Reference Visit & Corporate Hospitality

I was judging presentations as part of a sales training exercise for a client when the first team up ended with a close routine suggesting the prospect be flown around the world to visit as a reference an undeniably aspirational location.

The three following teams picked up on this and dangled ever more exotic jollies.  Not happy to merely settle for reference visits, they also threw in hospitality ideas, including meeting F1 stars in Monaco.

Much merriment was had by all as each team tried to outdo the preceding promises.  There are though serious points to be taken from this.

I would personally avoid using hospitality as part of a first-time sale campaign.  If competition offers it first then I accept that it can be tough to hold your nerve, especially if they’re an incumbent.  It means you have to achieve better and deeper politicking, which can be an unattractive pursuit.

If the relationship is established, then as tricky as it is you ought really consider what development of your shared agenda the privilege should create.  I myself have attended all manner of envy-inducing sporting events across the globe on the most tenuous of connections which I’m sure would have made each paying firm’s boss apoplectic.

As for reference visits, the reality is that they are rarely truly required.  In a beauty parade there may well be some stipulation for one across all prospective vendors, but even then you can still frame the process to suit you, if you think about it hard enough and also utilise several communication options.

When you’re in a single bid situation, insistence on a reference visit can easily extend a buying cycle with all the associated trauma of potentially letting in an eleventh hour bidder or sideways obstacle to derail you.  I got so tired of this a few years ago that I made the visit part of post-signing acceptance (between delivery and invoicing to a max number of days) which seemed to work well.  This policy was especially useful given how irrelevant such corroboration turns out to be once the product’s already arrived.

Which brings me on to the best way to handle reference requests.  Validate instead.  If there is any way that you can let the prospect experience your prodcut for themselves, in their own (often simulated, but that’s fine) environment, then the benefits will be bountiful.

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