Tell Me Who Recommends You So I Can Tell You How Much I Will Buy

Motto: “Others should praise you and not your mouth, a stranger and not your lips.”

Advice nr 21, 100 orthodox bits of advice

It is probably a common business practice to be asked, “for whom have you worked,” to observe the experience in the field. When you have worked on a known project, the potential clients trust you. This article targets freelancers and small and medium sizes companies that wish to obtain clients through an intelligent promotion using references.


The testimonial, as an instrument

The word defines a written reference, filmed, or recorded audio, signed by the one who gives it, as a client, collaborator, or evaluator of a certain provider of products/services, which includes a succession of words (that can vary in length from a sentence to 3 paragraphs), through which the one that perceives the message forms a good impression about the product/service discussed. It is a promotion instrument that satisfies the potential andemployee’s need to verify from more sources the conformity between the self-promoted image by the company and the identity observed by others through contact.

The testimonials can be a true blessing for those who have them, and they are good, and an actual disaster for those who do not have them or have them and are poorly made. Seemingly, this aspect is not a big deal. But the management of testimonials implies a lot of effort, detail, and communication; some would even suggest it is a real art. So, without going into many pieces, I will begin in this article, continuing in the ones from the following weeks, to examine the rules and suggestions for having successful testimonials.

Unfortunately, for the creative individuals who like variety or for those who want a general picture or prefer to be oriented toward objectives, I have terrible news for you: the management of testimonials is a very procedural activity, which does not leave room for mistakes and implies a lot of attention to details. I wish it would be different, but studies and experience in this field show this is the way things are.


The importance of a testimonial

A testimonial is judged as valuable from several aspects. First, from the content. Content may be excellent, no matter where it comes from. Despite all this, those who will provide the best testimonials will be the people who work in the field where you offer your product/service, and this is because they will know to point out exactly what they know interests the client, as they from experience know precisely to underline the needs of someone familiar with the field.

A second criterion is one regarding the importance of the one giving the testimonial. First, if it is the case of a personality renowned in the field in which the product/service is relevant, it is excellent. Imagine how it would be if a marketer had a reference written by Jack Trout, Philip Kotler, Jay Conrad Levinson, or Jay Abraham. It would be the best business card! But, when selecting criteria, the most crucial thing s that the individual is well-known, and then in second place is to be from the field. The more renowned, the more people will be impressed by this fact. Once, I received an e-mail from somebody who had been impressed that in my list of references from clients was a person in charge of a multinational corporation that had a turnover of over 50 million euros the previous year.

The degree to which somebody is representative of the product/service you sell is judged considering your target audience. For example, suppose it is the case of a product/service aimed at an enormous mass of people, as refreshing drinks are. In that case, I doubt you would have as big success with a recommendation from Jay Abraham if you sold a course in neurological branding for marketers.

Moreover, another important thing is the name of the company for which the person recommending you work. I know the example of a Romanian branding agency that first worked for extremely little money for foreign customers whom the managers had met during studies in foreign countries, only for them to build a portfolio of references. I know the example of another manager from a Romanian branding agency, who told me how he was chosen on the criterion of the notoriety of a couple of good references from some companies for which he had made successful campaigns. If this has not convinced you, I will tell you that a Romanian ad company worked a few years ago only for 2000 euros/month for multinational cash & carry in the Republic of Moldova, just to attract some strategic clients on the Romanian market.

It is essential to be careful about how you use the name of the companies when you use references from some employee of theirs. For example, the moment you have a contract signed with the company, and an individual from within the framework of it recommends you for your performance contract-based, it is OK to make a list of the type: “I have had clients from company X, Company Y, Company Z”, or references from the companies X, Y, Z.

Let us take a concrete example. At this address, you will find a list of references. Someone who would have this type of list would be tempted to say: “I have worked for The Group, Junior Chambers International, Psihologia Azi, Mind Software, Dasteco, Banca Italo-Romana, Kapital, Identity Compass International, Medicover, Overseas, Coca-Cola HBC România, RCS&RDS, Image Media, Cafe Arte, Data Investments & Consulting, Rofilco.. WRONG! You have not worked for these companies; you have gotten some references from the people that work at this moment for these, which is not the same thing. Actually, as long as you have not had contracts with these companies, it is better to not even use an enunciation of the type: “I have had clients from/representatives of the companies….” Any companies above can sue you if you use these statements for promotional purposes. First, as a rule of testimonial management, if the person that gave you the reference offered it for work for the company that gave you the authority, you will keep the name of the company beside the person. You will write the function he/she had in the company with “ex” in the front. If you offered to consult with the person per se, you would replace the company’s name every time that person changes jobs.

