Reaching Out To An Old Reference Without Looking Like a Jerk

Displeased woman on phone

A good reference is often crucial to prove to a prospect that you’re the real deal, especially if you’re starting off small.

One reference made all the difference in the success of my first company, Open Environment. If we hadn’t had Freddie Mac as a customer to back up our sales team, who knows if we would have made it from zero to $30 million revenue in 4 years.

At my last company, Innoveer, our first foreign reference opened us up to a profitable market in the Netherlands.

Most salespeople don’t have just one reference, but often the one reference you need is often someone you speak to all the time.

What if you haven’t spoken to your best reference in months…maybe years? How can you approach them without coming off like a self-serving jerk?

Lea McLeod from The Muse has some great tips on how to get back in touch gracefully with a reference you haven’t spoken to in a while. Her post deals with references for a job, but the same principles apply.

1. Acknowledge that you’ve been out of touch

No need to be weird about it. Just bone up to the facts! You haven’t spoken in a while – when was the last time? Can you jog their memory?

2. Don’t Beat Around the Bush

Say why you’re getting back in touch – a reference, obviously. This should be the second thing you say. They have lives too, so don’t waste their time with small talk.

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3. Tell Them Why You Need their Reference

Fill them in on your objective and why you think they’d be the best reference to communicate your value. Tell them the company you’re targeting and specifically why you want their business. What do you think makes you right for the job?

4. Prep Thoroughly for the Convo

This is the most critical: you MUST prep thoroughly for the conversation with your long-lost reference.

It’s helpful to tell your reference what it is the company will be asking about. Say, “These are the kinds of things they want to hear about – are you comfortable talking about them?”

If you sell medical equipment, for example, your value proposition is that it’s durable and lasts forever. Remind the reference that they’ve had your product for three years and, hopefully, it works.

5. Take Them Out to Lunch

At the end of your email or phone conversation, arrange a lunch and say you’d love to tell them more about what’s going on.

Meeting with someone in person over a nice glass of wine and a porterhouse is great way to set the tone. It’s an opportunity to relax and make your reference feel like they’re doing a friend a favor, rather than just carrying out another ask from a relative stranger.

Who knows, maybe you could even get a deal out of it!

Prevention is the Best Medicine

You’d rather stay in touch than awkwardly “get back in touch,” right?

It doesn’t have to be a drag to keep engaged with a good reference. One of the best, and easiest, ways to keep yourself on their mind is to send them an email with interesting, relevant content once in a while.

It’s important to note that these emails shouldn’t be generic, but they don’t need to get too personal either. A bit of info on their favorite sports team, a piece of interesting new on their industry or a similar company – it’s a great way to keep in touch without coming off as artificial.

Spiro’s one-touch email templates make it super easy to stay in touch with references. Drop in a quick sentence or two of some interesting content, and boom you’re done.

Remember, getting back in touch with a long-lost reference shouldn’t make you anxious. Follow these simple steps and you’ll get a glowing review in no time.

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About the Author

Adam Honig

Adam is the co-founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a natural sales leader with a mission to help salespeople make more money using artificial intelligence -- or any sort of intelligence for that matter. Adam has been a founder of four companies which resulted in two triumphant IPOs and two legendary mergers. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.

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