Entrepreneur

12 essential ground rules for getting an introduction

(Editor’s note: Megan Lisa Jones is an investment banker who works primarily with companies in the digital media, technology, gaming and other emerging industrie. She submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

There’s a well known quote, attributed to an anonymous person, that says “It’s not what you know but who you know that makes the difference.” My guess as to why that speaker preferred anonymity is that he or she didn’t want to be inundated by people looking to expand their own list of those they “know”.

It’s absolutely true that the right introductions, from a credible and well-connected source, can jump-start a career or company. Partnering correctly, getting money from a top tier fund or making the right hire does add credibility to your venture.

But let’s be honest: Are you bringing something of value to the table or just trying to find an easier way?  A mumbled, “Can you please just talk to this person for a minute so they stop bugging me?” can kill your chances forever, while an “introduction” can help.

Having worked as an investment banker for years I’ve developed a contact base of CEOs, CFOs and capital sources such as venture capitalists.  Part of my role in counseling and guiding companies is to make introductions and facilitate their ability to grow into an entity that can go public, sell at a rich valuation or have the cash needed to buy other companies.

But I’ve also had to learn how to fend off requests for introductions that make no sense.  We all want to meet the success story and hope that their pixie dust rubs off on us.  And all service providers want access to successful CEOs. After all, asking for an introduction seems easier than making a cold call.

Last week, one too many request from the same person had me hitting the roof and talking to my computer screen (you don’t want to know what I said…).

So I decided to set a dozen ground rules.  Technically, they only apply to me, but many people in my position encounter the same frustrations. It might be wise to factor these in as you consider asking for an introduction.

  • Both parties need to benefit from the introduction.  Occasional exceptions can be made for my children, clients, friends and those that have proven their loyalty.  Know and explain why the introduction makes sense.
  • If I make an introduction, follow up respectfully and professionally.  I once agreed to talk to a company founder (an unwanted introduction on my end) who needed money and then stood me up for two phone calls.  Then she wanted me to help her and make other introductions (as someone who is rude and irresponsible?).  Impressions count for a lot.
  • When I tell you that making too many introduction to a certain in demand person will impact my relationship with that person so the introduction better be crucial to you – and you have me make the introduction – don’t ask for too many favors shortly thereafter (you’re willing to risk my career for yours so I won’t be as kindly disposed going forward).
  • Don’t ask me to make introductions for someone you barely know.  Relationships can be lost based on credibility and judgment.  What if they aren’t that great?  Rely solely on your own insight, not that of others.
  • My Linkedin and Facebook contacts aren’t your personal calling list.  Nor is my less public rolodex.  See number one above.
  • Yes, many people want to meet the same high profile people.  If you’ve asked me to introduce you to a VC, CEO or other influential person you can assume that you aren’t the first.  Give me a real reason why the introduction makes sense.
  • Reciprocate and make introductions for me as well.
  • Don’t ask for an introduction too often.  I’m busy.
  • If I make an introduction please don’t use my name if I didn’t tell you to do so.  Don’t misquote me or put words in my mouth.
  • I cold call; some of my contacts were established this way.  I meet people at conferences, in elevators and at yoga. Introductions have their place but I also believe that oftentimes making the effort is a better way to establish a relationship than an introduction.  In the latter, what the mutual acquaintance says on the phone can sway the reception but too often the attempt falls flat.  Explain (to me) why the introduction makes sense so I can introduce you with confidence.
  • If someone I introduce you to doesn’t respond feel free to tell me once and then drop it (with me).  If they want to respond at some point they will.
  • Ask nicely.  Say thank you.

We're studying conversion rate optimization. Take our quick survey and we'll share the results with you.