You’ve got deals at the goal line.
BUT - they’re asking for references.
You feel like you’re overusing your existing references already.
And, you don’t have enough other references to choose from and engage.
What to do?
Well, here are two easy-to-implement approaches that will help you:
- Develop more references
- Make the references you do have more willing to do more, and,
- Make each reference call abundantly more valuable to the prospects.
Tip 1: Be a "Network Giver"
When a prospect asks for a current customer than can speak with as a part of their evaluation process, what do you do?
If you are like how my organizations used to be, we'd start with the ole' stand bys; the clients who are shining examples of success, who are also friendly enough that they are willing to say yes.
But they have priorities. You walk the thin line towards overusing them.
So, you call them up and say, "Would you be willing to do us a favor? Could you possibly talk to another prospect of ours who is in the late stages of their evaluation?"
That's a one-way ask. All value for you. No value for them - other than a feel good that they're helping you out.
You shutter at the idea that the prospect may say, "I really need to speak to someone in our industry, though." What if you don't have any "regulars" that fit?
Change your ask.
We are social creatures. We seek packs. In business terms, that means we typically get value from connecting with individuals who we share things in common with.
So, instead of asking a client for a "favor", offer to make a connection for them.
"We have a prospect who's considering making an investment in our (technology / product / services), and asked to speak with someone. I immediately thought of you...not just as a client, but this individual is in (similar role) with (similar industry vertical), and I thought it might be a great connection for you. Someone to share best practices and network with. Would you be up for the connection?"
Mutual value for both parties. You become a connector. So, instead of it being an 'ask', might that positioning open up the possibility for you to engage more of your customers as potential references?
Tip 2: Transparency Wins!
One of the things I have never liked about being a reference is the pressure. When a vendor asks me to be a reference for an important opportunity they're trying to close, I felt like I had to paint a picture of perfection. I felt as though I was practically now a part of their sales team, and if I reveal a flaw and it costs the vendor the deal, that's on me!
This fact also means that most vendors only choose their clients who have had a perfect experience to be references, which obviously limits the pool.
Give your references the latitude to share the pros and the cons! That might sound crazy, but consider this...
A reference is essentially the human version of an online review.
As it turns out, we all seek out reviews before we buy something online that we haven't bought before. As a matter of fact, 96% of us do (and I have yet to find the 4% who don't).
When we read reviews, 82% of us seek out the negative reviews first. We skip past the 5-star reviews and read the 1-4's.
Why? Because we use reviews to try to predict our experience with a product before we buy it.
And, as it turns out, when a product has nothing but perfect 5.0 review scores, those products sell at a lower rate than products that have an average review score between a 4.2-4.5. A 4.2 sells better than a 5.0.
So, in the reference world, if references only give perfect 5.0 speak to your prospects, your prospects inherently are NOT getting much value from the call. And, as a matter of fact, they'll then do more back-channeling of you to other people you may not have put them in touch with. They do more research! And you lose control of the sales cycle.
Allow your customers to share what may have gone wrong through the process. The "how you handled that issue" is incredibly valuable to a prospect.
Also, allow your customers to share what feature or function they wish you had. If it's not important to the prospect today, it adds tremendous value much in the way we read a negative review about a product and think to ourselves, "that doesn't apply to me". And if it IS important to the customer, I hope you didn't wait until reference time before breaking that news to them!
No company and their products are perfect. We all know that. And, when we struggle as buyers to figure out where the imperfections are, our buying cycle slows down. WE INHERENTLY NEED TO KNOW THE PROS AND THE CONS before buying something OF MEDIUM-TO-HIGH CONSIDERATION that we haven't bought before.
Given that having a reference share potential imperfections actually aids the buyer, does that also open up the possibility for you to engage more clients to be potential references?
Do both together...make the ask mutually valuable, and give your references the permission to share your imperfections.
Here's a video explaining this in more detail.
I sincerely hope that helps, and would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Feel free to leave a comment below, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Still looking for a great holiday gift for the sales professional in your life? All of these concepts and so much more are explained in much more detail in the book, The Transparency Sale, along with simple, easy to implement tactics. 😀
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