When a supplier says, “Can I use you as a reference?” many find the question to be a disruption. Others visualize their phones ringing off the hook with calls from a supplier’s prospective customers. With more professionals having limited time, it is equated with being sucked right out of an already busy schedule.

While I advocate appropriately protecting your time, being a supplier’s reference may also benefit you.

What Those-in-the Know Say

In a Harvard Business Review blog post, Jodi Glickman suggests that generosity “can make your career”.  Though referring to references for employees, we agree with what Glickman calls “good professional karma to pay it forward.”

Thrive Global, a community that offers companies science-based solutions to enhance both well-being and performance. uses the term, “generous professional” when giving credit and acknowledgments.

If You Decide to Do It

The key with these situations is that you have prepared yourself to be as good as the person that will be using you as a reference in a professional capacity.

Not long ago, I called an executive of a prospective supplier’s customer. This guy was not one of the supplier’s “official” references. However, I knew he was a customer and thought that I might get more objective feedback from someone other than the official references provided by the supplier.

When I reached this executive, of course, I was interrupting his work. He asked for a moment while he finished typing a critical email.  After that, we had quite an interesting discussion about the supplier about which I had questions. The value of the conversation went from being one-sided to mutual. How?

He used the opportunity that our conversation presented to pick my brain as well.

It seemed as if he was struggling with a certain procurement-related issue and was perhaps hesitant to ask someone else for “free advice” for fear of burdening them. But, because he was giving free advice during this call, he was in a situation where it was absolutely appropriate for him to ask for free advice.

I pointed him in the direction of a supplier that we’ve used for a service that he was looking to procure. So, he got as much value out of the conversation as I did.

So, the next time you’re asked to be a supplier reference, consider doing it. It may give you a unique opportunity to network with your peers and ask for advice about your most pressing issues without the guilt of “bothering” someone for their expertise.

Recommended Reading

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