You can’t afford to ignore sales references

4 minute read

It’s not personal, but prospective customers don’t want to talk with sales reps.

Sure, they may be happy to watch sellers’ slideshows and sit in on demos, but when it comes down to vetting a product and making an important B2B purchase, the word of someone paid to close the sale is only going to go so far.

In an era of empowered consumers, this should come as no surprise. With so much information at their fingertips, buyers are better informed than ever by the time they even knock on sales’ door. But a buyer’s self-service research only goes so far. Once they’re involved in the consideration process, prospects want to hear one voice more than any other: that of their trusted peers.

The word of an existing customer who is open to chatting with a prospect builds instant trust. After all, that customer is taking time from their day and has little reason not to tell the whole truth about their experience. Both factors make existing customers credible references in the eyes of prospects.

The peer-to-peer customer references priority

Customers prefer to speak directly with actual customers rather than salespeople. The numbers back it up time and time again. In fact, research from The Harvard Business Review and Demand Metric found that only 18% of prospects trust the salespeople they work with during purchasing processes. In comparison, 92% of prospects trust what they hear from an existing customer.

When prospects are on the cusp of completing a major B2B purchasing decision that could impact their career, family, and future, they’d rather get validation from a trusted peer. And when peers talk, prospects listen. A recent Gartner study found that references have an 80-85% likelihood of influencing a B2B purchasing decision.

Prospects don’t think all sellers are untrustworthy or trying to mislead them. But when it comes down to it, almost all salespeople work on commission, and the pressure to close the deal at all costs can be a conflict of interests. Overwhelming, prospective customers prefer not to chance it by blindly trusting what they hear from sales and prefer to get validation from existing customers.

The risk of peerless sales

It’s true that sellers can—and do—win deals without the support of sales references. Even without the backing of a happy customer, a salesperson may be able to seal the deal by showcasing a product or service’s value. Also, some prospects might be a little laxer when it comes to completing due diligence or more open to trusting their gut and taking a chance on a solution they believe in.

But in a time when prospects are in control of more than the B2B sales cycle than ever, not being able to deliver a timely, relevant sales reference can slip quickly from a disadvantage to a full-blown liability. In a prospect’s mind, a company that doesn’t have a single happy customer willing to speak on their behalf might have a serious customer satisfaction problem.

Think about it. If you ask an enterprise company with thousands of customers for the opportunity to chat with just one of them, and they can’t come up with anyone at all, doesn’t that look like a red flag? Especially if you’re up against a competitor who can produce compelling peer references at the drop of a hat.

Sellers can quickly find themselves in a hole that has nothing to do with their own abilities or the quality of the products they have to offer if they cannot produce relevant sales references by their prospects’ deadlines. Sure, sellers can win deals without references, but why would they choose to decrease the odds of closing deals when the solution is so clear? B2B deals are already complex enough.

Winning more deals with sales references

Putting relatable, happy reference customers in touch with prospects helps speed up sales cycles and win more opportunities, while making excuses for why relevant references aren’t available puts deals at risk. It’s truly that simple.

Luckily, sales organizations can spin up an effective sales reference strategy quickly and easily—whether or not their organization already has an existing Customer Advocacy or Customer Reference program.

Ready to get started? Download our free eBook: Win more deals with peer-to-peer sales references >

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