Four Common Mistakes when Providing Business References

  • By Debbie Ouellet
  • 07 Dec, 2016

Why references are so much more than a name and phone number.

There will be many times in your business life when you’ll be asked by a prospective client to provide references. These can include when you’re responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal), pitching to a new client or in the final rounds of a vendor selection process.

The client’s ‘ask’ will almost always sound something like this: “Please provide us with references from similar clients for whom you’ve provided similar services.”

Here are 4 common mistakes business owners make when providing references:

Mistake #1: Just providing name and contact information.

When you only provide name, title, phone number and email address as your reference information, you’re leaving it up to your potential client to do all the work. They have no information about what services you provided to your reference and therefore nothing to base their questions on.

Instead, include a brief description of the project you implemented along with the contact information. That will help paint a picture of your experience and provide a guide map for your busy client to use to pose questions and prepare for his call to your reference.

Mistake #2: Focusing on what you did.

I’m amazed at the number of times that I see references where their description of their project reads like a menu of services from their website. There is a mountain of difference between the technical aspects of ‘what you did’ for your reference and ‘how you helped’ them.

Be sure to include a short description of the main problem that you solved for your reference. Sure, you can include some of the services that you provided in order to solve that problem. The key is to write this piece from your reference’s point of view. How did they benefit and what were the positive results?

Mistake #3: Not connecting the dots.

Your potential client is busy. They also don’t live in your head or have the skill sets that you bring to the table. Don’t assume that the connection between your reference’s project and the one you’re vying for that seems obvious to you is also obvious to your client. Or that they’ll take the time to think it through and figure it out.

Connect the dots for your client by explaining briefly how the reference’s project is similar to the one you’re proposing. Even projects that aren’t similar on the surface can be similar in other aspects. For example : perhaps the referenced project also had a tight timeline and budget and you provided innovative solutions to meet these tough demands.

Mistake #4: Not asking permission.

In today’s business world of privacy laws and restrictions, this last point should be obvious. You are not at liberty to share another person’s name and contact information without their permission to do so. And, it’s simply good manners to ask permission first.

Even if you’ve been given permission in the past to use reference information, it’s good practice to give your reference a heads-up that they may be contacted. That way they’re expecting the call or email and will make a point of responding.

Summing it up.

  1. Include a brief description of your project along with the reference contact information.
  2. Focus more on ‘how you helped’ than ‘what you did’.
  3. Connect the dots so that your client can visualize the similarities.
  4. Ask permission before you provide the reference information.

Having a great customer reference is always a leg-up whenever you’re pitching to a new client. By taking a little care in how you craft the reference information, you’ll increase its effectiveness.

About the Author

(Debbie Ouellet of EchelonOne Consulting is a business writer and RFP consultant who helps business owners win new clients and grow their business. She does that by helping them to plan and write great business proposals, web content and marketing content.)
By Debbie Ouellet 27 Sep, 2017

Before you respond to an RFP bid or send out a proposal, it’s a good idea to know who will be reading it. Often an RFP document will outline:

  • the decision making team,
  • their project goals and
  • the decision-making criteria.
That’s not always the case, though. Some RFPs take more digging than others to find out what’s important to your potential client. To better target your RFP response, do some research in the early stages of the project. It saves time and effort in the long run. It also provides valuable clues on the best way to ‘package’ your solution.
By Debbie Ouellet 07 Sep, 2017

As an RFP consultant and RFP writer who’s read hundreds of RFPs (request for proposal), there are some things that raise alarm bells for me. If you come across one of these in an RFP, take a moment to consider how it could impact your business, or your chances of winning. You may decide to go ahead and respond, hoping to win a contract, but at least you’ll be doing so with a better idea of what you’re getting into.

Here are 3 red flags commonly seen in RFPs…

By Debbie Ouellet 22 Aug, 2017

When was the last time you reviewed your company’s competitive advantage? Can you state it simply and confidently? Is it still relevant to today’s customer?

Your competitive advantage is that special something about your business that makes you shine above the competition. It’s the one thing that helps a customer choose you when deciding to make a purchase.

Here are two things you can do to add some sparkle to your competitive advantage.

By Debbie Ouellet 21 Jun, 2017

Key performance indicators (KPIs).

If you are fortunate enough to land a contract with a government or large corporate client, chances are good that part of that contract will include KPIs.

By Debbie Ouellet 17 May, 2017

Writing a great RFP (Request for Proposal) response is a critical piece of the puzzle for bringing home a win. However, the way that you approach the RFP process can also have a big impact on how often you win.

If your company regularly responds to RFPs, take a moment to gauge how well you do in the following three areas. If you find yourself coming up short, work at improving in these areas. Pair those improvements with a great solution and well-written response and then watch your percentage of wins increase.
By Debbie Ouellet 05 May, 2017

We all heard them growing up. Those eye-rolling, words of advice that Mom would say ad nauseam: aka Momisms. The truth is; Mom said them because she wanted you to be safe, happy and the best you that you could be. It got me wondering how much of Mom’s sage advice was transferable to running a business.

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, here are three of Mom’s nuggets of wisdom that just might help you build endurance, survive and thrive in business.

By Debbie Ouellet 17 Apr, 2017

You’ve received an RFP, read through it and are ready to begin your RFP response document. Before you start your RFP response, make sure that you don’t fall prey to these three common mistakes.

By Debbie Ouellet 03 Apr, 2017

An RFP (Request for Proposal) has just come out and your company is a perfect fit to put in a bid. Unfortunately, the lengthy document you have to review in order to do so can be overwhelming. Here are some tips on how to review an RFP to ensure that you’re compliant with the requirements…and to improve your chances of winning.

By Debbie Ouellet 28 Mar, 2017

A website’s About page can be one of the most visited pages. It’s often where a potential client will go to check you out before making that first contact. Here are 4 tips to help you make the most out of your About page.

By Debbie Ouellet 13 Mar, 2017

Recently I’ve been plagued by a feeling of guilt for not being busy enough. I know; it seems odd even as I write this. The fact is, I’m meeting my monthly goals and my clients are happy.

So why the guilt? It’s because I have time left in my day that isn’t bookmarked for a project or task.

Upon realizing this, it occurred to me that, perhaps now that I’m my own boss, I’m taking this ‘boss’ thing too far.

Let me backtrack a bit to tell you where I’m coming from. I got my first district manager’s job at the ripe old age of 26. Ever since then, right up until I left the corporate world nine years ago, I’ve been someone’s boss, fiscally responsible for the company’s district, then a region, then the country.

I like to think that I was a good boss for the many staff I had the great fortune to work with through the years. I don’t, however, think I’m a great boss for myself.

When you’re a boss, it’s all about productivity, profitability and results. And, I’ve never been able to walk away from the “measure it and you’ll be sure to pay attention to it” mentality of a boss’s role. Even today, eight years into my business, I measure how I spend my time daily, where my customers come from, what marketing brings the best results and a gaggle of other matrices for keeping me and my business successful.

That’s what bosses do. Right?

I’ve come to realize, though, that measuring success to prove that you’ve obtained it isn’t the same as having success. And, that some successes, in fact the most important ones, just can’t be measured. Like having a rewarding family life. Or giving something back of yourself to a world that needs it.

So, I’ve decided to stop being my own boss and start being my own best friend.

More Posts
Share by: