I'm always looking for tactics and techniques that are quick to execute but have an outsized positive result. In all the years I've been in business, I have never found a simple tweak that's this fast, easy and effective.

Everyone knows that when you contact people out of the blue (typically a cold email) they're more likely to respond if you tell that that someone they already know suggested that you speak with them. In sales lingo, that's called a "referral."

The Wrong Way

Almost everyone (including experienced salespeople, BTW) makes the same mistake. When they get a referral, they write down the contact information (typically an email address) and then send an email that starts like this:

Hi Jennifer,
Jerome Dee suggested I contact you.

That approach hardly ever works because:

  1. Jennifer doesn't know whether you really spoke with Jerome or just picked Jerome out of LinkedIn or some other source that connected the two of them.
  2. Even if Jennifer believes you spoke with Jerome, Jennifer doesn't know whether Jerome actually suggested you contact her. He may just have come up in a conversation.
  3. Even if Jennifer believes Jerome gave you her contact info, for all she knows, Jerome may brought her up just to get rid of you. (e.g. "Sorry, that's Jennifer's responsibility. Best of luck!")
  4. Even if Jennifer believes Jerome legitimately gave you her contact info, any attempt on your part to characterize why Jerome gave you the referral sounds self-serving and ridiculous. (e.g. "Jerome says my product is the best in the world.")

Net result: Jennifer ignores your email.

The Right Way

Fortunately, there is an absurdly easy fix that turns a dud into a magic bullet and here it is: turn the referral into a recommendation.

Here's how:

Whenever a customer/friend/colleague gives you the contact info for somebody you want to meet, have them send an email to that person and CC you on the email. This is ridiculously easy to do. Suppose you're getting a referral from "Valerie":

What You're Saying Now

  • You: Do you know anyone who could use my services?
  • Valerie: Sure. Try Albert Magnus over at Alchemy, Inc.
  • You: Do you have his contact info?
  • Valerie: I'll email it to you.
  • You: Great! Thanks!

What to Say Instead

  • You: Do you know anyone who could use my services?
  • Valerie: Sure. Try Albert Magnus over at Alchemy, Inc.
  • You: Do you have his contact info?
  • Valerie: I'll email it to you.
  • You: Actually, while we're talking, would you mind emailing him a quick note?
  • Valerie: I don't see why not.
  • You: Just tell him that we talked and that you recommended he and I speak. And CC me on the email, OK?
  • Valerie: All right... Done!
  • You: Thanks! I'll keep you posted.

Why This Works So Well

With a mere referral (the first example above), you're starting almost at ground zero. When you email Albert, your email might get caught in his spam filter. Even if your email arrives in Albert's inbox, it might not get opened, since it's from a stranger.

And even if it gets opened, at best the only thing that Albert knows about you is that you (maybe) know Valerie. Chances are your email will be ignored.

With a recommendation (the second example), however, the email will definitely get through Albert's spam filter because it comes from Valerie, a person with whom he's previously corresponded, thereby white-listing her email address.

Furthermore, because the email comes from somebody he knows (Valerie), Albert will almost undoubtedly open the email and read it. But that's just the start.

After reading the email, Albert has four choices:

  1. Email you. You win. You're in a conversation with Albert.
  2. Reply All (to Valerie and you). You win. You're in a conversation with Albert.
  3. Reply to Valerie but not you. You win. Valerie will forward that email to you and you're in a conversation with Albert.
  4. Ignore Valerie's email. You win. You can now follow-up with another email (CCing Valerie) asking a question or otherwise initiating a conversation. And Albert will reply to you. Why? Because Albert is now in a social bind. If he doesn't respond to you in some way or another, he's disrespecting Valerie! And he probably doesn't want to do that.

By turning the referral into a recommendation, you've taken a very chancy cold email and turned it into four ways to win and no way to lose...You're going to get a response sooner or later.

Of course, the response might be "not interested" or some other objection, but then you can reply with "just out of curiosity, why..." and keep the conversation going. Or any number of email conversational techniques. 

Here's the best part. If Albert is indeed interested in what you're offering, you're way ahead of the game because Valerie has explicitly recommended you, thereby implying that you are trustworthy and worth dealing with. This is an incredible "leg up" because establishing trust with a stranger can be time-consuming and difficult.

But you're already past all that! Yay!

Now you know why turning a referrals into a recommendation is the easiest and most powerful of all networking (and sales)  techniques. It literally takes 10 seconds to execute but massively increases the power of your networking.

Published on: Jan 18, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.