Do Testimonials Really Work?
Last year, the SEC’s new marketing rule was received with open arms by advisors interested in sharing client testimonials. That shift is, of course, old news.
And while the change represents positive progress, it’s just the first step. When it comes to testimonials, the rule changed what we can do; it does not suggest what we should do.
Taking meaningful action demands that we answer a further question. What should you do to ensure you achieve the underlying goal of testimonials, which is to effectively communicate your value to prospective clients?
I'd suggest a few changes in our approach to testimonials may be needed.
1. Change the Lens
Too often testimonials focus on the advisor rather than the prospect. Prospects, it turns out, are less concerned with how wonderful you are, and the great service you provide, than they are about if or how you can impact their lives.
Consider the following examples:
- “James and his team are incredible. They are not only experts but are always available when we call with a question.”
- “Working with James and his team changed our perspective on the future. We have a clear and shared vision of the life we want and what it will take to get there.”
When you read the first one you may feel reassured that James can deliver on your core service expectations. But when you read the second you can’t help but feel that you want the same experience. The first validates; the second compels.
A great testimonial tells the client's story; you just play a supporting role.
2. Change the Language
In order to change the lens, we may need to change the language. Do we really want to share testimonials, or do we want to share stories?
I appreciate that, when it comes to compliance, a story is still a testimonial. The approval process and disclosures are the same. However, changing our internal language - from 'testimonial' to 'story' pushes us in the direction of communicating real value. Stories, as we know, are the most effective way to communicate, to cut through the noise and stick the message.
3. Change the Question
In order to change our language we need to change the question we ask of clients. If the goal is to communicate your value, you’ll need to stop asking for testimonials and start asking clients to share stories.
Consider the following examples:
- “I’d be grateful if you could share a couple of sentences that describe the process of working with our team.”
- “I’d be grateful if you could describe how you believe your future will be different as a result of the work you’ve done with our team.”
The first will elicit excessively complimentary statements about the wonder that is you and will likely focus on satisfaction and service. The second will focus on the impact you have had. You want to share the latter.
4. Consider the Process (Carefully)
Since the new marketing rule came into effect there has been a great deal of ink devoted to helping advisors understand the necessary disclosures. But there have also been a number of new tools launched, all designed to automate the process of publishing testimonials.
These tools seem to take two broad forms:
- Support in capturing, tracking and publishing reviews made through online sites, such as Google.
- Support in asking for testimonials and automatically publishing them to a website or other digital platform.
Time will tell if online reviews, such as Google Reviews, will be the dominant way in which prospects search for information on advisors.
Recently I bought a toaster. I liked the toaster. I provided a five-star Google review that could be seen by the world for others in the toaster-seeking community. The question is whether we use that same process to find professionals as we do to find toasters. The jury is out.
When it comes to automating the process of capturing and then publishing testimonials, I’d urge caution. For our clients we’ve opted to use technology to encourage and capture the best possible stories and then push those to the firm to review and publish (with the correct disclosures). Doing so allows you to manage the process and control the narrative.
In the next post, I’ll share a tactical action plan to capture and share meaningful stories, compliantly and efficiently. Until then….
Thanks for stopping by,