It takes time and effort to get customer references, but many companies don't use their customer lists to solicit references effectively. This is despite the fact that references can be one of your best sales tools. Here are some pointers for helping customers "sell" for you:

  • Make it easy for prospects to learn about you. Business INteriors, a fast-growing office-furniture dealer in Irving, Texas, lists in its brochure the addresses and phone numbers of 15 to 20 references.
  • Exceed expectations. Lots of companies hand out a glossy sheet of paper listing the names of a dozen or so customer references. Cunn-Mowery Insurance Group, an $11 million insurance brokerage firm in Lemoyne, Pa., gives prospects a list of its top 50 clients, including the most recognizable names. "When we were unknown, it helped legitimize the company," says president Greg Gunn.
  • Reward all references. At Indy Lube, customers who send friends to the $10 million Indianapolis-based quick-lube chain get a $10 certificate toward their next oil change. Customers fill out a referral card and give it to a friend, and the friend uses the card to get $5 off his or her first oil change. When Indy Lube runs a contest among its 29 locations for the most referrals in a month, CEO Jim Yates says he redeems as many as 50 cards per store.