As you are working the room at a networking event, you realize that the person in front of you is the decision maker you have been trying to meet with for months. You mention that you would like to set up a time to meet with him, and he says, “How about now? Tell me about your product.”
In the course of your conversation, he asks about your other customers, because he “knows a lot of people in the industry” and he probably knows many of your customers.
Are you comfortable giving him those names? Do you know what they will say to him? Will they be okay with the fact you gave out their information?
Plan ahead for this conversation by contacting several customers. Ask them about their experiences with your company and your products. What do they say? Are there problems or are they raving fans?
If there are problems, fix them. First of all, that will help you to keep the customer. Then you can think about using them as a reference.
If the customer is happy, ask if you may name them as a reference when dealing with prospective customers. Some companies will not want to be used as a reference because they do not want their vendor relationships made public, or company policy prohibits anything that might be construed as an endorsement. Others will be glad to provide a reference.
Make sure you have the correct name, title and contact information for a knowledgeable person who can provide the reference. Ask if they have a preferred contact method (e.g., phone or e-mail).
Ask for a written testimonial you can use in marketing materials and on your Web site. Help them by talking with them about their experiences with your company, then sending them a written draft they can modify, print and sign. The process of creating the testimonial will remind them why they like your company so much, and will give them the language to use when talking with your prospective customers.
Consider having more than one reference list. For example, you might have one list for municipalities or school districts, another for manufacturers, one for professional corporations, etc. Each has unique issues and may want to speak with someone at an organization like theirs.
Have your reference list ready before someone asks for it. Keep it updated as you add new customers or your contacts’ titles and responsibilities change.