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Let's assume you're convinced about the power of testimonials and exactly what they are.   Once you’ve committed yourself to placing your customers front and center in your marketing and leveraging the power of testimonials, it’s time to execute on your strategy. The questions become:  Who do I ask?   Will they do it?   What will they say?   Will they be credible?  All valid questions.

Recall that the most important thing is that buyers need to see themselves in the testimonials.   They want to identify with the testimonial subject.   In B2B, either they are from the same industry or a similar position or role at a company.  Or they might have the same problem or challenge that the subject describes.    In B2C, they want to see consumers who share demographic traits or who they connect with emotionally.   That perceived connection is what taps into the psychological power of social proof.

Satisfied Customers Make Great Testimonials

Authenticity and credibility are important, but with that said your primary target of testimonials should always be your satisfied customers.  You want to think about how to identify customers who are happy, if not passionate, raving fans and ignore the neutral to upset customers in your base.   Both satisfied customers and raving fans are good targets, although you may need to leverage more social capital to get the purely satisfied customers on the record.

5 Key Factors to Consider Before Asking for a Testimonial

You’ll need to weigh a couple of factors to select your best testimonial prospects.   There aren't any right and wrong answers here.  Ultimately, you’ll be amassing lots of testimonials and each will have a role or purpose in reinforcing your marketing messages.   As a result, you’ll want diversity across all 5 factors:

Here are some factors to consider before you target subjects for testimonials:

  1. Authority Level -   A classic conundrum is whether to ask the most authoritative person for your testimonials or someone who knows your product or service the best.   This usually breaks down into the questions: should I get an executive of the company? Or find a user to vouch for my product or service?

Testimonial Programs

Pro tip: We recommend both.  

Focus on a couple of executives who know your product or service well and can be strong advocates. They will likely require more time to get the testimonial.   However, don’t ignore users.  Reach out your most ardent, passionate fans and build out all the different combinations of message, role, department, etc that you will want for a diverse set of testimonials.

2.  Department (sales vs. marketing vs. finance vs. manufacturing) - If your product is only purchased and used by one department, then you should focus on getting testimonials from different roles within that department (e.g. demand generation, social media manager, and content marketer for the marketing department).  Alternatively, in more complex cross-function purchase decisions,  it is important to get testimonials from different departments (e.g marketing, sales, finance, etc).    Each different department testimonials can be used to attest to a different aspect of the value proposition.   This kind of department diversity is crucial in classic B2B purchase decisions where multiple stakeholders are involved in decision making.

3.  Industry Segmentation - You ideally want several testimonials from each industry or type of business that you sell to.   These industry proof points give your knowledge credentials in that domain and de-risk the decision for each customer in a particular industry.   Prospective buyers always believe that their industry or situation is completely different from other industries and customer scenarios.   The easiest way to overcome that objection is with social proof of success in the particular industry or market segment.

4.  Knowledge of Product and Specific Situational Details -  The ideal testimonial subject  is knowledgeable about your product or service, not just a talking head from the company.   A testimonial subject who cites specific details about their usage or implementation of the product or service is far more credible than a generic sweeping statement about how great the product is.   Encourage your testimonials to be specific and give details wherever possible.

5.  Alignment with your Marketing Message - Before you ask a testimonial subject, you want to be reasonably sure that what they are going to say aligns to your overall marketing messages and positioning.   For example, if you are positioned as the luxury, high cost brand, a testimonial that says that they purchased you because you were the cheapest is of no value to you.   Ideally, you want to be sure that the subject can speak to one or more key value points that you want to emphasize in your marketing.

After digesting those factors and adding up the combinations, it can be quite intimidating.   But the best advice is to play the long game.   Find a couple advocates that meet your criteria, get them on the record, and then continue to build out brick by brick from there.   You’ll be surprised how much progress can be made if you put sustained effort into a testimonial collection program.

Pro tip: Consider automating the process so it just happens without any intervention from you.  

Objectives:

  • Identify customers and customer stories that will resonate with your buyers and are credible.
  • Write a list or content matrix with the different personas or use cases that you target for your product or service. Target testimonials that speak to each of those use cases.
  • Prep your customer with good questions that will help them speak to your particular marketing message and with specificity to your product or service.

