References for prospective customers

Checking references by email.

Prospective customers can review you web site, brochures, catalogues, portfolios and other promotional material but there will always be that lingering concern about how objective the information may be. After all, your company prepared it and surely wouldn’t have included anything but favourable material – so the objectivity question is inevitable.

This isn’t to say that a web site, catalogues, brochures and portfolios are not necessary business tools – they absolutely are. But when you move beyond the this-is-who-we are stage and have to convince a prospective customer that you deliver what you promise, references can speak volumes. If a present or past customer is willing to vouch for you, what more could a prospective customer want? Well, for one thing, to be assured that the reference is genuine and objective. And therein lies the a problem with quotes from present and past customers or even letters from them – their authenticity could be questioned.

The answer to the authenticity dilemma lies in direct contact between the prospective customer and the past or present customers willing to vouch for you. But, according to Scott’s Directories, even this has to be done in a particular way to be effective. The common practice of handing your prospect a list of phone numbers to call is not necessarily the best way to go about it. People find that calling references is laborious, particularly if it degenerates into a game of telephone tag. They may not even bother.

A better way to do it is to encourage emailing and to be proactive about it. Provide the prospect with a list of references before they even ask. In fact, strongly urge that they check your references. And better still, provide them with a draft email with appropriate questions. This will build trust right away and demonstrate that you have nothing to hide.

Depending upon circumstances, and even though you’d have been given permission to include them on a list of references, you may as a matter of courtesy let reference providers know that they might be contacted by your prospect.