Learn how to ask for introductions.
This is one of the most important skills you can learn in your career. It doesn’t matter if you work in academia, sales, law, medicine, marketing, engineering — whatever. Asking for introductions is a high leverage skill that you can carry with you throughout your career.
The vast majority of hires are made based on referrals (source). The vast majority of big-ticket consulting deals are made based on referrals. And referrals are more likely to move through your marketing or sales funnel faster — if you run a business — than just any old person who finds you.
The reality is that you can focus on your core skills all day (i.e., the skills that define your job) but if nobody knows you have those skills or knows you can help people with those skills, you’ll just float through your career.
You Don’t Have to Feel Awkward. You Can Feel Confident.
There are tons of articles online about how to ask for introductions. This one from my friend Danielle Strachman is a good one. And I have a script in my 12 Done-For-You Email Scripts that you can get at the bottom of this page.
But I’ve found that most ambitious people don’t struggle with the how to part of asking for introductions. They can find scripts online and they can Google around. It’s not that hard.
Instead, it’s more common that people feel awkward asking for introductions. It makes them feel like a taker and like they’re being transactional in their relationships. At worst, it makes them feel like “sleazy salespeople.”
I get where this comes from. You think of that one friend from high school who didn’t talk to you for 8 years and is now FINALLY hitting you up asking for introductions to people she can sell some Multi Level Marketing scam to.
Nobody wants to feel like that.
The good news is you don’t have to feel awkward or sleazy.
A Simple Framework to Feel Great Asking for Introductions
Feeling comfortable asking for introductions (or referrals, use the words interchangeably) comes down to contributing value to the lives of the people with whom you interact.
“OK Zak. That sounds great, but what do you actually mean? Isn’t ‘create value!!’ just a buzzword?”
What I mean here is you want to make sure that everybody in your interaction is better off after the introduction has occurred than before. This means you want to both give a lot of value and not take a lot of value.
For this, I like to use what I call R3 Referrals.
This comes down to:
- Reframe. You can reframe how you think about the introduction request before you even make it.
- Relief. You want to make it ridiculously easy for the other person to make the introduction for you
- Request. Be straightforward and actually make sure you’re making a clear and real ask of somebody.
Let’s break these down.
Reframe: You’re Making People Better — You’re Not a Bother
The biggest area where smart, ambitious, analytical-types get caught up isn’t actually doing the introduction request but just feeling comfortable to make it in the first place.
This is where people get caught up and think, “oh, I don’t want to be a bother,” or “oh, what would I even ask them for anyway?” or “oh, I don’t want to distract them from what they’re doing in the first place…plus, what if they don’t think highly enough of me to actually do the introduction?”
If you target your introduction requests properly (i.e., you ask for introductions to the right people), you won’t be a bother to anybody. In fact, you’ll make everybody in the interaction better off.
This is a point hammered home by consulting guru Alan Weiss in his book Million-Dollar Referrals (I recommend it): a strong introduction request makes you better off, your prospective client/employer/new friend better off because you are good at what you do and you can solve a real problem for them, and the person doing the introduction better off because you make them look good to the second person.
Here’s a reality: people have problems you can solve.
If you’re looking for a job and you know you’re good at X, find somebody who needs to hire somebody who is good at X. Getting an introduction to this person isn’t a bother — it’s a huge relief to them. Hiring is really, really hard. And being the person who makes an introduction to quality hires gains the introducer great social capital with the person doing the hiring.
If you’re looking for consulting work and you’re good at Y, meeting somebody who needs somebody who can solve Y isn’t annoying. It’s a Godsend.
If you’re good at making investments, meeting somebody who wants to make money through investments isn’t a pain. It’s a solution for something they want solved — to make more money through investments.
In any interaction, if you are good at what you do, each of these parties benefit:
- The person getting the introduction. Even if they don’t end up hiring you or working with you or meeting up with you, now they know somebody with your skillset. That’s good and important to them.
- The person doing the introduction. Being associated with making quality introductions is important for business relationships and a great way to build social capital.
- You. This should go without saying.
So don’t get so caught up in the feeling that you’re sleazy or uncomfortable asking for introductions.
