The “real” secret to effective testimonials

April 2nd, 2008 Posted by B2B Marketing 1 thought

Many advertising writers recoil in horror at the mention of testimonials, because they see the use of testimonials as less than creative; a poor alternative to a real “idea.” I understand that view; I used to feel that way myself, much to the dismay of account executives who approached me with the suggestion.

I’ve changed, however. Because I now realize that most buyers—especially in B2B situations—are looking to minimize the risks that go with their decisions. Creative visuals and headlines do get attention, and that’s certainly important. But they don’t, in themselves, do much to counter the sense of risk a prospect often feels. That task usually falls to the copy, where a laundry list of product benefits can generate more yawns than enthusiasm, even among the select few who are still with you at that point.

But if I’m a prospect, nothing makes me feel better about choosing you as a vendor/supplier/partner than the knowledge that someone in a situation much like mine—or someone whose opinions I value—has already chosen you, and is happy about it!

But to be effective, testimonials have to be done right. Quite frankly, most are not, and deserve the sneers they generate. Let’s look at a few factors that make all the difference.

How “real” is the source?

There’s huge difference between a quotation that is attributed to “a satisfied Acme customer” and one that came from “John Swensen, VP of Operations, Cooper Plastics, Inc.” One of them, I’m inclined to believe. The other, not so much. I can’t identify with your satisfied customers if you won’t or can’t name them.

How “real” is the comment?

Hold the sugar, please. If the platitudes are too “gushy”, the reader will simply assume they were crafted by the company doing the advertising or that the testimonial comes from a brother-in-law or uncle. If you have raving fans, great, don’t hide them. But keep in mind that some prospects are a tad suspicious to begin with, and too many hearts and flowers will simply confirm that suspicion, defeating the whole purpose.

How relevant is the comment?

In my mind, this is the biggest (and perhaps least obvious) consideration. It’s not really enough for a client or customer to merely say something nice. You’re not trying to win friends here; you’re trying to win a marketing battle.

The best testimonials for your company are not generic. Pointed and specific is always better, and it’s better still if it relates to your carefully chosen and nurtured positioning.

If your company is known for absolute reliability in keeping to schedule, then the testimonial should reinforce that. It’s swell that you are “fun to work with” or “priced significantly lower.” But it will resonate much more with me, as a prospect, when someone just like me praises you for coming through on schedule, overcoming hurdles along the way.

Helpful Hints (take my word for it)

Don’t compose a testimonial yourself for your client to simply “sign”—even if he or she is busy and suggests doing it that way (it happens more often than you might think.) Remind them of your proudest moment on their project, and let them choose the words. Trust me, it will sound more real, which equals believable.

Also, try as hard as you can to get your testimonial-givers to allow you to use their names, titles, and organizations, for the reasons mentioned above. It’s not a small difference, it’s a huge one. Some might hesitate for marketplace or internal political reasons. But sometimes a little logic and discussion will get the job done. If not, move on. You may know the comment came from an important person at a significant company. That’s no help if your reader doesn’t.

Finally, don’t wait until the next brochure or ad campaign comes around to think about testimonials. Anytime something positive is said, even mid-project, it should trigger an instant request. “Thanks, that’s very nice-could you put that in an E-mail?” of “Gee, can I quote you on that?” It may sound like you just want to score some points with your boss or company owner, but it will get the comment into the system to be followed up later. It’s more spontaneous, more “real” and far more effective. Get your antennae up starting today!

To make testimonials pay off, don’t make many concessions on the issues above. If the best you can do is a generality, attributed to an unnamed source, don’t bother. In that case-those creative people are right.


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1 thought on “The “real” secret to effective testimonials”

  1. Dan Dunlop says:


    I thought I would return the favor and check out your website and blog. I really like this entry! There’s an old Harvard Business Review article titled “Industrial Selling” that speaks directly to this issue of minimizing risk. It is a huge point. By showing that your product or service works for others, it takes risk out of the buying decision. If I get a chance I’ll email you some testimonial work we’ve done for a credit union client. Not all testimonial ads are created equal.



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