Salespeople and Requests for References

For the first time in months, I was recently asked for references.  No problem!

But it got me thinking about who asks for references, why they ask for references and when they ask for references…and what salespeople do when they’re asked for references, and whether those references lead to closed business.

As I thought this through, quite surprisingly, my three largest personal clients – all multi-billion dollar corporations, never asked.  Three medium sized companies – over $100 million – never asked.  I am personally working with only a handful of smaller companies and only one of them asked.

Those insights tie directly to why people ask for references:

  • they are skeptical of your claims or promises;
  • they weren’t referred to you by someone they know and trust;
  • they haven’t previously bought from your company;
  • they don’t understand what you sell;
  • it’s their nature to ask (they always do that);
  • they must invest more money than they had planned or feel comfortable with;
  • they want to learn what it’s like to do business with you;
  • they want to learn if there is anything to beware of;
  • they prefer to be sold by your references, not you;
  • they are simply using the reference request to put you off.

Let’s cover where in the sales cycle they ask for referrals:

  • at the beginning – they won’t meet with you without references (either your salesperson sucked or they didn’t have an issue to address)
  • in the middle – they have begun their due diligence (wrong time to provide references though)
  • at the end – they want validation (see the first 6 examples above) or it’s a put-off.

Some questions for you:

Are your salespeople able to differentiate between valid reference requests and put-offs?
Do they understand the various reasons why they are being asked?
Should that impact who you provide for references?
Do certain reference requests indicate that your salespeople weren’t every effective selling?  Does a glowing recommendation mean you’ll get the business?
Does a cautious recommendation mean you won’t get the business?
How many prospects actually contact the references your salespeople provide?

There are probably some more good questions I overlooked.  What would you add to this discussion?