The why, what and how of client testimonials

Client testimonials are the next best thing to a direct referral, explains Mark Lee. 

Most accountants claim that they get many of their new clients through personal recommendations. It tends to be what I call “accidental word of mouth marketing” as it’s rarely planned or organised. And for as many accountants who rely on personal recommendations there are probably just as many who seem to be a reluctant to ask for testimonials.

But if recommendations and referrals are so valuable why not capture the thinking behind them so as to convince strangers as well as the personal connections of your clients. If you had written testimonials from your enthusiastic clients you could include them in your marketing materials, on your website and, perhaps easiest of all, on your LinkedIn profile.

Why are testimonials valuable?

Without testimonials your marketing messages are...

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Comments
stevepipehome's picture

Never underestimate the power of LinkedIn for testimonials    1 thanks

stevepipehome | | Permalink

Really useful piece Mark, thanks.

The link you give to your 2013 article on testimonials via LinkedIn, is also well worth following.

Congrats on they 71 testimonials there (which LI calls "recommendations", of course). They tell  people everything they need to know about the quality of work you do.

LI testimonials are incredibly powerful since they are "always on" and fully verifiable. So in the same way that Amazon and TripAdvisor ratings have become the standard way most of us assess online purchases, increasingly LI testimonials will become the standard way of assessing professionals.

But sadly most accountants have very few.

And what does having very few publicly visible and verifiable testimonials on LinkedIn say about an accountant?

Rightly or wrongly. Fairly or unfairly. SOME people are going to take that lack of testimonials  as suggesting that the accountant isn't very good, using logic such as...

... "If he can't get anyone to speak up for him, he probably hasn't got very good relationships with his clients or isn't doing a vey good job for them"

And that is a very dangerous place to be, isn't it?.

STEVE

 

LET’S CONNECT
Twitter: @stevepipe
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Blog: http://www.stevepipe.com/blog.html
Web: http://improveyourpractice.co.uk/
Web: http://www.accountantschangingtheworld.com/
 

 

 

johnjenkins's picture

@Mark    1 thanks

johnjenkins | | Permalink

I see where you are coming from as all my clients come from recommendations. I have never advertised. I personally don't like the idea of testimonials for our profession. It's alright for builders etc. but not for the professions (that's not being snobbish). I can just see it now Accountants R us. No reduction in tax no fee (I'm taking it to the extreme).

@steve Why would people take a lack of testimonials as a sign of not being very good? Perhaps people will think that the Accountant doesn't need to give testimonials because he is good.

In conclusion, my view is that testimonials are a sales gimmick (sorry Mark) and have no place in the professions.

What I would advocate, though, is a free national database with all Practicing Accountants, Lawyers etc. details, and services they have to offer.

It's a nice idea.    1 thanks

Michael C Feltham | | Permalink

It's a nice idea.

However now over 40 years of practical business experience has taught me the client one goes the extra mile for and solves huge problems and saves bundles for, is the very client who shortly afterwards departs for another firm, having been smoozed by their glib chat.

Unfortunately (rather misquoting Lincoln):

"You can please some of the clients all of the time: some of the clients some of the time: but you cannot please all of the clients all of the time!"

 

David Lockett's picture

Verbal Testimonials    2 thanks

David Lockett | | Permalink

Testimonials are extremely powerful and have helped me win a lot of business. It sounds like they have won johnjenkins a lot of business as well but what he doesn't realise is that he is relying on verbal testimonials, rather than written testimonials.  

The great thing about written testimonials, they work with people that the person writing the testimonial doesn't know.  It also means that prospective clients have a good idea that the service you are offering is of a standard that people are happy to put their name to.  

Without testimonials, whether written or verbal, new clients are taking a guess whether or not you offer a good service.  Unfortunately, not all accountants are created equal and so testimonials are a vital tool in the client selecting a reliable service provider.

 

stevepipehome's picture

@David Lockett

stevepipehome | | Permalink

Spot on David

johnjenkins's picture

@David & Steve    2 thanks

johnjenkins | | Permalink

What's the first thing that people think when they see a written testimonial. Yep you're right "They got their mate to write it". It's the first thing I think of and perhaps if you were honest it's the first thing you think of.

Perhaps you feel that if testimonials are written regarding the "professionals" then that thought won't spring to mind. Maybe you go on the premise that if 100 people look at it 1 or 2 will give it a go. I don't think there is a right or wrong way to run a business but I would never dream of asking a client to give me a written testimonial.

I love the ads where they say we can get you more CIS refund than anyone else (without even knowing the income or expenses) then proceed with a list of written testimonials.

stevepipehome's picture

@Johnjenkins    1 thanks

stevepipehome | | Permalink

That may be true of potentially dubious testimonial quotes that might just have been made up by the seller.

