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Client References?

Posted on Thursday, July 09, 2009 at 1:49 PM

We used to provide client references to prospective clients, but stopped. The reason is that we came to see how that practice was compromising the interests and confidentiality of existing clients. Let me give you a few examples of incidents that led us to that conclusion.

Item: We had been providing services to Client X for a number of years. A competitor saw Client X's name on our list of clients, familiarized himself with our writings, and thereby was able to formulate insightful competitive strategies against Client X.

Item: We had done extensive advertising sales training with the staff at Client A. Client B was not a competitor of Client A, but had a sales staff that was underperforming. Instead of addressing the staff's underperformance, Client B attempted to hire away sales people from Client A, realizing that they had already received our extensive sales training.

Item: A prospective client was interested in developing greater readership for her publication. She requested the names of clients for which we had previously done readership development work. Soon afterwards, we received complaints from those clients. The prospective client had begun pestering them to tell her the specific lessons they had learned from us, in an attempt to get the essence of our advice for free.

Item: A man called requesting help on a start-up, and asked for references. One of the clients we put him in touch with was a past-president of one of the major broadcast networks. After speaking with that client, the man called back saying, "You should give that guy half of everything you make," in response to the positive comments that were made about our help. What then unfolded, however, was that this start-up entrepreneur was operating in a very unsavory area of publishing that bordered on illegality. Of course, we regretted very much that we had put that character in touch with our prominent client.

That last item was the final straw. We weren't about to start checking references on prospective clients before putting them in touch with existing clients. Thus, we concluded that the best policy for serving the interests of clients is to consider their identity as a confidential matter, and to decline requests for client references.

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