Your people have a good relationship with the client, they’ve worked side-by-side, often long into the night to deliver the technology, solving issues as they come up and implementing your solution.  So, it makes sense to have them reach out to their contact and ask for feedback or a reference you can then use to endorse your business. Right?  Not so fast.

Too often the technical people are the ones holding the ‘doing’ relationships. At best, you may get the type of endorsement that goes along the lines of:

 Joe was an absolutely life-saver, we couldn’t have done it without him – Joe, you’re our hero.  

Of course, appreciation and good feedback are critical. I would recommend firms use positive personal endorsements like these to keep employees motivated and strengthen their internal culture. But there’s not a huge lot of value that can be extracted from that from a new business or reputational perspective. 

The alternative of ‘getting someone from marketing to get a testimonial’, can also backfire.  Many firms, particularly in highly regulated sectors, are cautious about sharing information about processes and systems. Some are reticent to talk about their vendor relationships, let alone have their brand name and results appear alongside the vendors and published on digital platforms. I’ve seen ‘misplaced references’ turn a perfectly good business relationship sour.  

So how do you secure quality client-approved references?

Firstly, recognise that client referencing is a strategic initiative – not just another marketing tactic.  If you have positioned your firm as a trusted advisor that is providing a solution that will impact your client’s strategic business goals, then success will be about how those goals have been met as a result of your service or solution.  In other words, it’s not about HOW you implemented the technology that matters.  What matters is WHY they made the decision to acquire the technology in the first place and WHO made that decision – and whenever possible, the RESULT.

Once you have a ‘Why’ and a ‘Who’, you can start thinking about your approach. 

Start with the ‘Why’.

Is your client trying to solve a problem that is costing them time and money?  Are they transforming to compete more effectively?  Whatever their reasons – that must be your conversation driver.  Make sure that you are talking to the most senior-level person who understands those reasons. Keep the conversation on a peer-to-peer level.

It might seem more comfortable and a lot easier to ping off an email to request a referencel and in many cases that could work. But the rewards from taking the time to make a personal call results always result in far better quality references and more insightful conversations. If that takes you out of your comfort zone, think about the call as part of your client’s experience – as another touchpoint with your brand and as a way to strengthen your business relationship. Decide up front, ‘what’s in it for them? How will they benefit.

All good leaders need to reflect.

The key is to position your conversation with the client around that reflection process.  To do this, you must make it about them.  Explain to your client this is not about you or your solutions.  If done well, your approach to securing a client reference could even have the potential to develop into a full client case study and an even more powerful endorsement of your business.

Take the time to ask good open-ended questions.

It’s worth spending a few minutes before the call to think about what you will ask.  Often a single great question will trigger a hugely insightful conversation that will reveal hidden value.   How will you phrase a question so that you can pull out real tangible results? 

Listen actively.

At worst, you will learn things about your firm’s approach to business that could limit success in the future and will be able to do something to fix it.  At best, you will have a valuable endorsement that will inspire prospects and engage your key stakeholders.

Use the conversation to capture your client’s experience.  Write it down using their words.  Once you have given it a sense check for grammar and accuracy, send it back over to your contact by email thanking them for their time and with a simple request: “We’d love to quote you on our website/literature/digital platforms. Do we have your consent”?  It’s a good opportunity to check their preferred name and job title too. 

In summary, never take client-endorsed references for granted.

Securing high-quality references needs thought, planning,a few polished communication skills and good timing. If your firm prides itself on ‘knowing your customers’ and being “customer-centric’  it’s worth remembering:

# 1.  Always ask for consent in writing.

# 2.  Find the ‘Why.’

# 3.  Talk peer-to-peer at a senior level.

# 4.  Make it about them: their experience, their results.

# 5.  Ask great questions and be an active listener.

# 6.  Capture the value and any tangible results in writing.

# 7   Send a thank you email providing them with the reference you wish to publish

Done well, securing your client-approved reference will benefit your business relationship and enhance your client’s experience with your brand.