June 05, 2007
How To

How to Collect Higher Impact Testimonials from Consulting Clients: 7 Practical Tips

SUMMARY: Do the testimonials on your Web site impress potential clients so much that they want to hire you on the spot? Last week we discovered a page of unusually high-impact testimonials on an Atlanta-based consulting firm's site. How did they beat competitors' blander testimonials?

We called them up to ask -- here are their seven practical tips you can use to rev up your site and marcom testimonials too:
“When you’re in the services business like me, you’re only as good as your clients’ feedback of your work,” says Sara Kogon, Founder, West 44, a marketing and sales consulting firm.

So, Kogon asked a handful of top clients to write testimonials for her Web site. But what she got in return is far better than the norm.

Rather than the bland quips about being “very happy” with her work, West 44’s client testimonials sound like real people talking specifically about how West 44 improved their business. The testimonials also give prospects a sense of what makes working with Kogon different than with other consultants. (When’s the last time you heard a client describe speaking with their vendor as an “exothermic reaction?”)

We were so impressed, we phoned up Kogan to ask her how she gets better testimonials than most consultants manage to. Here are her seven practical tips:

Tip #1. Chose clients that reflect your target audience

Testimonials are intended to help convince prospects that your firm is the right match for them, so you need to show prospects you have experience in their industries. Decide which markets are most important to you, then look to your clients from those industries for testimonials.

In Kogon’s case, she had several clients in the real estate industry, but didn’t want to be pigeonholed in that market. So she specifically solicited testimonials from clients as diverse as a fitness center, a steel materials supplier, a corporate training firm and an advertising design firm.

Other firms may want to specialize in a particular industry, and, in that case, should seek testimonials from clients in their specialty area.

Tip #2. Ask clients that you know are extremely happy with your work

Sure, it sounds obvious -- who’d want a testimonial from an unhappy client? However, many firms often make the mistake of asking biggest dollar-size accounts for testimonials first. (If you ask your sales force to pick whom to ask, that's nearly always whom they'll suggest.) Fact is, these may not always be your happiest clients. A truly revved up, enthused testimonial from a mid-size account may have far more impact than a lukewarm quote from a larger account.

Kogon’s advice is to go after testimonials from those clients who have been most vocal about their happiness with your services. “I went to the guys who always said, ‘You do such a great job for us, what could we ever do for you?’”

The advantage is not only that they’re going to give you a good testimonial, but that they’ve expressed willingness to do something in return for the good work you’ve done for them.

For businesses that might not have the same one-on-one relationship that Kogon does with her clients, she recommends asking every client to write a post-project testimonial or assessment to keep on file, from which you can choose the most persuasive or target clients to go back to for a more condensed version.

Tip #3. Make sure the testimonial comes from the key decision maker

Who is the person who’s instrumental in choosing your company for a project or signing the check for your services? “You want to impress that individual with quotes or accolades from people in similar positions.”

Kogon’s client base is small businesses, which means the key decision maker is typically the president or owner. That meant that, in one instance, even though her primary contact at a company was the VP of Business Development, she and the client decided the testimonial would have greater impact if the company founder wrote it.

Tip #4. Ask clients to describe how you helped them -- instead of how they like you

Bad testimonials are generic happy talk: "Great work!" "I'm very happy with this firm."

Good testimonials, like the ones on the West 44 site, sound like they come from real people and describe a unique experience. You want to neither dictate what a testimonial should say, nor make your clients so self-conscious about the task that they end up writing a stiff, boilerplate blurb.

Kogon avoided those problems with a simple approach to asking for testimonials: She sent emails to her chosen clients asking them to write a few sentences about how she and West 44 helped their company.

That open-ended bit of guidance was enough to get clients thinking beyond the standard testimonial approach and elicited comments such as the following:

o “West 44 has truly brought my business off the ground.”
o “She has been extremely effective in negotiating contracts with media and suppliers.”
o “To put it simply, West 44 makes my life easier.”
o “Without Sara, we’d be belly up by now.”

Tip #5. Match testimonials to company positioning

Good testimonials also echo and support the themes of your own marketing messages. Kogon positions West 44 as a firm that delivers ROI, helps businesses grow, and has above-average customer service. So, she was delighted to receive client testimonials touching on those themes. “To have people saying you are doing what your promotional materials say you offer is very powerful.”

If, when given an open-ended question about how you helped them the most, clients don't echo your marketing message … maybe you should consider changing your message!

Tip #6. Direct prospects to your testimonials

Kogon’s testimonials are collected on a page on the West 44 Web site, which is featured in the navigation bar on the home page. But her primary marketing tactic is networking among professionals in the Atlanta area, so she hands out her business card to all prospects and tells them to visit the Web site and read her client testimonials.

Other ways to point prospects in the direction of your testimonials is to print out the testimonials and include them in proposals or marketing mailings, or to include links to your testimonial page in email marketing.

If you have dozens or more testimonials, create an in-house library with each categorized by praise theme. Then, you can position relevant testimonials against the marketing messages they most apply to. This tactic is especially powerful if you have marketing materials or site pages by vertical niche, if you generate sales leads with online forms, or if you sell directly online.

Consider the impact if you added a testimonial saying how useful your white paper was right next to the registration form to download the white paper.

Tip #7. Check in with all clients periodically to find candidates for future testimonials

Even when she’s not looking for new comments to use for marketing purposes, Kogon makes a point of routinely asking clients how her firm is doing and how they like her work. (Some firms use a monthly or quarterly survey for this purpose.) That way, she has an idea of who’s happiest with her services and would be good candidates for future testimonials when she wants to update her page.

But the practice also serves a dual purpose. “You’re also doing a check-up on your own business. Some people don’t really want to know how their clients think they’re doing.”

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples

June 26 event: Legal Considerations for Direct Response Marketers Using Testimonials - Held by ERA in NYC: http://www.retailing.org/new_site/documents/meetings/LegalSeries/ERALegalSeriesNY_Brochure.pdf

West 44

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2. New Research: How to Improve Your Customer Reference Program -- 2 New Data Charts Plus Sample Slides

3. Online Surveying: How to Gather & Use Testimonials That Grow Sales

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