Top 5 Reasons Sales Prospects Ask for References

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, May 19, 2014 @ 14:05 PM

referencesEverything is going along great, your prospect seems quite interested, they've agreed with your points, accepted your pushback, you got them qualified and you're heading for the home stretch.

It doesn't matter if this has all occurred in the last 45 minutes, or if this took place over a series of meetings, calls and months.  

They ask for references.

The best example of doing a lousy job in this area is the salesperson who was referred in, yet still gets asked for references!

How a salesperson handles the request for references is crucial and most salespeople screw it up royally.

Consider the following 10 issues surrounding the reference request:

  1. Some salespeople dread the reference request.
  2. Some salespeople pray for the reference request and offer references if they aren't asked.
  3. Any reference request is a momentum stopper and at best and extends the sales process.  At worst, it will delay it indefinitely.
  4. Some prospects will never call the references, yet won't move forward without speaking with them.
  5. Some prospects will be so particular about references that you won't be able to meet their criteria.
  6. Some of your references won't return the calls.
  7. Some prospects will ask for references at inappropriate times - too early for the reference to be the final step in the decision-making process.
  8. Some references, in their eagerness to endorse you, will say too much and stumble onto something the prospect did not want to hear.
  9. Some salespeople don't ask what will happen after they talk with happy references.
  10. Some salespeople don't ask why they are asking for references.

Let's discuss the last one.

Do you know why prospects ask for references?  Here are 5 reasons:

  1. They're not sure yet - and they want to hear from someone else whether or not they should buy.
  2. It's a habit - they always do this.
  3. It's a put-off - they want to get rid of you.
  4. They need to make a recommendation and want to have their ducks in a row.
  5. They need realistic expectations - they want to learn what it's like to work with you.

While there isn't too much you can do about reasons #2-5, it's crucial to ask questions, not only to identify the reason behind the request, but to validate the condition.  We also need to know what will happen AFTER they speak to a positive, quality reference.  

You could certainly work to become more convincing as a way of dealing with #1, but for the purpose of this article, we will further discuss #5.

Most prospects really appreciate it when you can set their expectations in these 5 areas:

  1. What will be done - the cliff notes version of your scope of work,
  2. Who will deliver it and to whom it will be delivered,
  3. When it will be done - the timeline for #1,
  4. When they will experience results - especially if results are delayed or non-specific, and
  5. What the results could/should be - how the condition will change.

Try doing a better job of setting expectations earlier in the sales process and let me know whether or not that reduces the number of reference requests.

Image Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, Sales Coaching, sales tips, reference requests

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About Dave

Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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