But on LinkedIn testimonials are totally different… in that you can click through to check out the bona fides of the person who gave it… and can even ask them about it… all with just a few clicks.

So it is impossible to “cheat”. And what you see really is what you get.

To see the power, consider this…

… imagine you want to appoint a lawyer. You narrow your list down to two, but can’t choose between them.

Then you notice on LinkedIn that Lawyer A has 71 glowing testimonials from people saying how good he is (including several from people you know). Lawyer B has no testimonials.

Which one would most people choose?

I suggest it would be Lawyer A - the one with the testimonials.

Lawyer B may, of course, be every bit as good, but he would still lose out.

bookmarklee's picture

I agree Steve

bookmarklee | | Permalink

Testimonials are of most value - whether spoken or written - when someone who doesn't know you has to choose between you and someone who has less credible third party endorsements.

As to whether everyone assumes all written endorsements were made up or written by mates, I doubt it. I can be very cynical but when I see testimonials with the originator's name and contact details I assume them to be genuine. And the more there are the more credibility is conferred.

Mark

 

 

johnjenkins's picture

@Steve    1 thanks

johnjenkins | | Permalink

Testimonials are testimonials wherever they may be. These days, with all the scams and cons by banks and politicians etc., everybody is more aware that all some people are after is your money. My feeling is that trust has gone out the door. So the verbal "go and see so and so they will sort you out" means more than any written words.

Flash Gordon's picture

Agree with johnjenkins    1 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

I take written testimonials on websites with a pinch of salt. You have zero guarantee that they're not written by the website owner. Verbals are a whole different ballgame. The only time I rely on written ones is on the likes of Amazon etc. where people get to put good AND bad opinions on items up. 

My website could easily have the following:

'Flash is a great accountant, and so witty that he makes the whole process so much fun'

'Flash Accountants is the best practice ever - they've got me a tax refund of several million and I'd never even paid HMRC a penny in the past!'

'Flash, just a man, with an accountant's expertise - he saved his planet and saved me a pile of dosh'

'Wow, he's my hero! If Guinness made accountants, they'd model them all on Flash. His looks, wit, charm.. He does my accounts while I just sit and gaze in admiration at him'

I'm now thinking that I should have gone in for writing adverts instead of playing with numbers...

Not worth a light    1 thanks

Kublai Khan | | Permalink

We took on a new client, a hairdresser who was starting up in business. They actually engaged us before they began to trade. Six months later they decided to have a web site, and lo and behold there were testimonials from customers who had been having their hair done at their salon for "the last 4 years".  Needless to say we had a conversation as to whether they had been trading for 4 years without telling HMRC, or, putting blatantly false testimonials on their website. Either way we were no longer interested in working with them.

bookmarklee's picture

I suspect

bookmarklee | | Permalink

I suspect that most people consider accountants to be more trustworthy than hairdressers and other traders.

Still, as I always say, if what you're doing is working for you, you should carry on.

The advice in my article, echoed by Steve, is only for those who want to enhance their prospects of winning work over those accountants who don't use testimonials.

Does it ?

Kublai Khan | | Permalink

bookmarklee wrote:
The advice in my article, echoed by Steve, is only for those who want to enhance their prospects of winning work over those accountants who don't use testimonials.
The question is, does it enhance prospects, or, does it actually come across as a bit desperate and tacky.   

bookmarklee's picture

Without testimonials your marketing messages are mere assertions

bookmarklee | | Permalink

We are each influenced by our experiences. Sure I've seen some tacky testimonials, and plenty of ineffective ones, though not, so far as I can recall, on the websites of accountants.

If your marketing efforts and website are providing an adequate support for word of mouth referrals and for converting your website visitors without testimonials, good on you.

Mark

johnjenkins's picture

@Mark    1 thanks

johnjenkins | | Permalink

I don't agree that written testimonials enhance your practice. In fact I think it has an adverse effect.

I believe people today are much more aware and treat these things as "sales gimmicks". Don't forget they are looking for a professional.

In my experience people will always ask "who does your books? what's he like? (no sexist remark intended). 

Kent accountant's picture

Rather unusually    1 thanks

Kent accountant | | Permalink

I agree with Mark and Steve, written recommendations do add value.

I have testimonials on my linkedin profile some of which I also show on my website as recommendations.

I had an enquiry via linkedin from a contact I had made who was prompted to get in touch by one of my linkedin updates and the testimonials shown on my profile.

Before accepting my proposal he asked to speak to 2 of my existing clients, I suggested he choose two of the clients who had given testimonials.

Two years on and that client has subsequently referred further work to me which is currently worth around £12k per year (average life of client 5 years - so £60k in total?).

