Client testimonials: A key mistake to avoid (part five)

I introduced this topic in four previous postings on this blog. Parts one and two introduced the subject and in part three I explained one simple way for ambitious professionals to obtain testimonials. In part four I explained how to choose which testimonials to use.

In this final posting in this series I want to highlight a classic mistake that people make when using testimonials and how you can destroy your credibility if you do the same thing.

First though let’s just remind ourselves why we want to use testimonials in our marketing materials. It is to add credibility to our sales messages and to evidence the promises we have made. Essentially we are acting as a conduit for a third party who is telling our prospective client how good we are.

So what is the key mistake that we need to avoid?Well, let me ask you a question. If you were thinking of engaging me to mentor you which of these two (fictional) testimonials would have most impact?

I have overcome the issues that were halting my progress in the firm and, thanks to Mark I am now a confident networker and more effective in my new partnership role.
-Joe Soap, KPMG

I have overcome the issues that were halting my progress in the firm and, thanks to Mark I am now a confident networker and more effective in my new partnership role.
– Joe Soap, Wander, Cloak and Co (6 partner firm, Hertfordshire).

The only difference is the name of the firm. The first one is recognisable. The second is not.Which is the best one to use?

It can be a big mistake to assume that the quote from someone at a large firm or big name company is automatically the best to use. Why? Well, the starting point is, as always in marketing, to go back to think about who is your audience? Am I trying to influence people in other large firms or in smaller practices? Will my prospective clients relate better to someone in a Big 4 firm or a smaller practice? Will they be more interested in the impact I can have on someone in a Big 4 firm or in a smaller practice?

These are key issues to consider. Whilst it might be nice to have testimonials from recognised names and from partners in the largest firms and high street companies, this can work against you. It can alienate your target audience who may well conclude: If he works well with people in companies like that he’s probably not right for us.

Of course if you have a range of testimonials and the ‘big name’ is just one of many, it may add some further credibility but don’t make it the first one in the list just in case it works against you.

As I’ve already said, the key thing is always to focus on your audience. The primary audience for your testimonials is likely to be prospective clients that need further evidence that you are a credible adviser and right for them.

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Client testimonials: Which ones to use? (part four)

I’ve addressed this topic in three previous postings on this blog. Parts one and two introduced the subject and in part three I explained one simple way for ambitious professionals to obtain testimonials.In practice such testimonials will not always be immediately suitable to incorporate in your marketing literature.

In this fourth part of the series I will explain HOW to choose and use the testimonials that you receive. The final posting in this series will highlight a classic mistake that people make when using testimonials and how it can destroy your credibility.

Most importantly, you want testimonials that are not just positive but also that explain specifically what you did and how the client benefited from your service. Select testimonials that are brief and focused. Each one should be about a specific and measurable result, as much as possible.

So if you receive a particularly positive testimonial but it’s too generalised, thank the person concerned. Indicate how touched you are by their kind words and ask ‘a small favour’. Explain the style of testimonial you’re really after and ask if they could adapt theirs to fit that style.

When it comes to my talks I ask for and regularly receive written testimonials on the course feedback forms. I tend to choose those that say something more specific than “Great speaker” or “Liked his style”.It’s great to be able to choose from a large number of testimonials. If you are in a similar situation you might want to follow these guidelines when choosing which testimonials to use:

1. What are the key benefits of engaging you or your firm, and do you have short testimonials that support or prove those top benefits?

2. Do you have testimonials that tell about specific and measurable results you helped the client to achieve?

3. Are any of the testimonials from recognised names in your profession or from businesses that prospective clients will recognise.

And how can you USE your testimonials? Include them as appropriate in your marketing materials, on your website, in your proposals, award entries, publicity material. Just keep in mind who is your audience in each case and ensure that the testimonial speaks to that audience in an appropriate way.

I must admit I don’t use all the testimonials that I have received to best effect. At the moment there is a collection on the testimonials page of my website and also plenty on of recommendations (which are akin to testimonials) on my Linkedin profile.

In the final part of this series I will highlight a classic mistake that it’s all too easy to make when you get a really good testimonial. It’s a mistake that can really work against you and negate all of your efforts to satisfy a prospective client that you’re the right adviser for them.

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The value of testimonials (part one)

I don’t remember when I first learned about the power of testimonials in the context of professional services. It was probably about twenty years ago – long before it became common place.

