned he was looking for some information on running a social media campaign. Maybe you two can talk for a few minutes?”
At that point, you can hang around for a few moments to get the conversation rolling. But after that your role is to take cues from the two people you introduced. Meeting new people can be awkward for some people, so it might be helpful for you to guide the conversation past the initial intro. Otherwise, you might take your leave and allow them to explore the conversation on their own. This gives them the freedom to grow their relationship without you being in the way.
Professional Introduction via Email
Unfortunately, in-person introductions aren’t always feasible. I am self-employed and many of the people who work in my industry are geographically separated. This makes in-person introductions impossible most of the time. The next best option is to send an e-mail introduction. The email format can be very similar to the format you use for the verbal introduction. The good news is there are some advantages when using e-mail intros – you can add more details than you can in person.
When I make an intro via email, I usually link to their LinkedIn Profile, personal or professional website, or their digital portfolio. This gives the other person a way to get more information about the other party before they actually speak or interact. This can be invaluable for both parties.
Take the social media example above – if I had introduced Bill as a social media coordinator, but didn’t know he was also skilled in website design, viral marketing, and other high demand online skills, then I might have done him a disservice. But his LinkedIn Profile and background can say all of this more efficiently than I can, and it might make him more valuable to the person I introduced him to.
Here is an example of an introduction I would make via email:
Hello John / Bill,
I’ve worked with both of you in the past and thought the two of you might be able to find some common ground based on common interests.
John, I met Bill at a conference four years ago and we have worked on and off since then. Bill is a social media coordinator for a major company. You can find his LinkedIn profile here.
Bill, I would like to introduce you to John, who I have worked with for the last six months on a media campaign. John works for a company on the West Coast and he mentioned he had a few questions about social media marketing. You can find his LinkedIn profile here.
I hope the two of you can get together in the near future and learn more about each other.
This is the basic format I have used for the last few years, and it has always worked well. There are a few important takeaways:
- Vouch for each person. An individual endorsement goes a long way when making an intro. If people trust you and your judgment, they are more likely to be receptive to the introduction.
- There is no hard sell. I’m not selling Bill’s services. I place him as an expert in the space, but I also give John a way to investigate the person on his own via LinkedIn, or a personal/professional website.
- There are no promises. I’m not telling Bill he will get hired, and I’m not telling John that Bill will give him the “friends and family” discount.
The key with an introduction is to make the intro, then step out of the way. Any business they do is between them.
Rules of the Intro
Never promise anything. It’s just not a good idea. The two parties may not hit it off, their rates may have changed, they may have a conflict of interest, or they may be a host of other roadblocks. The goal is to set people up so they can learn more about the the party. Let them take it from there.
Never give away trade secrets. This is a big one. Trust takes a long time to earn, but can be lost in a second if you aren’t careful. It’s important to use general terms and not say anything the other party may not want known by the general pubic. This includes things like rates and fees, past deals they have worked on, or anything else that isn’t listed on their professional site or can’t be found with a quick Google search. Let the other parties determine how much to say and when to say it.
Always be genuine. Don’t make an intro simply to get a referral fee, or try to impress someone. I’ve had several requests to make introductions to friends or associates, but I wasn’t comfortable with it for one reason or another. So I didn’t. Listen to your gut, not your wallet.
Always ask permission before sending intros. There is an important item I didn’t mention in the section about email introductions – the example I gave is often the second step in the process. What usually happens is I speak with someone and realize I have a friend or associate it might be good for them to know. So I ask them if they would like an introduction with the person I know (using general terms, and without promising anything). Then I approach the other party with a one-sided introduction and ask if they would like a formal intro. The one-sided intro usually has the LinkedIn profile, links to their projects, etc. This prevents putting someone on the spot, which can lead to an awkward moment. Always respect the time and privacy of both parties.
Always give someone an out. The reason for asking permission is to give someone a chance to say no. You don’t want someone to feel obligated on your behalf, it can be awkward. You also don’t want to get stuck talking with someone at a conference or other event. I mentioned you should step away once the conversation gets going, but take a step back and watch their body language. If they are frantically scanning the room and the other party hasn’t taken the hint, then work your way over there and rescue them. They will appreciate it, and there won’t be any hard feelings.
In the end, making a professional introduction is an art as much as a science. You need to know both parties, respect their time and privacy, understand where they are coming from, and have a reasonable idea of what they are looking for. It’s also important to understand your role. You aren’t there to close a business deal for them. Your role is to make an introduction, let them know what they have in common, and let them take it from there. They will let you know if they need anything else.
Do you have any tips for making a professional introduction?