Today on the Association for Accounting Marketing Discussion List, someone asked about the best ways to gather client testimonials.
A discussion ensued and I was moved to share Golden Marketing's process. It seems several folks are comfortable writing a testimonial for the client and seeking their approval. This always felt icky to me. I'd always rather hear the story straight from the horse's mouth. So this is the way we do it, along with a few examples. This can be done by the in-house marketing department just as easily as by an outside firm.
So, here's our process:
1. Decide Who. We work with the partners to determine who would be the best clients to talk to. Usually this is a mix of long-time clients and new clients, clients across a couple different industries, and clients that use more than one service. What we find is that we can use one testimonial interview across a handful of client service pages and at least one industry.
2. Permission. Then we ask the partner or manager (whomever is the primary contact person) to call each client (usually we just start with 4 or 5) and ask, "would you be willing to talk to our marketing people for a brief interview to capture some of your thoughts on working with the firm, for us to use in our marketing materials?" If the client agrees (they always have) then the partner says, "Great, I'll have [person] call you to set up a brief chat, no more than 15-20 minutes."
3. More Permission. Partner passes us the info, we call, introduce ourselves, thank them for agreeing to take the time to talk with us and say: "I'm sure you're busy right now so we'd just like to set up a good time to talk for 15-20 minutes. When would be a good time?" Rarely do people want to talk right then, but if they did, we would accommodate. They usually appreciate having a little time to put their thoughts together.
4. Setting Expectations. We call promptly at the designated time, thank them again for taking the time to talk with them and explain the process:
"We really appreciate your willingness to talk to us about your experiences with [firm]. Today we are just going to ask you a few questions and we will transcribe the conversation to capture your thoughts as close to verbatim as possible...don't worry about constructing answers or being formal...after the interview we'll type up the notes, possibly reorder your comments for flow, and then we'll send the interview notes to you for your review.
"Since these are your comments, it's important that you are comfortable with what's in there and if there's anything you don't like, please feel free to strike it or edit it, and if you want to add anything, feel free to do that, too. When you are happy with it, just send it back over, and only then will we send it on the to firm/partners/team. Of course, at any time, if you wish for us to discontinue using your statements in our marketing materials, just let us know and we'll stop, no questions asked."
Sometimes the CFO (often the contact) wants to run it by the owner of the company so we consider that in the process.
5. Respect Their Time. Keep the interview exactly on time. Around the 15 minute mark, even if you need to gently interrupt the client, say "I want to respect your time and we promised not to exceed 15-20 minutes." Quite often, the client wants to continue--it is their prerogative. We've talked to several for an hour!
6. Prepare and Deliver. Then we transcribe, edit for flow, take out anything that was told to us "off the record" (of which there is usually a lot) or not entirely relevant, and then submit it by email making sure to remind them that it is their statement so they must be totally comfortable, and can change it to their heart's desire. Few change it much, if at all.
7. Appreciate. Once we receive it back, we provide to the the firm/team, etc and we send an appropriate thank you gift such as flowers, or something meaningful to the individual as a gesture of appreciation for "taking the time to talk with us and for sharing your story".
What we end up with is usually a full page "story" full of gems that we have permission to use in single-sentence snippets or in its entirety. Examples of "longer stories" here: not quite the whole interview and the whole interview -- and you can see a couple of that firm's smaller excerpts on the relevant industry pages of hospitality and construction.
Another approach we sometimes take for very short testimonials is to have a Y/N field on customer satisfaction surveys asking "If you have provided your name, may [firm] reference you when sharing your comments with future clients?" so that we can attribute survey comments on websites, in proposals, etc. Here's one example of a gem survey comment woven in.
No matter how we get the comments, we always document the client's approval of their comment use. Testimonials without client names are pretty ineffective. I wouldn't waste the time or space to go this route. Most viewers will simply dismiss an unattributed comment or assume it is contrived.
And we always try to use real comments as pull quotes beside what are otherwise the same ol' general claims made by all firms such as timeliness, responsiveness or continuity of audit teams, yada yada. Having a real client with a real testament to this quality underscores it beautifully, substantiating what is otherwise a same 'ol-same 'ol.
And these stories, or portions thereof, can be used in a multitude of ways over many years.