Why Introductions Aren’t Like Facebook Friending or Unfriending

I thought I was one of the few experiencing this issue but in the past few months I’ve had numerous friends and colleagues complaining about the same thing- people don’t understand the value of introductions.

In an era when social media connections are as easy as a Twitter follow or unfollow or a Facebook friend or unfriend, people have completely underscored the value of a personal one on one introduction, whether it’s via email, phone or in person.

Earlier this year, I met a lovely couple who own a startup baked goods business. I loved what they were trying to do, their passion and the fact that the lady is Asian, (given that my business is Asian-culture focused). Prior to a small event I was hosting, I approached them to see if they’d be interested in sponsoring some of their baked goods for the event, thinking that it would be a mutually beneficial situation on multiple levels.

Given that they were a brand new company and needed to get the word out about their existence, I thought my event would be a great opportunity to showcase their delicious products in front of my foodie friends and colleagues. In addition, I was willing to introduce them to my contacts at both Starbucks and Singapore Airlines, two companies they would have loved to secure deals with. I figured it was an exceedingly fair exchange for freebies they were giving me that amounted to (at most) $200.

Post event, I maintained email communication with the couple, discussing their progress and when I would make the introduction to Starbucks and Singapore Airlines.

Through these discussions, it became very clear that the couple had not figured out a lot of key factors in scaling their business. The lady was the only baker, baking her goods out of a small, rented kitchen in the SF bay area. I asked them to answer one simple question before I made the introduction. In a best case scenario, if either Starbucks or Singapore Airlines fell in love with their product and offered them a deal, how would they serve that high volume order?

The couple mistook my question for an unwillingness to make the introductions after all (even unfriending me on Facebook, which is childish at best), when in fact, I was very eager to do so and see them succeed. All I wanted was to ensure that my reputation and relationship with these two executives from these global titans would not be destroyed by introducing them to people who might end up wasting their precious time, not because they weren’t great people or that their product wasn’t great, but simply because they weren’t ready to answer basic questions that Starbucks and Singapore Airlines would ask.

I have spent a good part of the last ten years nurturing individual relationships with key executives in numerous companies, including the two above. That’s ten years of countless phone calls, agonizing over carefully crafted emails, yearly birthday and holiday gifts, lunches, dinners, coffees and letters of thank yous, congratulations and condolences. That’s ten years of emotional, mental and financial investment to build mutually respectful, caring and helpful relationships with each individual.

In a professional setting, when an introduction is made, there are unspoken expectations- that there will be mutual respect, that all involved will behave with appropriate business etiquette and that some type of value will be derived from the introduction. The value is created not only for the two people or entities introduced but for the introducer as well, who then builds a reputation for bringing great people/companies together.

It’s what I call reputation capital, an invisible bank each relationship has, where both sides can make deposits and withdrawals. What many fail to understand is that making introductions that waste people’s time acts like a glaring overdraw in your bank account. Once or twice and the bank will forgive the overdraw. Do it too many times and the bank will lose trust in you, closing your account.

Does it sound like I’m making relationships too mathematical and cold? Quite the opposite. This is about not taking people’s time and attention- two rare and precious commodities in today’s world, for granted. None of us like our time wasted. None of us like getting our hard-earned reputation destroyed. When you encounter someone who is willing to go to bat for you and make what could potentially be a crucial introduction, you’d better be ready to bring your best. It’s the least you can do for yourself to ensure the introduction is of value, and the least you can do for the introducer, who staked his or her reputation on the line for you.