Do e-mail introductions work?

In the last month several people have mentioned how they’ve been contacted with email requests from people they don’t know – but often through people they know a bit. I got into a discussion with one of these people about this whole issue of email introductions and I came up with a list of why emails do or don’t work.

Here were my thoughts. I looked at why do some emails fail in their intent – and others make you respond immediately?

1. What makes people respond?

There are two things that make people respond to a cold call

  • They can’t afford to miss meeting the person
  • They’ve been introduced by a person who you don’t want to offend – or want to have a return favour from!

2. Why should someone meet you?

Most of the emails that don’t work are when they are all about them. For example

  • I want to learn about ….
  • Could you help me understand …
  • Would appreciate if you could introduce me to …
  • Want to see if there is a market for …

Certainly in my own case, I love to help people when I can. But we all have busy periods when you really need to prioritise client work. If your email lands in someone’s inbox when they are wondering if you have time to sleep, you have to prioritise. And ‘nice to dos’ are not going to make it to the top of the pile.

Yet there are requests that make people put you at the top of their priorities. Magical words would be

  • I have looked at your website and believe a number of my contacts would be interested in talking to you – particularly on blogging and social media. Could I meet you to understand more about what you do and see who you would like to meet? Perhaps in return you could …..
  • I think there is a gap in the market where PR companies aren’t tapping into what technology companies need. Would you be interested in meeting and see if I can help you to shape what might be needed?

3. The can’t fail introduction

Every business has clients and contacts who are their ‘gold dust’. They are critical to their business in terms of fee income, reputation, their contacts. A request from anyone’s ‘gold list’ will normally be actioned by return! So think about why your contacts should help you – and get them to introduce you.

4. Personal introductions

In our discussion, this contact of mine said that a number of requests came direct from an individual who they didn’t know – but at the suggestion of someone they knew, but not well. If the person themselves had made the introduction, they said it would have been a bit harder to turn down!

5. Help the person introducing you

When people ask me if I could introduce them, I often say ‘can you send me an email that I can forward?’ I am hoping for an email that I can immediately forward with a quick note ‘would really appreciate if you could help Jane below’. But what I get is emails that have had no thought for the process and have to be completely rewritten – which means they may not get forwarded for some days. I have to do the thinking as to why they should meet and what’s in it for them.

What would be a great forwarding email? First put your head into the person receiving it. Remember all the tips from above – why should they meet you? What can you do for them? What do they want to know about you?

Don’t make it an essay – this is an introduction. Whet their appetite and make it a proper email that can be forwarded as is – don’t mix up the personal and business.

“Dear Jenny

Thank you so much for offering to introduce me to John Smith.

I thought a bit of background would be useful for John

  • I used to work for British Airways in the procurement team. I’ve recently moved to Yorkshire and looking to see how my contacts and skills could help local businesses
  • I would be very happy to talk through trends, issues and what companies like British Airways are prioritising in the current market
  • Of course procurement is tightly regulated but if I can help facilitate appropriate introductions, I would be happy to do this”

Am I being brutal? Should I have met all these people wanting a coffee? Would you?

Victoria Tomlinson is founder and owner of Harrogate-based PR consultancy, Northern Lights. A former director of Ernst & Young, she started her career as a graduate trainee for Plessey and later with Bradbury Wilkinson, the banknote printers, travelling around the world to sell banknotes to foreign governments. She joined Arthur Young as part of their start-up marketing team and was made a director of client services on the management committee and managing a 100-strong division. Victoria sits on the boards of Bradford University School of Management, Northern Ballet Theatre and Common Purpose North Yorkshire. She is a Prince’s Trust mentor.