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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Let clients do the talking

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Think television commercials. Essentially they’re all about testimonials – people swearing the product being advertised will help consumers make their teeth whiter, make their clothes brighter or make their athletes foot go away. Why are more people buying Hanes than competing brands? Because Michael Jordan says that’s what he wears. But don’t be mistaken, it doesn’t take a celebrity to attract new business. Think about all the laundry detergent commercials where some woman tells us that Tide will make our clothes brighter and last longer. As consumers, we don’t know who she is, but we still tend to believe what she’s telling us. Why? Because she seems honest; she seems like us.

As advisors, the goal of attracting new business is forever present, especially with the amount of competition that’s out there. Something advisors read a lot about is how to stand out from the crowd. We’ve published stories about getting into the local and national news media, glossing up your marketing materials, conducting quality seminars and getting on the Web. Add client testimonials to that list. Your brochures, Web sites, information packets and even seminars should include some sort of client testimonial to let prospective clients know their futures could be better with your help. And who better to promote you than people you have worked with?

Why testimonials
Your marketing materials seem perfect. They are high quality, they are concise, they explain what you do and what motivates you to do it, and they show how you stand apart from your competition. However, what’s lacking is proof. Proof that you are who you say you are and that your promises stand up to your product. Enter client testimonials.

“Clients today don’t know who to trust or even how to find out who to trust,” says Frank Maselli, president of The Frank Maselli Co. in Franklin, Mass. “Testimonials are one tool in the total marketing arsenal that might sway someone in your direction. They are an emotional and intellectual validation of my decision to work with you.”

Maselli, a 23-year veteran of the industry and author of the books “Seminars: The emotional dynamic” and “Referrals: The professional way,” calls testimonials “fantastic weapons to have in a total marketing arsenal.” Maselli says that too many advisors overlook the importance of client testimonials – and to their detriment, as testimonials are a powerful way to help you stand above the competition.

10 ways to get the best testimonials
Getting testimonials may seem as easy as counting to three. But getting the best testimonials for the right audience takes a little extra thought and time. Here are 10 steps to get better testimonials:

1. Get testimonials from prestigious or top clients. If you’re trying to attract high-net-worth clients, get a testimonial from one of your more prominent high-net-worth clients. If your target audience is doctors, then it’s only natural that you have at least one testimonial from a doctor.

2. Ask your clients’ permission before quoting them. This may seem obvious, but it is essential nevertheless, not to mention ethical. Some advisors go the distance and have their clients sign release forms before using their names and comments in marketing materials. Other advisors suggest showing the client a draft of their testimonial before it goes to print or posts on the Web site.

3. Make your clients as comfortable as possible. People often are uncomfortable or taken aback when asked to provide a verbal testimonial. Help out your clients by having them fill out a brief form and explain the value of good testimonials. David M. Frees III, Esq., chairman of Asset Protection and Wealth Preservation and co-chairman of Elder Law Solutions Practice at Unruh, Turner, Burke & Frees, tends to ask for a testimonial at the conclusion of a successful meeting. He begins by asking if he has accomplished everything the client hoped and asks if there is anything else he can do. He then explains the importance of client testimonials and asks if the client would mind providing one.

4. Get testimonials in writing or audio/video. Taking a photograph of a client is a great way to lend legitimacy to the testimonial, not to mention it glosses up your marketing materials. When you do this, include a short biography of that person. Frees is a believer in different forms of testimonials based on the marketing tool he is using. He suggests keeping a mini-video camera and digital still camera with you for this purpose. Audio testimonials or videos can be used on your Web site as well as at your seminars.

5. Offer your clients guidance in formulating the best testimonials. There is always the danger of sounding too self-promotional or contrived. At the same time, you want to make sure your testimonials convey the right message. To do this, offer guidance or coaching to your clients. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of how you phrase your questions. Mark L. Hopkinson, president of NewsMark Public Relations in Boca Raton, Fla., a client communications and media relations company, angles his questions to obtain the strongest response. For example, rather than asking if the client likes the product, Hopkinson suggests asking what the client likes best about the product. “The latter question is far less likely to elicit a negative response,” he says. Hopkinson also suggests using good-old journalistic techniques – have a conversation rather than asking clients to fill out a form. “This places the clients at ease in talking about both the product and how it serves their businesses,” he says.

6. Develop a client story book. Personal stories can appeal to clients on many levels, but be careful not to overdo it. Keep the stories heartfelt, yet brief and to the point. “Stories are better than short phrases or quotes, but they are harder to get,” Maselli says. “An advanced advisor could actually build an entire client story book that would end up being the best marketing tool they ever developed.”

7. Include testimonials in all your marketing materials. Testimonials are not only made for brochures. Include them on your Web sites, as video presentations in your seminars, team brochures, information packets, direct mail and referral guides. Be careful, however, not to bunch them all together. There are plenty of Web sites out there that have testimonial pages, but the reality is if it’s not right in front of your readers they won’t read it. Place a brief and powerful testimonial on each page and it’s sure to pay off.

8. Avoid over-the-top self-promotion. Using a few quality testimonials is all it takes to give your business the credibility it deserves. Don’t overdo it and your potential clients will be impressed. Maselli suggests inserting what he calls “Listerine comments,” reminding us of a Listerine ad that ran several years ago, which showed a man making a disgusted face while rinsing his mouth with Listerine. The ad ran: “Listerine. Tastes terrible, but it works.” He explains that a Listerine comment might be something that shows you don’t do everything perfectly, but that the end result was exceptional. An example of this might be: “The plan you developed for us seemed a little confusing at first, but over time your strategy became very clear and was extremely powerful in protecting our assets.”

9. Don’t ask for testimonials in survey requests. A survey is a great means of calculating your clients’ satisfaction, whether positive or negative. Because testimonials are meant to be positive reinforcement, these need to be done separately.

10. Ask your clients to talk about how their financial situations have improved since they began working with you. Personal stories are a great way to connect with other people since many people share the same financial concerns. It’s invaluable for a reader to actually hear that your clients’ lives are better because of you.

Time to start
Chances are your client testimonials need updating and improving or you haven’t starting collecting testimonials at all. Your next client meeting is a perfect time to start. Whether you prefer engaging clients in a face-to-face conversation or having them fill out a form, use the 10 tips provided above and the testimonials you receive will be invaluable to your marketing materials and your business. For more information on marketing, go to our Web site and read “Direct marketing lead generation,” “Upscale marketing,” “Marketing by the letter” and “Seven steps to newsletter success.”

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