The Dangers of the Warm Introduction

“Cold calls are for suckers.”

For years, if you were to ask me what I thought of “cold calling” – reaching out to people with whom you have no existing relationship or connection – I would have quoted that famous(ish) dictum from Keith Ferrazi’s fantastic book Never Eat Alone.

“Find someone who already knows the person you’re trying to reach,” I’d advise instead. “And ask them to make a warm introduction.” A warm introduction, the presumed holy grail of getting in the door, provides you with a head-start: by having someone else who already has invested their time and energy into building a relationship with someone introduce you that person, you draft off of their progress and immediately spark a sense familiarity that would otherwise take time to build.

But lately I’ve started to back away from my reflexive disregard for going in cold. In fact, I’ve come to realize the dangers of the warm introduction.

A strong introduction that actually engenders a response requires both sides to be interested in having the introduction be made. While it’s now considered best practice to only make “double opt-in introductions,” by requesting an introduction, you’re asking someone else to sell you. But rarely can someone else sell you as well as you can sell yourself.

To rely on someone else to make an introduction is to rely on a few key, but tenuous, assumptions:

  1. You assume the person introducing you has a strong relationship: A warm introduction is only as strong as the relationship between the person you’re targeting and the person making the intro. Just because people two people work for the same company (or are connected on LinkedIn) does not mean they have a relationship that is alone strong enough to warrant a response.
  2. You assume that they will vouch for you: by asking for a warm introduction, you are asking someone to put their neck on the line by suggesting that someone should meet with you. That is a vote of confidence that is not always easy to cast.
  3. You assume that the other person will immediately accept the offer to be introduced: the beauty of the double-opt-in intro is that it shows respect for someone’s schedule. By first asking whether or not someone would be willing to meet with you, you are providing them with the option of deciding on whether there is sufficient value in taking the time away from their other priorities. It’s polite, but it also has the side-effect of giving someone the option to say “no” to meeting you.

So what do you do when those assumptions are invalidated? What do you do when your lead on a warm introduction goes cold?

  • Write their intro pitch.

Chris Fralic, a partner at First Round Capital, suggests that any request for an introduction should contain a “self-contained forwardable email (SCFE)” that the introducer can use to immediately forward on to the intended contact. In addition to making it a simple task to facilitate an introduction, the forwardable email is your opportunity to write your own pitch as to why you’re worth meeting.

  • Have a compelling reason to be introduced. 
  • When writing your self-contained forwardable email, make it easy to say “yes” to meeting you. Provide the person offering to introduce you with a compelling, tangible reason for why meeting with you is worth their contact’s time. Forcing someone to offer a generic rationale for meeting with you – “you guys are both cool people, so you should meet” – makes it easy for someone to blow you off.
  • Go in cold.

Sometimes going it alone can be the best route afterall. While a warm introduction can be valuable when all stars are aligned, they can do more harm than good when they are not. If you only have one chance to sell someone on the idea that meeting you is worth their time, craft your Value Hypothesis and be your own best salesperson. Besides, if all else fails then you can always go back and ask for a Secondary Intro.


9 Responses to The Dangers of the Warm Introduction
  1. rayburt456 Reply

    Even better: use ofunnel to reduce the “coldness” of the calls:

  2. Noah Greenberg Reply

    i disagree for the most part. Having a common connection (even if relatively weak) introduce you can go a long way in even setting up that initial call – it shows the person you want to meet with that you are a real person. (No one gives intro’s for spam)
    In my experience, as long as you can find someone to stick their neck out enough to say “hey, this guy is doing something interesting, you might want to check it out,” you are going to get in the door… the rest is up to you

    • slpollack Reply

      In my experience this — “hey, this guy is doing something interesting, you might want to check it out,” you are going to get in the door.” — is not necessarily the case. Expecting someone to invest their time and energy responding to you because you’re “doing something interesting” isn’t enough to get the attention of someone who has lots of interesting things in their midst. It needs to be sufficiently interesting to warrant them taking away their attention from other interesting things. That’s not quite as simple as just making an intro.

      • Debbie Landa Reply

        Scott, I have your back on this one. I’ve been doing this over 20 years and used to think the warm intro was the way to go, but I’ve realized that the cold linkedin email with the right story gets a much faster and interested response. The reality is people like to feel that they discovered you. If understand why this person should talk to you and you’re good at communicating the value/need, it’s always a win.
        If you back it up with a warm intro as well, then it secures your credibility.

  3. Eric Hinkle Reply

    Your warm lead doesn’t necessarily need to be an endorsement. Don’t ask them to sell you, that’s your job. Your only objective at this stage of the game should be to find your way to the right contact person. I agree with Noah, the rest is up to you once you get there. I’ve used this successfully without an endorsement as both the provider and the receiver. It works!

    • slpollack Reply

      My point is that by asking them to introduce you, you are de facto asking them to sell you as someone who is worth meeting.

  4. Wei Leong Reply

    I think each has its merits. Both should be used depending on the circumstances without one being necessarily better than the other. Having said that, referrals from satisfied clients would definitely make our job easier.

  5. Brenda Walker Reply

    I agree with Wei. However, if I waited for warm introductions, I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I do.

  6. Alex Martell Reply

    The great thing about going in cold is that if the party you are trying to reach responds, that means they see value in what you’re proposing.
    Warm intros can be good to get in the door but that is not your ultimate goal. Your ultimate goal is to close a deal, and warm intros can actually be a distraction because people will take up meetings and time not because there is a likelihood of a deal but because of obligation to the referrer.
    In many circumstances you’re better off focussing on the leads you generate through cold calling even if the initial rejection rate is higher – you are in control of what you’re selling (as the OP notes) but also the initial validation of what you’re proposing is a lot stronger.

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