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Why Past Client References May Be A Bad Idea: Sales Objections Part 4 [+Video]

By Jason Swenk

Why Past Client References May Be A Bad Idea: Sales Objections Part 4 [+Video]

This is the fourth installment in my series on Agency Sales Objection Handling.

Did you miss something?

Part 1 of the series was how to handle a prospect who says “send me more information”.

Part 2 of the series covered the elusive “let me think about it” response.

Part 3 of the series helped turn a prospect’s prior negative experience into a positive one.

Ever get to the end of a new business proposal only to have the prospect ask you for references? What have you done in that instance? Does it hurt or help you to use past clients as references for new ones?

In this article, I’ll explain why it's a bad idea to use past clients as references and go over the best strategy to turn a prospect into a client without them.

The request for references is either a serious sales objection or the simply the presence of doubt in the prospect’s mind.  

If someone is asking for references it means there's still something they're uncertain about when it comes to working with you... And bottom line, that means there's a hole in your sales process.

Yes, some people just like to double check that they’re making the right choice with references, but if they’re doing this, it’s also possible that somewhere in your sales process, you failed to earn their trust fully or to prove your value.  

Frankly, giving references hurts your agency business, and here's why:

  1. You disrespect your clients’ time. When a prospect calls your clients it takes up their valuable time. They are spending time helping “sell you” when they should be using their time working in their business. Letting your prospects call your clients is a lack of respect for their time. Eventually, your clients could come to resent you for sending prospects their way.
  2. You may put your strategies at risk. A lot of prospects will move from asking questions about results, to ask questions specific to your agency’s strategy and processes. These topics are intellectual property, and (not knowing any better) your amazing clients might start giving away your secret sauce for free. Yikes!

So, when people ask for references, try to avoid it.

What you can do instead of giving references:

When a prospect asks for references, counteract by asking what questions they have and if there’s anything, in particular, they're still unsure about. You want to see what else you can clear up for them, instead of letting a reference or testimonial talk them into (or even out of) working with you.

First, find out what’s missing and why they want to speak to a reference. Answer all the concerns and objections you can.

Next, tell them exactly why references may not be what they need.

Finally, tell your prospects you want to share a case story or two instead of a reference. These can often accomplish the same trust-building that references can without monopolizing a client’s time or putting your IP at risk.

Overall, try to answer all the rest of the questions and handle any objections they might still have. If, after more discussion, they still want references, make sure to have some you trust and have discussed being contacted with previously.

Be sure you check out next month’s edition to this series. And, if you have a sales objection you’d like me to cover send it to me at

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Inbound Sales
Published on October 9, 2018

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