Reference Checks – What Are Your Business Partners Secretly Saying About You?

Reference Checks?

I’m not sure about you, but I’m surprised I even have to write about this topic. Unfortunately, given some co-worker’s recent experiences and also looking back at my own – I felt the need to address it. Reference Checks.

For most sourcing/suppliers, this is a check the box activity. But what if it isn’t? What if your trusted business partner isn’t singing your praises as you would expect?  Or to make it worse, what if they are unsatisfied, annoyed by being called again, and have then started giving negative reviews?

When it comes to the final mile of the race, this is it. You don’t want to be caught with the rug pulled from underneath you. Even if you think you have won the RFP, this could easily tip the scales against you.

reference checks

Reference Checks Gone Bad. Really Bad.

Now, I’ve had situations where the client gave me references that didn’t even use the same tool, service, or was even in the same industry than the company I was in – but it worked (1% of the time.)

Sadly enough, he majority of time it won’t. Specfically, if I’m in Pharma/Biotech. trying to use one service, and you give me a reference in Retail for a completely different service – you can call yourself screwed. You need to hit at least one of the two.

How would this ever help me understand what I want to purchase? Sure they may like you, but their viewpoint isn’t relevant for your evaluation. Not in any way. It’s counterproductive for me to make the call since it wastes my time.

In the least, I can understand why a supplier would want to use them. You’re pressed for time, they are a favorite client that has always given you a useful reference, and you need to get something out the door for the RFP.

Unfortunately, what isn’t forgivable is a negative review for any reason. Or for the client to talk more about themselves being an expert in that field, and completely forget the reason for the call.  Yes, it’s happened. Recently. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

And there are a lot of other mistakes that can be made. The reference doesn’t have time or neglects to take a meeting. They’ve decided they won’t be renewing the contract, and they let us know why in extreme detail.

These should have never have happened. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you know the person who the new client will be potentially talking to.

reference checks

Why Do You Need to Avoid the Negative Reference Checks Mistake?


There are a lot of reasons, but let’s start with the most obvious. It’s between you and a competitor, and you get a horrible review, but your competition doesn’t. Guess who the business is going to? Not you. (Whomp whomp)

Second, even if you are in the only finalist, it leaves a wrong impression on the sourcing/business partner taking the call. This is not only detrimental to your reputation, but also the company’s brand image, and it could influence contract terms.

For example: If the reference says you are horrible at returning calls or email responses, guess what clause I’m going to add to your contract?  You will likely see an added SLA (Service Level Agreements), making sure your response time says 24 hours or you incur a $10k penalty per instance.

These are just a couple of examples of consequences. We could probably spend half a day worth of discussion on the repercussions, but why focus on the negative. Let’s look at what you can do to avoid getting yourself into a pickle of a situation.


Reference Checks – Best Practices


1. Make sure your business partner is happy first. Call them to make sure. Don’t be shy.

2. Don’t use the same people over and over. They have day jobs too.

3. When you do use a reference multiple times, don’t just ask once if they’d be willing to do so.  Continually ask if it’s okay to use your business partner as a reference every time.

4. Give references that are using similar services or are in similar industries. At least one is necessary for a proper evaluation.

5. Talk to the reference ahead of time. You can call it coaching or prepping, but you can be assured it makes a difference.

6. Make sure to thank them for spending their time to support you and your business. And if you are continually using them, take them out for lunch the next time you see them. It will be appreciated and motivation to continue to give you positive reviews!

7. Follow-up with sourcing to address any of their questions or concerns after the check is complete.

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