Transform Your Customers into Unassailable References (Part 1)


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Good references are made, not born.

References fall into two broad categories, which sometimes overlap: those your company maintains, and your personal references. Sales winners know how to use both to best effect. But, you may ask, if the company maintains references, why do you need your own? There are several reasons:

  • If your company doesn’t manage its references well, you may not have a reliable advocate when you need one.
  • The references your company maintains may not be in the region or industry you’re selling into.
  • Your company’s references may not be in the right function or level to help you in the prospect’s company.
  • A company reference may not be willing to say what needs to be said.

You need personal references, because when company references won’t do, you have to take the responsibility yourself. This means you have to develop and nurture your own, and you have to protect them. If successful salesreps are ever possessive, it is when asked to share their personal references with other salespeople. They believe that their personally developed references can be abused, and they’re right. Goodwill can be used up. A great reference is money in the bank.

The Care and Feeding of References

Think of the practice of turning customers into unassailable references as a thirteen-step process.

  1. Earn your client’s business and respect by winning the evaluation ethically and creatively. Be persuasive and tenacious. Be straight about what your product or service will do for his company, and be sure both parties see the result as the beginning stages of a long term win-win relationship. Blue Sky, a sales consultancy out of the UK, recently published a paper on the changing face of sales.  This will reinforce a number of the perspectives I’ve been sharing with you on this blog relating to ethics and other required values.  Thanks to Andy Moorhouse for alerting me to this.
  2. Target an appropriate candidate in the account to develop as a reference — ideally, but not necessarily, the person from whose budget the investment in your product or service came. Now take everything I just said in point one and see if it applies also to your potential reference. For example, if he feels you misrepresented something during the evaluation, he will not be convincing when he extols your virtues to your next prospect. By the way, enthusiasm and credibility are extremely valuable attributes for a reference.
  3. Stay visible. Does your company require you to hand off new customers to a post-sales team? If so, you need to detour a bit from that structure. Set aside some time to stay connected with your candidate reference; call him regularly, sit in on occasional meetings, stop by just to say hello. Get copies of status reports from the post-sales delivery or service team and call the reference if something unexpected happens, whether positive or negative. Is it worth the time? It is if you need unassailable references.
  4. If you’re in business development—a hunter—work in cooperation with your post-sales team, not against them. If there’s an account executive responsible for your customer after the sale, make sure you build a win-win relationship with her as well. When you can add value, pitch in to help resolve issues with this customer. If someone other than you is responsible for the ongoing care and feeding of that customer and they see that you care about them both, they’ll try harder to make things work.
  5. Keep track of the value your product or service is providing, in financial terms. This is nearly impossible for a sales rep to do alone; if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that tracks value delivered, get the numbers and discuss them with your reference. This will reassure him that going with your company was the right decision, and it will provide him with convincing data to give to your next prospect.
  6. Understand your reference’s personal win. If she recommends you to a new prospect, what’s in it for her? One of the most valuable things you can provide your reference, whatever her level in the organization, is education. Be her trusted advisor; filter, interpret, translate, and decipher information about her industry, competitors, customers, and suppliers. In exchange for her help, coach her on selling her ideas to her superiors. If you do this right, she’ll be more valuable to her own organization.

The steps of this process continue with Part 2.  Stay tuned.  (By the way, it’s a good idea to subscribe to this blog.  See the form under the “No Sales Tips…” sign in the left sidebar.)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Stein
Dave specializes in helping his clients win critical B2B sales opportunities as well as helping them hire the best sales talent.Dave is co-author of Beyond the Sales Process. He wrote the best-selling How Winners Sell in 2004.


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