This is an additional reason for keeping in touch with your former clients.

On the other side, the company’s name can have a negative impact. Imagine a testimonial from somebody at CARITAS, British Petroleum, Morgan Stanley, or Chase Manhattan Bank. Or imagine how something like” manager, Jack Impex Inc.” sounds. The best in this situation is to be careful. It is OK not to use the name of the company. Also, it is possible that the person who offered the testimonial does not consent to the name of the company. On other occasions, on the contrary, he/she might ask you to put a link online to the company. On other events, you will have permission to use the company’s name but not link to it. The keyword is permission. And it is essential to know what to ask for to obtain without making too many requests. More of this is in the next section.

Another important thing is the individual’s title and function. This can be of the type: eng., dr., Ph.D., assist./lect./conf./univ. prof (it is recommended if the person only has a tutor degree not to use it), prof., Psych., M.D., Att. Each of these titles is worth mentioning, as it increases the credibility of the reference. In Romania, every kind of professor has a lot of credibilities, excessively much compared to other European countries. Despite all this, if you are going to address many businessmen, too many academic titles, and too few positions as “manager”, “CEO”, “consultant/counselor” (the consultant is from the exterior, the counselor is assigned to the organization), “director”, “expert”, “jurist/accountant” will pretty much result in failure. And if you are not addressing those in human resources or another group sensible to this title, it might be helpful to avoid using “psych.” in Romania. The title confers a status that might be relevant to the audience you are addressing, which can consider an authority.

Another important thing is the relative diversity of the directions from which you have received the respective references. I remark “relative” because you are addressing your target audience in the first place. This means if you address students, you will have more testimonials from students (and not only that). If you address businessmen, you will have more testimonials from businessmen (and not only that). And at the moment, you offer specific services for organizations; it is good that the domains of the companies for which you have worked be pretty diverse since testimonials have the purpose of bringing you as many clients as possible from the target audience by the fact it reflects the opinions of some people indifferent of their active field. Otherwise, criticism may appear of the kind: “only those working in the X domain can consider the respective services useful”.

Another aspect is the number of testimonials. The truth is… you can never have too many references! In the USA, direct marketing research showed that the longer a sales letter is, the more willing the clients will be to buy. Of course, from all these, depending on the context, you will use a specific, limited amount. Remember that 5 to 9 items are the appropriate number of items to use in a particular context so that the reading person’s memory will process them. I invite you to visit to get an impression of how to integrate testimonials in a promotional graphic layout. If you have a section only for references on your site, you can put them all there. This will help you measure how much people look only at testimonials if you use Google Analytics or another instrument to measure the traffic for each page separately.

To obtain as many testimonials as possible, I recommend you to be all eyes and ears all the time and look for people who have watched you working with/for somebody with that same service or who have been able to form an impression of your abilities in a specific professional framework. It is a good idea not to request testimonials from relatives, friends, lovers, people close to you, etc., primarily if your relationship with that person is publicly known.

An example is given for testimonials you can “collect” at conferences, presentations, and other opportunities for public communication. You can even prepare questionnaires you can provide to the participants. Generally, it is a good idea to begin doing this even at the beginning of the career; this will help you be perceived as a person willing to learn from others’ feedback, which is also the case. Despite all this, use testimonials only when you have sufficient, qualitatively and quantitatively, so they are relevant.

Thank you!

Happy Self Branding!


PS. You can access theis list [ro, blog] for a list of articles treating personal branding.

Marcus Victor Grant

 Translation by Răzvan Goldstein of the article “Spune-mi cine te recomandă ca să-ți spun cât cumpărpreviously published in Romanian on the 14th of March 2011 on Discerne. Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2008-present, all rights reserved.

The materials on this blog are subject to this disclaimer.






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