If you want to work with new people and organizations, your first goal is to have them to agree in meeting you. How to approach people you haven’t connected with before?
If you want to be proactive about it, there are only two things that work:
- Checking if any of your existing relationships can introduce you to them; or
- Reaching out directly and trading value for their time.
Your best source of new relationships (and clients) are introductions and referrals from existing clients. The initial level of trust is much higher, and so it is the chance that they accept meeting with you.
That’s already the case for many consultants, but if your current and past clients aren’t regularly introducing you to new prospects, then maybe it’s time to examine two parts of your business: your project delivery quality, and your discipline in asking for referrals and introductions.
Your clients need to see that you do great work and produce concrete results. No matter what type of consulting you do, the indicators of success can (and should) be made clear for them. Tracking progress improves the perceived value of your services.
Unfortunately, even if you’re doing that most of your clients will not spontaneously introduce you to other prospects. Remember: They don't care about you. They’re thinking about their own issues and priorities, not your pipeline.
To get introductions, you have to ask your clients for them.
First, here’s what NOT to say:
“John, as you know I help tech startups hire more and better developers. Who do you know that would benefit from the value I provide?”
You’ve probably read something like this in a sales book or heard it recommended by gurus. But I bet you almost never say it because it feels as pushy. It’s also as painful for your client to hear as it is for you to say.
The person you’re asking has to make a huge effort to think about whether he knows someone who could actually benefit from meeting you. This doesn't work well.
Also, the person might worry about you harassing his contact and how that will reflect badly on him. If this is the only way you know how to ask for introductions, I understand why you wouldn’t use it. It’s completely self-oriented.
There are two easy ways to ask for introductions you can adopt that solve these problems:
- The targeted ask (“named gift”); or
- The broader ask (“transfer of interest”).
The Named Gift
The targeted ask, or named gift, is for when you know exactly who’s the person you want to be introduced to. It’s powerful because you take over almost all of the work - your contact doesn’t need to think of their network, find the right person to introduce to you, or worry about what you are going to say to them.
Here’s an example of it:
“Mary, I have a quick question for you. I saw you are part of the NY AI society. I’m not a member, but I know that John Daniels, Marketing Director at XYZ, is. As you know, we are running our AI conference in September and I’d love to invite John and his partners to attend. Feel free to say no if this is a big ask, but could you introduce me to him?”
This sounds and feels much better. The structure is simple: Name the target and show why you believe they are connected + explain what you are going to offer them + ask for the introduction with an out (“feel free to say no”).
Another example could be:
“Mary, one last thing. I saw that you and John Daniels, Marketing Director at XYZ, are connected on LinkedIn. I’m writing a big industry report on future trends and would love to interview him along with other experts. Feel free to say no if you have never talked to him before, but could you introduce us via message?”
The Transfer Of Interest
The targeted ask requires some research but it’s well worth it. If you didn’t have the time to prepare, you can use a broader approach that’s called “The Transfer of Interest” (credits for this to the great David A. Field).
Here’s an example of how this technique sounds with a current client:
“Mary, you’ve been incredibly helpful during this project. You know that meeting people and building relationships is at the heart of what I do. Plus, I love meeting interesting people. Who have you run into recently who’s intriguing, creating change, or shaking things up?”
You’re not asking for a potential client, but an interesting connection. It’s much easier for your contacts to remember someone they think is doing interesting things. Also, they don’t need to worry about you trying to hard-sell their contacts.
What I love about this technique is that, even though you're not being specific in your request, there's no need to worry about the “quality” of the names you’re given. As David says, "they are more likely to be buyers. Interesting people are making things happen. They’re hiring consultants."
Even if you end up meeting with people who are not a good fit, they are still great connections. Active and interesting people are often centers of influence, and can help you boost your visibility and reputation among others.