So yes, written recommendations are worth it and do work.

ChrisMartin's picture

Video them    1 thanks

ChrisMartin | | Permalink

If you start from the premise that clients saying nice things about you is better than nothing, then I think the medium is important. Cynics will doubt the veracity of written words and really, those "Mrs H from Derby"- type efforts are a waste of space, probably counter-productive and seem old-fashioned to me. However, if you have good clients who are happy to say nice things about you, it has to be worth mining that goodwill (horrible phrase, I know). I think videos are a great way of doing it.

I've asked four or five clients to sit in front of my iPad and record a short video message which I've then edited and put on the home page of our website via YouTube. Remarkably easy and the end results are not at all bad. I even quite like my introductory video and I'm no oil painting. Our firm runs on a very strict "referrals-only" basis, and the website is designed purely to provide a little bit more information and background to people who I am seeing in any case, so I can't pretend our video testimonials directly generate any additional prospects or new business. However, prospects often tell me that they liked seeing real clients speaking real words about the same issues they were coming to see us about in the first place. At the end of the day, it's a personal relationship thing as we all know, but I really believe a few feel-good videos helps get them interested and enthusiastic before that first meeting. Enthusiastic's probably overstating it, but you get my drift. 

 

johnjenkins's picture

@Kent accountant    1 thanks

johnjenkins | | Permalink

likewise, as all my work comes from verbal recommendations. The point here is that you only got the work from verbal recommendations not written testimonials. Even without the written testimonials they might still have got in touch. In fact they might have got in touch with a few Accountants but liked what your clients had to say.

By the way Flash, I'm gonna get you to do my accounts next year but I won't sit and gaze at you in admiration, maybe flick a bogey or two.

johnjenkins's picture

@Chris

johnjenkins | | Permalink

I'm gobsmacked. I had difficulty in believing that this sort of thing actually goes on. The client wants to talk to you, not see videos of farmer Giles saying how you helped his sheep come to terms with the fact they were being slaughtered so that the running costs of the farm were being met.

Kent accountant's picture

@johnjenkins

Kent accountant | | Permalink

I agree verbal recommendations are far stronger but with the on-line age we live in, it was the written recommendations that provided the hook.

Without these I would never have got the initial enquiry from the prospect (now client).

 

 

johnjenkins's picture

@Kent accountant

johnjenkins | | Permalink

How do you know that it was the written testimonials that got the client interested? Just because the client said they read them. Don't forget the client did actually want verbal recommendations. More important how many prospective clients were put off by the writings?

BS baffles Brains!    1 thanks

Michael C Feltham | | Permalink

stevepipehome wrote:

That may be true of potentially dubious testimonial quotes that might just have been made up by the seller.

But on LinkedIn testimonials are totally different… in that you can click through to check out the bona fides of the person who gave it… and can even ask them about it… all with just a few clicks.

So it is impossible to “cheat”. And what you see really is what you get.

To see the power, consider this…

… imagine you want to appoint a lawyer. You narrow your list down to two, but can’t choose between them.

Then you notice on LinkedIn that Lawyer A has 71 glowing testimonials from people saying how good he is (including several from people you know). Lawyer B has no testimonials.

Which one would most people choose?

I suggest it would be Lawyer A - the one with the testimonials.

Lawyer B may, of course, be every bit as good, but he would still lose out.

 

Core problem with Linkedin and all similar sites is the vast number of people who "puff" their profiles; plus the equally vast number of persons who ought not to be on the site in the very first place!

All down, I suppose on whether a practitioner is happy to sell their professional skills on pure BS.

A recent case highlights this: a supposed "Accountancy Practice" (not a qualified member amongst them) where one senior honcho extolled his virtue all over the net, even publishing a Youtube video on which he stated he was the "............best and most professional "Accountant" in the World etc, etc.

Same man has been charged with conspiracy to defraud HMRC (VAT) together with an ex VAT officer, over £250,000 involved.

All a wee bit like the online dating services acquaintances tell me about (no interest to me, I'm far too old), where ladies post pictures and lies about themselves and the pictures turn out to have been taken 25 years ago.....

 

People who don't get with the

qwertyqwerty05 | | Permalink

People who don't get with the modern program will be left behind .... social media is the future....like or lump it

Websites

AndrewV12 | | Permalink

Written Testimonials are bit like web sites, once everyone has a website with good written testimonials everyone is even again and back on an even marketing par.

 

 

Marketing

AndrewV12 | | Permalink

Testimonials are just one part of a marketing strategy.   Don't forget or overlook all of the others, lots of good books on the subject. 

johnjenkins's picture

@qwerty    1 thanks

johnjenkins | | Permalink

If you believe that then you need to "get a life".

