The Art of 'Reference Selling'
You sweat to get every customer reference, so why not make the most of your customer list? After all, it's one of your best marketing tools. Here are some pointers for helping customers to "sell" for you:
Make it easy for prospects to check up on you. Business Interiors, a fast-growing office-furniture dealership, in Irving, Tex., lists in its brochure the addresses and phone numbers of 27 individuals from 20 customer sites.
Exceed expectations. Lots of companies, and likely many of your competitors, hand out a glossy sheet of paper with a dozen names on it. Penn Property & Casualty gives would-be customers a list of its top 50 clients. "We picked the most recognizable names. When we were unknown, it helped legitimize the company,' attests Greg Gunn, CEO of the $4-million insurance brokerage in Lemoyne, Pa., that has made the Inc. 500 three years running.
If you really want to impress prospects, try handing out your entire customer list, as Job Boss Software, in Minneapolis, does. "They can call anyone they want and check up on us,' says Lori Sweningson, CEO of the $2.3-million developer of job-shop-management programs. While the long reference list -- 750 names and counting -- helps her close countless sales, Sweningson knows with certainty that a third of her new business comes directly from referrals.
Thank references. At Indy Lube, customers who send friends to the $3.6-million quick-lube chain get a $10 certificate toward their next oil change. It's a way to thank customers who take the time to fill out an Indy Lube Referral Card and give it to a friend. The new customer uses the card to get $5 off the first oil change. The Indianapolis company won 35 new customers that way in March alone. When Indy runs a contest among its 15 locations for most customer referrals in a month, CEO Jim Sapp says, he redeems as many as 50 referral cards per store.* * *
"Would you take a new prospect into this customer's plant or offices to show off your partnership? If you can't get a good reference from this account -- or if you aren't willing to ask for one -- you need to reexamine the relationship.'
-- Successful Large Account Management, by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman (Warner Books, 1991, $9.99).* * *