For many years I have encouraged accountants to collect testimonials and to use them for marketing purposes. I explain to the accountants how to obtain testimonials in a professional way and how to overcome common concerns if they need to collate some to start the ball rolling.

In my case I have a page of testimonials on my website. In each case I have included the full name of the person who gave the testimonial.I must admit though that I have not made the most of them as they are all in one place and not given a context. Thus it’s not clear which testimonials refer to which of my services or talks. Proof I’m not perfect (as if further proof were required!).  I am also very proud of the kind recommendations I have been accumulating on my Linkedin profile.

Why are testimonials so valuable in the context of professional services? Quite simply because they are the next best thing to a direct referral. Many professionals claim that they get much of their work through personal recommendations and I can believe that.They often claim that advertising is not really worthwhile.They may be right.

But there is, what I call, a disconnect here. When they advertise (and I include website material as part of the advertising mix) they are communicating with people who don’t know them. Equally these prospects may not know any existing clients.But those prospects could read testimonials from existing clients if these were easily available on the website and in other marketing materials.

Without testimonials the marketing messages are mere assertions.Testimonials can bring these assertions to life. They can act as the next best thing to a personal recommendation or referral. They need to be believable. They need to be relevant and they need to be authentic.

I’ll continue this theme in future blog posts.

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Websites for professional firms (part two)

A few weeks ago I posted the first of my observations and advice concerning websites for professional firms.

When I consult with ambitious firms I invariably check out their websites beforehand. Some are good. Some are lousy. Some don’t exist and some are almost indistinguishable from those of other firms who have bought the same web package.

I always ask the same key question:
Who is your audience for the website?
For most firms IT IS NOT for clients.
The real target audience, whose needs should be satisfied normally includes:
– prospects who have been recommended to the firm ;
– prospects who have found the site when searching online;
– ambassadors and advocates of the firm and the partners eg: bankers, solicitors and other networking contacts who want to check out what the partners have told them about the firm.

It’s also for suppliers and prospective suppliers. AND a commonly overlooked but often very important audience, being PROSPECTIVE STAFF. These days almost anyone worth recruiting will have a look at a potential employer’s website. Does yours contain anything that makes your firm stand out as being a more attractive place to work than whoever you are competing with for good quality staff?

Why do I think a website is NOT for clients?
Because, in most cases you want them to get in touch and to speak with you when they need your help. If they can access all the help they need via your website you are less likely to secure additional paid work. You are less likely to be able to help them to clarify their enquiry and to determine whether or not you can help.

There may be cases where accountants are playing a strong ‘volume’ game and DO want to discourage phone calls. For them it makes sense to share lots of content on the web. It may also make sense in other cases as well but if a firms’ website contains loads of material that does not encourage the user to contact the accountant for relevant advice, there will be plenty of lost opportunities.

You have to decide what it is you want your website to do. And the starting point is always: Who is the audience? What will they want and what do you want to tell them?

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Websites for professional firms (part one)

I recently posted an item here entitled: How to present your firm more effectively. I’ve since noted a related discussion on Dennis Howlett’s AccMan blog concerning the importance or otherwise of your firm’s website.

Dennis seems to be of the view that the quality of a firm’s website is almost irrelevant as what distinguishes one firm from another is the quality of the people. And to an extent I agree with him.

There is another angle here however. How do prospective clients and advocates distinguish one firm from another BEFORE they meet those distinctive individuals? It doesn’t matter how great the people are if no one is meeting or talking with them to ascertain if the relationship and service offering is right for the prospective client. And what is it, these days, that a prospect will do before deciding whether or not to contact a new adviser? They will check the relevant website. This is increasingly the case even if an incredible adviser is highly recommended by a very enthusiastic client.

Does your website contain the right messages for you/your firm targeted at your key audiences? Does it present the adviser or the firm in a good light and really distinguish them from the competition or does it contain the same old ‘sales’ messages as everyone else? Does your website enhance or damage your marketing efforts and the referrals that you get?

Of course there there are probably some firms, with great people, who are getting loads of referrals despite having ordinary, boring and potentially damaging websites. No one knows how many more referrals they could be converting if only their website was more effective. Possibly no one cares. Probably no one has the time, knowledge or inclination to brief the web designers to improve things. I’ll return to this topic in subsequent blog posts.

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