Jun 04, 2015

The recommendation myth

What impact should direct references have on my outsourcing-provider choice?

Author: Silviu Panait

I’d like to speak directly to someone you’ve worked with, please.’ – These words are, probably, #1 on every tech-outsourcing-provider’s list of most disliked business moments. And it’s not because we’re insecure, it’s not because we haven’t worked with people who are very happy to recommend our services, it’s not because we don’t take pride in our projects, and it’s definitely not because we have anything to hide. It’s because everyone’s so busy.

Time is 21st’s Century luxury commodity

You come to an outsourcing-provider requesting information, and we’re happy to provide it. It’s a chance to show-off our expertise and talent, to make a difference, to highlight what we do best. We’ll gladly take all the time you need to answer all and any questions you might have. We’ll put together presentations detailing our working methodologies, explain our ethics code and best-practices, take you on a tour of our offices, show you how we insure security, we’ll even pull-in some our technical team-leaders to get into the specifics with you and start suggesting potential solutions. We’re directly interested in this process, so this is why we take all the necessary time to do it, until you feel you’ve found out all you need to know to reach a decision. We hope you see what’s great about us. Not the way you hope your next door neighbor’s child recovers from the common cold as soon as possible, because he’s a nice kid and you don’t want him to be stuck in bed with a fever, but the way you hope your own child recovers from it as soon as possible, because you love it when they shine.

Nobody has a lot of time to spare for someone else’s children

If you’re good at what you do and add value with every project you deliver, former clients will be eager to recommend you to others. They’ll gladly take 15 minutes of their day to approve your case study and write you a testimonial, they’ll smile and openly say ‘I’ve worked with them, they’re great!’ when your company name comes-up in conversation, they’ll enthusiastically suggest you when someone in their network is looking for an outsourcing provider. What they will not do with that much enthusiasm is take one hour or more of their otherwise extremely busy lives to answer someone’s detailed questions about you. Just like you really hope your neighbor’s child will make a quick recovery from the common cold, but you won’t volunteer to make them chicken soup. You’re busy. You have your own children to cook for.

Bluntly put, we dislike hearing those words because it puts us in the somewhat uncomfortable position of having to ask a very busy professional to invest time in something they’re not directly interested in – while we know this type of direct references shouldn’t even hold such influence on a prospecting client’s decision in the first place.

Because, of course, we’re going to refer you to someone who’s exhilarated about our work together

Working in a business-to-business field, especially one of a technical nature, we all have that one client with whom it just didn’t ‘click’. The project was successfully delivered, the job was well done, but there just wasn’t particularly good chemistry, even though we parted on the absolute best of terms. Well, we’re not going to send you to that client for direct references. We’re going to send you to one of our many extremely happy customers, one of those with whom we’ve formed a stable business-relationship, one of the ones who keep coming back for more features and keep renewing our contract. What do you expect to hear but praise? Can’t this be better accomplished via the official, signed testimonials on our website, so we all save time?

Still, there are very realistic, efficient ways of insuring your prospected provider’s expertise, and I’ll be detailing them in my upcoming article. In the meantime, please share your thoughts with me: do you think direct references are a good way of safeguarding service quality, or more of a myth?

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