Key results:

  • A wide and deep collection of testimonials that will resonate with the diversity of buyers in your target market and build great trust with your brand.
  • Friction is removed from your buyer’s journey.

Industry Expert Testimonials

Although satisfied customers are the bread and butter focus for testimonials, you should also consider a second constituency - industry experts - for your testimonials.    The types of industry experts vary by domain, but can be categorized into four different types:

  • Subject Matter Experts - These are authority figures who are very familiar or knowledgeable in the domain you serve.   For example, this could be a college professor steeped in a key academic area relevant to your product or service.   Or it could be a security professional who can speak to the challenges and intricacies of key security vulnerabilities.  Ideally, these subject matter experts should be credible with your buying audience, but it is not crucial that they have a large social following or even be particularly well known outside their area of expertise.
  • Industry Analysts - Industry analysts perform primary and secondary market research on a particular industry or domain.   Example firms include, Gartner, Forrester, IDC, but there are many small boutique firms and the firms vary widely by industry.   Analysts are experts in a specific market and they dialog with the buyers in that industry to understand the market trends along with the vendors that serve that space.   As a result, they can be great resources on the competitive landscape and future direction of the market.   Although they often will not endorse or speak about a particular product or service directly, they have a unique and invaluable perspective to share on the direction of the market and what are important buying criteria.
  • Bloggers - Undoubtedly there are at least several blogs that speak to your target market. These bloggers have already done the hard work of growing significant followings and may have significant mindshare with your target customers. Unlike industry analysts, bloggers may be more than willing to give you a testimonial and may in fact be willing to endorse your product or service.  They can be an excellent source of third party testimonials
  • Partners - Your company may have partnerships with other companies that you collaborate on selling and providing a solution to the end buyer together.   These types of partners are excellent sources of testimonials, particularly partners with more brand recognition and credibility than your company.   For example, if you are a small startup, a testimonial from Microsoft could be marketing gold.  These partners can speak to the efficacy of your product or how your product works with their solution.   These types of testimonials de-risk a purchase and can lend an aura of success, particularly if the buyer already trusts or uses the partner’s product or service extensively.
  • Resellers and Consultants -  Last, but not least.   Your product may be resold or implemented onsite by a third party firm.   These consultants and resellers have direct knowledge and relationships with the buyers.   Although the buyer might be the ideal testimonial target, resellers and consultants can be excellent targets as well, since they have direct knowledge of the buyer’s organization, the problems they faced, and the business results that they achieved.   And thus, they can be a great replacement or complement to end buyer or user testimonials.

Industry experts will not usually have hands on experience with your product, nor have they purchased your product or service.   The one exception to this rule is reseller and consultants who may have had experience implementing your product on behalf of a customer.   Thus, most of them can’t speak to real-world experiences, performance, quality, and value of your offering like a customer can.  As a result, the type and nature of their testimonials are different.  

Nonetheless, content from industry experts can be particularly compelling and useful at generating awareness in three specific scenarios.  

  • First, they can speak and describe the type of problem you purport to solve in detail and provide context to why it is important to solve it.  For example, an industry expert can add credibility to the problem by citing their first hand experience trying to solve it, the research that they have conducted, or their own knowledge of the domain and industry.   An unaffiliated third party should not, nor do they need to, endorse your product or service to be effective.   Nor should you ask them to do it.   That is the role of your customers.
  • Second, industry experts can be used to create urgency for the need to fix a problem.  They can remind buyers of the risks that can come about from not taking action quickly.  For example, a security professional might speak to the consequences for not taking action or the results of not protecting against malware or other attacks.
  • Third, industry experts can be articulate spokesmen for market and industry trends.   They can give their unique perspective on the market, where it is headed, and provide a broader context than a single vendor or company can provide.  

Objectives:

  • Consider the universe of industry experts that are available to you and identify which ones may be beneficial to partner with

Key results:

  • Increased awareness of the challenge that your product or service may solve, increased urgency for your buyers and the potential for these experts to shed a light of credibility on your brand.

Want to see more on how best-in-class businesses use customer testimonials ? Check out the other chapters in The Definitive Guide to Testimonials.