There’s a reason Ron Tuchin devotes an entire page of his firm’s Web site to client testimonials. Among the various marketing tools advisors use to promote their practices and their expertise, he says, testimonials — whether they come from individual clients, groups, the media or professional peers — are among the most powerful and resonant.

“Specifically in the financial arena more than anyplace else, it’s difficult to engage people because there is so much marketing that goes on,” Tuchin says. His company, The Tuchin Group in Pittsburgh, Pa., specializes in strategic marketing to help business professionals, including insurance and financial advisors, find new clients and increase sales. “They get numb to all the messages. A good testimonial can disrupt that complacency and make people say, ‘Wow, these guys must be good.’”

Testimonials are especially effective, according to New York City-based marketing consultant Ned Steele, because they allow an advisor to avoid horn-tooting self-promotion, which can detract from credibility. “It’s much more impactful and credible when somebody who has used your services says you’re great rather than you saying you’re great,” contends Steele, whose firm, Media Impact, devises marketing strategies for professional practices and small businesses. “Third-party validation is the best advertising you can get.”

It’s the kind of advertising that resonates particularly with seniors, he adds. “This is a group that wants reassurance and wants to be spoken to. Seniors in general are very concerned about being marginalized in the marketplace. So it’s powerful for them to see testimonials from people in the same age group who share their concerns.”

How words work for you
The challenge for advisors is how to tap that power. Testimonials are more a finesse marketing tool than a blunt-force instrument. To garner ones that are positive, attention-grabbing, on message and directed at the right audience is as much an art as a science. You have to know how and when to ask for them, and from whom, plus how and where to present them for maximum impact. Let’s look at how advisors who regularly use testimonials approach the process.

WHOM to target: Testimonials are supposed to build an advisor’s credibility. They are most likely to resonate if the audience identifies with, or has an affinity for, the source of the testimonial. “You have to know who the target audience is,” explains Tuchin. “If it’s wealthy seniors, you want testimonials from other wealthy seniors.”

As both a retirement planner and a marketing consultant to other advisors, Grant W. Hicks, CIM, FCSI, principal at Hicks Financial in Parksville, British Columbia, and author of the book “Guerilla Marketing for Financial Advisors” puts a premium on testimonials that come from highly visible sources in the community or whose professional status confers respect. If, for example, the former mayor of your town is a satisfied customer, get a testimonial from that person, Hicks suggests. Testimonials from clients who are retired or practicing accountants, attorneys and the like are powerful because they introduce an extra degree of perceived prestige and expertise.

“Endorsements from those types of people have helped me pick up some really big clients,” Hicks says.

Testimonials from widely known and respected associations and affinity groups also carry weight, Tuchin adds. “If you’re trying to reach business owners, a testimonial from a group like the local chamber of commerce certainly helps.”

Choose testimonial sources wisely, Steele says. Whether the source is a group or an individual, “you have to be mindful that the power [of the testimonial] comes from the credibility of the source.”

HOW to coax a quality testimonial: It’s a happy day for an advisor when a client testimonial rolls in, ready-made and unsolicited, via a letter or e-mail. But more often than not, testimonials come only after coaxing by the advisor. “Be proactive,” urges Steele. “Don’t be shy about asking your satisfied clients to say something nice about you.”

While an ill-timed, poorly worded testimonial request may turn a client off, most clients are happy to comply with a well-couched, tactfully worded request, Hicks says. “I don’t even use the word ‘testimonial.’ Instead I’ll ask people, ‘Would you be kind enough to endorse our services or to say a few words about what it’s like to work with us?’”

Marketing-savvy advisors figure out ways to create opportunities for clients to provide testimonials without being directly asked to do so. Hicks has a review worksheet that he periodically walks through with clients, and on it is a question that asks, “When you talk with people about us, what do you say?” That simple query has generated a steady stream of testimonials, he says. “When someone says something particularly positive, I’ll stop and ask them if they will do me a favor and paraphrase what they just said so I can write it down and, with their permission, use it as an endorsement.”

WHEN to talk testimonial with a client: There are good and bad times to ask for testimonials. When a client compliments an advisor about his or her performance, it is a natural opening for the advisor to ask for a testimonial. Otherwise, it’s up to the advisor to pick the right spots. For Hicks, that often comes when wrapping up a positive client meeting. Tuchin will only raise the testimonial subject with clients after he has established a strong rapport and good chemistry with them.

Advisors are wise to maintain a library of client testimonials from which they can draw when the need arises — for a new marketing brochure, when revamping the Web site, etc. “The worst time to look for testimonials is when you have to have them because that new marketing piece is due tomorrow,” Steele says.

HOW to polish and prepare a testimonial for prime time: You may have plenty of clients who are willing to say good things about you on the record. So what steps must you take to turn that good will into a working testimonial? Most importantly, say the experts, the source of the testimonial must approve the final statement before it’s presented publicly. Sometimes a testimonial will emerge naturally and stand on its own, without the advisor suggesting what to say or how to say it. Other times clients are willing to let the advisor suggest how the testimonial should read, as long as he or she has final approval rights. In the end, Tuchin says he prefers the former. “To me, it’s kind of cheesy to put words in your clients’ mouths. But at the same time, I think it’s fine, if the client is okay with it, to suggest they use certain key words or phrase things a certain way.”

On the other hand, notes Steele, “some people are happy to say good things about you but would prefer that you write the testimonial for them. I don’t see a problem with that.”

WHAT should testimonials say to make maximum impact? Testimonials that talk in generally positive terms about an advisor are useful, but the most effective endorsements, Steele says, are those that “relate right back to your specific line of business and expertise. They should be tailored to the services you offer. ‘So-and-so advisor helped me solve my tax problem,’ or ‘He really bailed me out with my pension plan situation.’”

Keep testimonials brief and to the point, he suggests. “You don’t want them full of hyperbole. Be sure they use plain language, without too many adjectives.” Make sure they reinforce the advisor’s professionalism, creativity and problem-solving ability, says Tuchin. It’s also crucial to have testimonials that emphasize service and communication as among the advisor’s strengths, adds Hicks. “The number one reason people leave a financial advisor is they don’t hear from him often enough.” Along with each testimonial quote, Hicks includes information about the source: full name (if the source is willing to have it used), the person’s profession (or former profession, if retired) and how long he or she has been a client.

The bottom line with testimonials, however they are worded, says Tuchin, is to remember the target audience. “You want a success story that shows an audience you have already helped meet a need similar to their own.”

WHERE and HOW to place testimonials for maximum impact: Now comes the decision about how to best present testimonials to the public. Typically they are found in printed marketing materials (brochures, etc.), on a practice’s Web site and on handouts provided to clients during face-to-face meetings. On his firm’s Web site, Tuchin presents testimonials on a single page. Steele prefers to sprinkle them strategically in a marketing environment, whether it’s Web-based or printed. Both he and Hicks advise rotating testimonials on a Web site to keep the content fresh. Hicks warns against overkill and suggests three to six testimonials are enough to use on a Web site or in a brochure.

To target the increasing number of tech- and Web-savvy seniors, it might also be worth posting a taped video testimonial or two on the Web site, adds Tuchin.

However they are presented, testimonials have long been a powerful marketing tool for advisors. But advisors have to earn them first. Any positive words people have to say about you as a professional are predicated on doing right by your clients.