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I’ll Need to Speak with Someone…

Using References

Prospects like to know about success stories and place a great deal of stock in the opportunity to speak with other customers. Customer references are particularly valued by customers who feel they are almost at the point of making a decision but want to make “just one last check” to validate that they’re making the right choice.  They think your product or service is the right one but want some final assurance.  After all, they’re the ones on the line if your product or service is a miserable failure. They want to speak with someone who was already taken the risk of working with an unfamiliar product or company, not be the one to take the initial risk.

References are important and they should always be in the back of a sales professional’s head. How do you know when a customer may be willing to be a great reference for your company?

  • Great feedback following the delivery of a product or service
  • A strong enough relationship forged from months/years of positive experiences
  • An unsolicited thank you call or e-mail
  • Feedback from a colleague based on a positive discussion with a reference

Seek to build up a list of references for your company. These references can be subdivided by product or service or can simply provide a “character” reference for those customers who want to know more about working with you or your company. When looking to build a pool of references, be sure to follow these guidelines:

· Maintain an Active Relationship – Avoid using a stale account that hasn’t worked with you in years. Customers want to speak with companies who have had recent experiences.  Use customers who can detail a recent success story or who can point to a long track record of success.  It is also crucial to know if a reference is still ingood standing.  If a client is mad at you about something, leave them off the list.

· Build a List from Various Industries and Geographies – Try to gather references from as many industries as possible. Most prospects may not be picky as to what company they’ll speak to. Others may ask for customers in particular parts of the country or industries.  Clearly, you can’t cover all the bases but make you have a healthy mix in case a requirement does come up.

· Don’t Overload Your References – Try to share the wealth among your references.  If a client has agreed to speak with prospects, don’t overwhelm them with calls.  Do what you can to rotate references so as to not ruin a relationship.  The best thing to do is to not give out a reference name unless it is the last step of the decision- makingprocess.

· Don’t Publish a Reference List for Customers to Call – This is asking for it.  They may hound your references.  Selectively distribute reference names as they are very important and should not be shared with everyone. 

· Check Before They Call – Even if a client once gave you permission, it is courteous to first check before giving out their name.  They will appreciate it and you will also be able to tell them why a prospect is calling.  In many cases, they will seek to tailor their message based on the client’s needs.

Lastly, if a client was overjoyed with you but isn’t willing to act as a reference, at a minimum, ask if they will send you a testimonial letter. Most will be glad to oblige.

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