MARCH 1989

You know your company is the best there is, but how do you persuade your prospective customers of that? You can't just tell them so -- your testimony will be dismissed as puffery. The solution?

Use the testimony of your current customers, says Michael M. Nightingale, president and CEO of GMIS Inc., a Malvern, Pa., maker of software for the health-care industry. They're the best salespeople you've got.

As part of his basic sales pitch, whether he's trying to land a new customer or obtain a bank loan, Nightingale hands out a list of his 60 current customers and suggests the person on the other side of the desk call some of them to find out more about GMIS.

"If they ask me to pick the names," he says, "I give them people who will rave about us and at least one company where we had problems. People know that things don't always go well. What's important to them is how you deal with that. By giving them the name of a place where we fell down at first -- but bent over backward to correct the problem -- they find out. It's much more effective than anything I can say."

Do the referenced customers mind? Not in Nightingale's experience. "They're happy to help out."