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For many salespeople, asking for a customer reference is like pulling teeth. Despite providing a useful product or service and developing genuine relationships with their customers, salespeople often freeze up when faced with directly asking a customer for a testimonial or reference.

If this sounds like you, we’ve got some tips for asking for a customer reference the right way.


What is customer reference?


A reference is a positive story, testimonial or other word-of-mouth recommendation. Salespeople can gather references and use them to show prospects their past successes. And if you are questioning how effective these references are, consider this: one study found word-of-mouth was driving 20 to 50 percent of all purchase decisions. The topic is so valuable to salespeople that there’s even a customer reference forum that meets to discuss the right and wrong ways to approach asking for references.

Too many salespeople overlook these powerful testimonials, though, likely because asking for them is awkward. But it doesn’t have to be. If you are unsure about how to approach current or past clients to get their positive feedback, try out these tips below.


Do the legwork for your customers


Nobody wants extra work on their plate, so why not offer to take the majority of it off your customers’ hands?

When asking for a reference, don’t make it seem like a chore, or a long, drawn out process. Instead, do as much of the work for your client as you can. Not only will this make them more likely to agree, it will speed up the process, too.

For many clients, this means actually writing out a template testimonial for their approval once they agree to the reference. They will appreciate the effort, and – as long as the testimonial is truthful and accurate – will likely sign off with minimal edits.


Develop a customer reference program


Rather than asking customers for references ad hoc, develop a formal program to capture and utilize references on a regular basis. This might look like a single salesperson taking ownership of customer reference management, or incorporating customer references into the weekly activities of all of your salespeople.

And remember: just like closing deals, the art of getting customer references requires a lot of persistence, too.


Use customer reference management software


There are dozens of great platforms out there that can make it easier for you and your team to acquire testimonials. Customer reference software ranges from robust tools that do everything from capturing and transcribing phone testimonials and proving ROI, to simpler tools that help store and leverage references that you have gathered.

Price points vary based on feature sets, so it’s a good idea to get a customer reference program up and running first before investing in the tool that best suits your needs.


Display your customer reference list proudly


One you’ve gathered enough customer references, don’t be shy about showing them off. Create a section of your website to collect them all, and use them in one-on-one sales pitches.

By showing that you are proud of the work you’ve done with past clients, you’ll be more likely to get future clients to agree to their own testimonials. This becomes a virtuous circle that perpetuates itself, and makes the job of asking for references even easier over time.