Week 11 – Get rid of the “Logo Graveyard” – Chapter 03
Those who sell solutions are often asked for references. Customers seek security. A reference seems to provide this perceived security. That is why many salespeople think it is a good idea to brandish as many of these references as possible. Sometimes, in the form of a “logo graveyard”, in other words a catalog of company logos from their customer list.
What is really essential? If you approach this question from the perspective of the customer, then it quickly becomes clear that it’s the issue of relevance. Customers want to see that you have some examples of success from their field under your belt. That’s why it is crucial that you make this relevance a key element when you are asked to present your references.
If I am asked for references, I’ll say, “What name would you like to have as a reference?” If I then get a puzzled look from the client, I’ll add, “You can choose any reference you would like. Which one would suit you?” In this way, I’m letting the client decide. Let’s say the answer is IBM. Then I could say, “Excellent. In that case I can refer you to someone there with whom we’ve collaborated on a successful project.”
If a different name is proposed, say Fujitsu, I’ll say, “Alright, now I see what kind of reference you’re after – an internationally operating provider of IT solutions. How about IBM?”
In this way I can ensure with a high degree of probability that I can select an acceptable reference for my client. No I would like to discuss a few problem cases that may arise:
What do you do if you don’t (yet) have references?
This is the case with many start-ups and companies that look to introduce innovations into the market or expand their existing market regionally. If there are no references to offer, you cannot conjure them out of nowhere. However, you can try this: “Yes, I do have a reference that you will like. A name that you know well and would be ideal for you. I’m talking about your company, because I can assure you that when we begin our project together, you will soon become a reference customer of ours.”
If you can pull this off with all the charm at your disposal and with disarming honesty, it will often do the trick. And let’s be honest: You don’t have too much choice in the matter.
What if this doesn’t work either? I would ask “If you don’t wish to be the first client to benefit from (add benefits of your product), which company of your industry would you recommend to me to serve as a reference for you later?” In the best-case scenario you will have urged the client to rethink the matter, and in the second-best you will have another target customer.
What do you do if your existing customers are satisfied, but do not want to be named?
Some companies don’t want to publicize certain collaborations due to company policies. This should not cause a big problem. In this case just omit the company’s name and replace it with an incisive circumlocution. Instead of saying “BMW,” you can refer to a “leading international car manufacturer with German roots.”
Experience shows that if the information concerning all the references that you accumulate gradually is not stored in a structured manner, it will be subsequently nearly impossible to use it effectively with clients. If there are also different languages involved, most companies lose track. That’s why it is important that each reference contains the following information:
1. The name of the company and the name of the decision maker (except in the case of anonymous references)
2. Relevant details about the company, such as size, industry and location
For example: Mid-sized German company for IT solutions in printing, with five establishments and a sales staff of 25 people.
3. A brief but clear outline of the problem that was solved
Describe the problem briefly in a way that other potential customers can relate to it.
4. Causes of the problem
You can solve a problem once you know the reason for it. That’s why you should think about the reason of the most urgent problem first.
5. Solution to the problem
Since you already know that the “What” and the “How” are less important than the “Why”, you also need to focus the client’s point of view to provide a possible solution.
6. The result
Usually, an investment is supposed to achieve a positive outcome. You should be able to name the desired result.
Once you’ve gathered this kind of information about your reference customers, you can save it on a chart, in a database or a company wiki, and update it periodically. If you’re an international firm, store the information in the respective language in addition to English.
You will see that on the basis of these measures it will always be easier to find the appropriate customer.
Next week, I will share some knowledge from social-media experiences and show you how to use them to identify target customers.