"The Navigator" News Blog

Names – To Drop or Not To Drop?

One of the topics I’m frequently asked about revolves around the topic of name dropping.  This happened last week with a fairly new salesperson who happens to be a good friend.  She had, she said, received several “referrals,” and wanted to know if it was appropriate to use the person’s name who referred them.

The reason that this is a common question revolves around the issue of sales credibility.  Without exception, when someone is dropping someone else’s name into the conversation, they are attempting to establish their own credibility by borrowing some of the person whose name they are using.  This is a technique that can, depending on the situation, range from entirely appropriate to downright annoying.  Let’s dissect the issue and figure out which is which.

In the particular case of my friend, what I learned after some questioning was that these “referrals” really weren’t referrals at all.  They were cold leads.

A referral occurs when someone not only points you to a new potential client; they get in the middle of the conversation, make an introduction, and assist in making the connection.

A lead is when someone suggests that you make a sales call on a potential customer but doesn’t get involved in the conversation or help make the introduction.  My friend had leads; the other person had simply suggested that ‘she ought to call on’ a certain group of businesses without being able to facilitate the meeting happen.  Her not knowing the difference wasn’t her fault – her company termed these ‘referrals,’ as would many networking groups.

In this case, once we’d clarified what she was working with, I gave her these simple guidelines.  In the case of a lead, the name shouldn’t be dropped, since it’s entirely possible that the person giving the lead doesn’t even know a key contact at the target company.  Since name dropping is all about borrowing credibility, you might be borrowing from an empty bank.

In the case of a true referral, however, the name should be used; i.e., “John Smith suggested that I call you, as he thinks that what I do could help you.”  In this case, the borrowed credibility is real, and the name (along with whatever the other person might have done) should assist you in getting an appointment.

The same rule goes for testimonials, as well.  A testimonial should always be used in conjunction with the name of the person who gave it.  Again, borrowed (and real) credibility is at play here.

Now, let’s talk about a different situation.  This is one I see all the time in the speaking community – let’s call it, “The Name Drop Apropos of Nothing.”  If there’s anything speakers like to do when they congregate, it’s drop the names of other speakers they may have seen, might know, or whose articles they might have read.

“Have you seen Jack Smith speak?”

“Have you read Ellen Suchandsuch’s book?”

Or, they’ll pepper their speeches with references to others’ work and material.  “As Guy Kawasaki says,” etc.  I also see this happening in too many sales presentations.

Here’s the rub with this kind of name dropping.  It can work against you and be annoying to your audience (or customer).  There are a few reasons for this.

First of all, if your audience or customer hasn’t read the books or heard the speakers, then they can feel that you’re trying to diminish them or put yourself above them – or that there’s a ‘club’ and you’re not a member.

Second, remember that name dropping is borrowing credibility.  It’s one thing to borrow the credibility of someone you know.  It’s entirely another to borrow the credibility of someone you don’t know.

Finally, if you use this technique too much, it greatly diminishes your own credibility.  At some point, you cease to be an expert and become someone who read an expert’s book.  There’s no way that this can work in your favor.

Here’s my advice.  If you like to use expert quotes or examples in your sales presentations, keep them to a minimum.  You’re much better off using one great quote or study than five mediocre ones.

Remember this:  Others’ credibility might get you in the door, and it might help move a presentation along – but at the end of the day, if YOU don’t have credibility of your own, you won’t get the sale.  My advice is to build as much of your own credibility as possible.