I left off in my last post saying that it is frustrating to the Search Marketing (SEO-SEM) buyer in "Finding objective people or companies who are not under "undo influence" of any kind to be positive or negative in their reference giving,..". Google may help with this (click on cartoon to enlarge).
That quote above is true since most of the references that prospective search marketing buyers get are from the SEO-SEM firm that they are considering. To me this is like asking Coke if I should buy Pepsi or Coke. Of course, Coke could refer you to Sprite for a referral to the answer, but bias would still be there. God forbid you don't know that Sprite is friend or partner to Coke.
Yet Matt Cutts said in an Aaron Wall Interview when asked "..what would you personally look for when hiring an SEO?": "References, probably. Proven success with clients who are willing to show their results." So, how does an SEO-SEM prospect find a way to get unbiased references in order to ask open-ended, leading questions of, along with great "peel the onion" follow-up questions?
Here are a couple of ideas from Todd Malicoat that I really like.