Prospects who are talking with your consulting firm about your services will commonly ask to speak to your past clients. You could simply hand over a few names with contact information, or you could take a more nuanced approach.
There’s nothing untoward about a prospect asking for references. Prospective clients need information and reassurance before signing an engagement with your consulting firm.
Will the outcome be worth the investment? How much of their time will be required? Will you be sending pralines to their entire team or just the decision-maker?
Fortunately, when you have a strong track record of performance, the best marketing you could ever wish for is provided by your past clients.
However, you need to protect your valuable, client relationships from tire-kickers—people who gather information before they’ve fully made a decision to move forward with a project.
A prospect who talks with your reference then doesn’t move forward is needlessly wasting your past client’s time. Worse, that scenario generates negative social proof—indisputable evidence that at least one prospect didn’t think highly enough of your consulting firm to move forward with an engagement.
Therefore, your consulting firm’s general approach to a request for references should follow three steps.
3 Steps to Handle Reference Requests
1. References Last
Confirm all other concerns have been surfaced and addressed before you supply references. Your response can sound something like this:
We’re happy to give you as many references as you could possibly want to talk with. Our policy is to put you in touch with references once all your other questions have been answered and you’re otherwise sure you want to move forward.
What other questions do you have about this project, or what other information would be helpful for you?
2. Choose Carefully
Ensure you know what your prospect is looking for from the references; i.e., identify any lingering concerns. This will help you choose the best advocates for your consulting firm.
We have scores of past clients you could talk to, of course. Tell me what types of questions you have for them, then we can point you to best references to help you make your decision.
3. Offer Multiple Contacts
Offer more than one reference, and give a reason behind each. Your rationale provides a subtle clue that the prospect may not need to call your reference at all and, instead, can simply move forward with your consulting engagement. For example:
Mia Bestbud is the CEO of Cameroon Candies. Like you, Cameroon was converting from physical candies to chocolate NFTs. Based on our work together, Cameroon now makes millions selling digital images of a truffle. Mia can be reached at [contact information].
If you’re a bit concerned about whether a prospect will move forward with your consulting firm, or you’re not totally confident in what your past clients will say, provide 10-12 references.
Ironically, prospects are less likely to call references when you supply them a long list. The sheer number of choices provides the little bit of extra friction needed to make them skip the reference-check step.
How do you handle prospects’ requests for references?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.