Making any purchase is a risk for decision-makers, particularly in B2B sales. Your prospect is deciding whether or not to spend money on a solution, which may or may not improve the way his or her business functions. Whether your prospect is the owner of the company, deciding whether to part with his own hard-earned cash, or a manager risking the wrath of his seniors if it all goes wrong, prospects have one thing in common – doubt.
Salespeople use testimonials to reassure prospects that they can produce results. Prospects expect them, but many salespeople just reuse the same quotes without really thinking about how or why they’re doing so, and whether or not they are having a positive effect.
So what types of testimonials are there? And how should they be used?
Testimonials come in three categories: first person, second person, and third person.
First Person Testimonials
The least effective category of testimonials, these involve the salesperson quoting himself, or another member of his organisation, as proof that they can make good on a claim. For example: “I’m brilliant. I save all my clients £20,000 a year in energy costs.”
This may seem exaggerated, but the truth is that many salespeople do this without thinking. Have you ever shared a quote from your CEO referring to how passionate he is about the product? Or used examples of your team’s enthusiasm to demonstrate your dedication?
Audiences distrust salespeople, as they expect exaggerated claims. No matter how subtly done, if a quote is sourced from a member of your company, it is unlikely to be deemed reliable. The typical prospect’s response to this would be: “Prove it.”
Second Person Testimonials
These are by far the most common form of testimonials. Here the same claim is made, but it is attributed to a client instead. For example: “We worked with AA group and achieved fantastic results. Here’s what they had to say…”
Easily obtainable and apparently reliable, many salespeople throw these into a presentation without thinking twice. However, even second person testimonials are not as effective as often perceived. Any company can obtain a quote from one customer, even one who out of embarrassment and sheer politeness gives it grudgingly, despite being well aware that he made the wrong decision. Even a happy customer could just be one in a million. Any second person testimonial has been somewhat influenced by the salesperson – sometimes heavily – and your prospect will be well aware of this.
That said, second person testimonials are not completely useless and can, in fact, have a big impact – when used in the right way. Place them alongside success statistics that show your organisation’s average performance, and these figures will be brought to life. Prove your clients are satisfied by revealing statistics – and then use testimonials as mini case studies.
The final point to make about second person testimonials is that they are somewhat impacted by how similar the testimonial company is to the prospective company. You may have fantastic quotes from a construction company that you saved thousands of pounds, but present these to a hospital and you could receive a response like: “Well, that’s all very well and good… But our situation is completely different.”
It’s not necessary, but it can help to have testimonials aligned to customer segments. As in any other aspect of presenting – tailor the content as closely to the prospect as possible.
Third Person Testimonials
In the most useful type of testimonial, someone completely unconnected to the company proves value delivered. Awards are the most obvious type of these – if your company has ever held first place in a competition, or been nominated for ‘Supplier of the Year’, you’ve got reassurance on a platter. But there are other types of third party testimonials too.
For example, a writer from the Financial Times doing an investigation into the best cost-reducing process determines that your system saves the customer the most money. Or analyst reports of the market demonstrate clearly that you come out on top. A positive reference from an industry publication is invaluable – because it’s something you have no control over.
This type of testimonial is hard to find, but often remains unused when it does exist. So if you have this type of testimonial – use it!
Understanding the different types of testimonials and how to use them effectively is one thing, but it is quite another to acquire them in the first place. Waiting for a happy customer to volunteer a quote is by no means the most efficient way of collecting them. Testimonials are a big part of any sales presentation, and should be controlled and prepared as much as any other aspect of the pitch.
Having a system for soliciting and collecting positive feedback can make a real difference to an organisation. Clients should be asked directly after a project is completed, as part of the process. Even more important, a way of organising and maintaining testimonials electronically should be devised, so that presenters can gain access to the relevant quotes or press cuttings when the time requires.
The most efficient way of managing testimonials is via a slide hosting system. Instead of just collecting the quotes as they appear, they should be produced as slides, ready to be positioned within a sales presentation – already on-brand. Good slide banks also allow searching, so that by typing in a keyword, or selecting industry or another pre-defined category, the user can easily identify the slides that would be most applicable for any given prospect.
Crucially, sales managers need to really make sure that they have a working system in place. It is not enough to simply pick up the odd quote here and there – actively seek, process and arrange your testimonials, so that you can easily identify the most effective justification for each opportunity.
Any purchase involves a leap of faith, and as a salesperson, your job is to alleviate the prospect’s doubts. Using testimonials to demonstrate how you have solved similar problems in the past will help reassure your audience that you can do so for them – by justifying your claims effectively.
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Stuart Buckley, CEO and Founding Partner, Calltracks Ltd
We delivered the presentation to our majority shareholders today, and they were speechless, blown away. It’s almost unheard of, isn’t it – a presentation that’s actually interesting? We really stand out now – which is what we set out to do.