Sidenote: You have to be good at what you do. If you’re bad at what you do, get an introduction, and then end up burning the person you’re introduced to, it’s going to be harder to get more introductions in the future. Focus on becoming good at what you do first and then introductions shouldn’t be a problem.
Relief: Make It Ridiculously Easy to Do the Introduction
Have you ever had somebody come to you and ask you for an introduction to somebody else you know and give you no other information?
It’s annoying and frustrating.
You have to wonder, “why do they want the introduction? Will they make me look bad? How do I describe them? What do they want to do with the introduction? Do they want a meeting? A call? What’s going on here?”
This is one of the reasons my 12 Done-For-You Email Scripts include instructions on how to send emails requesting introductions.
At the end of the day, you want to make the person doing the introduction feel a sense of relief when you request the introduction. They should feel like it is ridiculously easy to introduce you to people.
You do this through a couple of ways.
- Make it easy for them to say yes or no.
- Tell them who you want to meet.
- Tell them why you want to meet them.
- Tell them how they can facilitate the introduction.
In practice, this looks pretty simple. Here’s a general outline.
[Kind sentence reminding them of who you are, or nudging them to remember their last interaction with you.]
I was hoping to meet [Name 2 OR clear profile of a type of person].
[Why you want to meet them.]
Would you be open to doing that introduction? If so, I can send along a blurb you can copy and paste to make the introduction easy.
This is an easy email to read and say yes (or no!) to. It makes it perfectly clear who you want to meet and why you want to meet them. This reduces the risk of making the introduction for the person you’re asking — you’re probably not going to burn them.
Here’s an example of this.
I sent this to the Chief Investment Officer of a venture capital fund. It gives him a clear reminder of who I am, thanks him for his time, and makes it clear why I want an introduction, to whom I want it, and how he can reply.
In this specific case, he replied quickly saying:
Zak—–thanks for the update!! Please feel free to reach out to Scott and use my name as your referral source: [email address]
He replied quickly because my email was clear and I didn’t create a big stress load for him to say yes or no.
Request: Actually Make The Ask
I had a statistics teacher in high school who hated assumptions. He started a semester off by walking up to the board and writing the word “ASSUME” in big, black ink.
He then turned to the class and asked, “Do you know what happens when you make assumptions?”
He then turned back to the word “ASSUME” and wrote lines in between some of the letters: “ASS | U | ME.” And then explained that when you make assumptions, you make an “ASS” out of “U” and “ME.”
A bunch of 10th graders thought that was funny.
Same goes in making requests for introductions and referrals. You’ll make yourself feel more sleazy and uncomfortable when you assume the other party knows what you’re asking and then they don’t take any action.
Look at the screenshot above and pay attention to the bolded sentence.
That’s the Request.
Too often do people try to get referrals with emails that DON’T ACTUALLY MAKE A REQUEST.
Don’t expect somebody to make an introduction for you if your email, text, or message (or conversation!) says something like, “Yeah, I work with X, Y, and Z types of people and I am always looking for new clients/investors/opportunities.”
You may think that that looks like you’re saying, “Do you know 2 people that this describes?” But it doesn’t.
Don’t assume somebody else is on the same wavelength as you without making your Request very clear.
Any email, text, message, or conversation where you want to get a referral or introduction should have a straightforward and clear ask or request. “Do you know two people that this describes?” or “Would you be comfortable making an introduction to Jon and Stacy for me?” are good examples.
Just describing what you do and saying, “would love to meet anybody this describes!” is not a Request. It’s you expressing a preference or an opinion.
Most people are more than happy to consider your request — and even if they aren’t, it’s better for you to know that they don’t want to consider your request early on rather than you wishing and hoping they would consider it.
Feel Even More Confident When Getting Introductions
If you know you’re good at what you do and want to get started with more introductions, use my 12 Done-For-You Email Scripts or join Email Anybody, where I teach you exactly what to say in your emails to increase your response rates.
If you don’t think you’re good at what you can do, get good. Get practicing. Build out your own Cabinet of Models (you can learn how to get world-class mentors here) with mentors, advisors, and teachers who help you shave years off your learning curve.