Social media is a small part of the future. Did anyone watch Question time last night and previous ones? The growing "future" is mistrust of all authority, with good reason. The breakdown of society is hovering, fueled somewhat by social media (the world becoming smaller). The kidnap of the girls in Nigeria would possibly have not been known if not for social media. So with advancement come problems which need sorting.

@Mark. How about a compromise. Instead of written testimonials, a writing stating that verbal recommendations are available. That would bridge the gap between being professional and a bit of marketing.

bookmarklee's picture

each to their own    1 thanks

bookmarklee | | Permalink

johnjenkins wrote:

@Mark. How about a compromise. Instead of written testimonials, a writing stating that verbal recommendations are available. That would bridge the gap between being professional and a bit of marketing.

John

As I have long believed everyone should only do what they feel they need to do. If your approach works for you and you have all the work you want on the terms you want, that's great. Other accountants can decide for themselves what approach to follow.

I think there is definitely merit in making it clear that recommendations are available - rather than ignoring the issue. In my view however I would be suspicious of anyone who offers that but who doesn't make them more publicly available. But that's just me. You clearly think differently and that's fine.

Mark

People Need to Relate    1 thanks

Broniec Associates | | Permalink

Testimonials are all about helping prospective clients relate. If the testimonial provides enough detail the the reader can relate to, it's very powerful. I doubt that they will go with a company from that alone, but that's what will draw them in.

johnjenkins's picture

I think

johnjenkins | | Permalink

that when people are looking for an Accountant the first thing they do is find someone they know in business and ask them about their Accountant, then they go from there. Professional is the keyword here and I fear that marketing tactics are not professional. One poster quite rightly said that if every Accountant had written testimonials what then?

bookmarklee's picture

"marketing tactics are not professional"    1 thanks

bookmarklee | | Permalink

johnjenkins wrote:

I fear that marketing tactics are not professional. 

I would agree that SOME marketing tactics are not professional. And that SOME unprofessional people pursue inappropriate marketing tactics. Maybe I have misunderstood, but your view seems more stark than this.  

Not all, but certainly many hundreds, possibly thousands of accountants with whom I am in touch each year are keen to grow their practices and are unwilling to rely on (accidental) word of mouth referrals and recommendations. This applies both to the sole practitioners and the larger firms.

What would you advise them to do John that would not constitute the 'marketing tactics' of which you seem to disapprove so strongly?

And, on the same theme, what tips would you give start-up practices to generate a sustainable client base within a reasonable amount of time John?

Mark

johnjenkins's picture

Hi Mark

johnjenkins | | Permalink

Good to see you coming out of your shell and posing some real questions.

What tips would I give to start ups? Get another job. The reason behind this is quite simple. If you don't know how to run your own business how the hell can you advise others. I will qualify that a bit. None of us know everything and experts sometimes need to be used. My administration is atrocious so I get someone in to do it.

Mark you cannot build a sustainable client base in a short space of time (I know you said reasonable).

It takes years to build a sustainable client base. So "marketing tactics" are a "short term hit" that many "glorified" number crunchers will use then hope that the client will like what they have to offer.

I personally prefer the free canteen of cutlery for every new client spending £500 or over approach.

Stark enough for you?

bookmarklee's picture

Thanks John

bookmarklee | | Permalink

Nuff said.

johnjenkins's picture

The pleasure is

johnjenkins | | Permalink

always mine Mark.

All depends/.

Michael C Feltham | | Permalink

qwertyqwerty05 wrote:
People who don't get with the modern program will be left behind .... social media is the future....like or lump it

All depends..........    1 thanks

Michael C Feltham | | Permalink

qwertyqwerty05 wrote:
People who don't get with the modern program will be left behind .... social media is the future....like or lump it

All depends, on whether one seeks, as John Jenkins states, to build a rapid growth BS marketing operation which promises the sun the moon and the stars, as do most mass-advertised crap modern organisations, today, or a PROFESSIONAL business.

Problems is, as we all know (I hope!), recent economic history is riven by exemplars of supposed "Professionals" selling Liar Loans, insurance treaties which don't actually insure let alone assure (!!!), dodgy builders, insulation, kitchens, drives which sink, windows which leak and the rest of the muppet plucking exploitative activities.

The very word "Professional" has itself been hijacked: it surely means (and meant), generically, The professions: i.e. Barristers, Solicitors, Doctors, Architects et al, not each and every Johnny come lately desperate to tack on some buzzy wordage to their advertising to make their dubious exploitation credible.

I have, after many years of business activity (And not just practice): writing, analysis, lecturing and examining business and market-driven economics, a favourite expression:

"The cowboy outfit of today becomes the plc of tomorrow!"

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