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Nailing an Email Introduction, by Chris Fralic of First Round

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The Higher Order Purpose of the Intro

The goal of an introductory e-mail is to create value for all the participants. It’s not just to brag about all the cool people you know. It’s a targeted message to help everyone involved, make it easier for them to help you, and to build relationships and reputation. The more significant the reputations of everyone involved, the more likely that it’s going to be that people will take action based on the e-mail. Establish the credibility of the two strangers that you’re introducing to increase the likelihood that the interaction will bear fruit. Credibility-boosting signifiers like an important position at a successful company will increase the hit rate of the introduction.

What the introduction is intended to accomplish should be stated within the e-mail itself. Vague requests for “help” waste everyone’s scarce time. Specific requests for certain kinds of assistance are more actionable. It’s also crucial to do some preliminary research about both parties and what you’re trying to accomplish by matching them together. How will this introduction create value for everyone? What’s the shortest number of words that you can use, within your own language, to explain what that is? Give the parties a compelling reason why they should want to connect with each other.

Ask Permission. Show Respect.

Fred Wilson has promoted a method that he calls the ‘double-opt-in’ to ensure that both parties want to be connected — sending separate e-mails to both people before making the introduction. I take a different approach that I call the ‘self-contained forwardable e-mail.’ If it’s something that people can act on within 30 seconds of reading it, they’re going to do it immediately. If it’s going to take a lot of time, research, and effort for them to act on it, it’ll go to the bottom of the pile. This self-contained e-mail consists of the ‘ask’: requesting permission to make the introduction, explaining who the other party is, and why it should happen. This packages the permission-asking component into the introduction itself into a tight bundle.

I like to use a subject line that’s both fresh and customized for the recipient. A lazy heading like ‘intro’ doesn’t cry out for immediate action. The e-mail should be easily forwarded. You need to make it easy for them to help you if you want to get a positive resopnse. The opening paragraph should explain who you are (unless you already know one another well). The e-mail should close with a call to action sentence that explains what you want. Write in your natural voice to build trust with the recipient. People tend to have a poor reaction to the language of press releases. Here’s a real example of a self-contained forwardable e-mail that someone sent me that I forwarded:

“Hello Chris: I’m still thinking about the splendid Spring day when we met in Manhattan earlier this month. During the conversation, you mentioned ‘Joe Smith’ as a good person for me to meet. I looked him up, and I’m excited by the challenges of using our multi-channel analytics for a brand that’s essentially a category.

Joe, when you see this, some keywords to consider whether taking the time are: incremental marketing, targeting and multi-channel attribution. We’re a team of data scientists who tackled the problem of understanding how the mixture of consumer behavior and exposure to marketing affects conversion.

Our targeting replaces more traditional CRM targeting but also extends to online advertising. Targeting doubles as a powerful proof point for the precision of our attribution modeling work – being able to more effectively target customers is a strong indicator that you understand their behavior in the first place. We did the discovery work with X and went on to pick up brands like Y, Z, A, B, C, etc.”

The first paragraph opens with a call-back to our last meeting. He’s asking to be introduced to someone that I mentioned. The person who sent this is also showing that he cared enough about what I said to do his own research on him, and how he could make their company better. The next two paragraphs explain to ‘Joe’ who they are, and how they’d like to work with him.

As a video:

Composition Tricks to Make Your E-mails Snappier

A little rich text formatting can go a long way towards evoking action in an introduction. Bold the ask in the e-mail. This draws the readers’ eyes to the actionable element in the message. Take the time to use hyperlinks instead of naked URLs. Sending someone a messy, multi-lined URL filled with gibberish shows that you didn’t respect them enough to spend less than 15 seconds turning it into a link. Use underlines and even strikeouts where appropriate for emphasis. If someone needs to call you, always include your phone number in an obvious spot. People will also sometimes make dopey mistakes in their professional e-mails like mixing multiple fonts.

An area where many people exhibit sloppy e-mail behavior is in their signatures. Images should never be used, particularly as increasing numbers of professionals rely on mobile devices to check their e-mail. That ‘cool’ image in your signature is lame. Use your work e-mail for professional discussions, rather than your personal address. Only send introductory e-mails to a single recipient at a time. When five or six people are all CC’d on a single e-mail, each one of them assumes that the other people will respond to it, leading to either no response or a delayed response.

Closing Loops, Following Up, and Pressuring Responses

Following up is one of the most meaningful things that you can do after making an introduction. It’s also one of the only ways to find out if the relationship worked out, how your e-mails landed on your targets, and what you might want to do to adjust how you behave in the future. This follow-up doesn’t need to be long. I suggest a “Twitter-sized” request for an update is usually more than sufficient to show that you care. One additional follow-up afterwards if there’s no response is sufficient — if you get nothing after that, let it be. Something like “just bumping this to the top of your inbox” is good etiquette. Once is plenty — if there’s no response after that, it’s a ‘no.’

When you receive a response from an important person to one of your intro requests, it’s important to “lean into the response.” When you receive the reply, send them dates when you’re open for a follow-up meeting, times when you can meet, and places that’ll be convenient for you. That makes it easier for the other party to respond, and shows that you’re excited about the meeting.

Another approach that I like to take is the “presumptive negative,” which can induce response rates of around 50%. This starts with an assumption that the recipient will say “no” to the ask. The typical example would be that of an entrepreneur telling a potential investor “I’m assuming that you’re going to pass on this round of funding, but…” Regardless of whether or not the recipient has already concluded about what they’re going to do or not, it pressures them to respond quickly. It makes it much tougher for them to ignore the message.

The “presumptive negative” is a winner.  Always loved the response rate on that one...

If you put the negative idea in their head aren't they more likely to say no?

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