A firm’s greatest asset is its people. In today’s competitive talent market, there’s growing concern over recruitment and employee retention. We put together some easy ways you can communicate the culture and value of your firm to prospective and even current employees. In this video, Leah Spielman, marketing consultant, provides four ways you can attract great candidates to your professional services firm. Apply these concepts to help your firm stand out.
How to Make Testimonials Part of Your Marketing Strategy
Most professional service marketers have heard the old adage, “People buy with emotion and justify their decisions with logic.” And yet, many professionals who sell an intangible service don’t know which emotions they are provoking and why anyone buys from them.
Why do people buy from you?
Quality service emerges as a compelling reason why professionals believe their clients buy from them. Interestingly, we have discovered that what signifies quality to a practitioner and what signifies quality to clients are often two different things. Professionals tend to focus on professional designations and internal process as measures of quality. Clients tend to focus on timeliness, impact, proactive communication and relationships.
The way to find out why your clients buy from you is to ask them. One of the first things we do with any new client is to call up some of their customers and have a good chat. We ask why they chose you, what they would say about you to a friend, if they would refer you to others, what you are best at and how you can improve. We ask them if they have worked with other firms in your field and what those experiences were like. We ask them how long they have worked with your firm and if they have ever considered switching.
Are your clients considering another service provider? Listen to our webinar to find out: Boosting Your Net Promoter Score.
At the end we have a transcript of the conversation and some juicy sound or word bites you can use on your website or in proposals. This gives you the opportunity to clearly understand your value proposition (sales-speak for what makes you unique and why people should buy from you). Your value proposition tells you how your clients feel about you. The conversation with your clients also gives you a chance to address any issues before they consider leaving.
Testimonials not only explain your unique-ness to the world in an independent voice, but they also build your confidence by taking a minute to bask in all those wonderful compliments. Every professional, and every firm, needs such affirmation to help strengthen conviction in the brand and value proposition. It makes you understand why you go to work every day, too!
Practical Testimonial Writing
We have learned some best practices over the years, as well as a few things to avoid when undertaking a testimonial-gathering effort.
Here is our checklist for curating high-quality testimonials:
- Consider using an outside party who is good at drawing people out. Your clients will tell you that you are “great” but “great” is hardly compelling sales copy. They will be more expressive with someone they do not know. Make sure your interviewer has done this before; it is an art to draw people out and get the language that persuades.
- Tell your clients who will be calling them and why. A heads-up from you means they will be much more comfortable with the interviewer.
- Always use the telephone or in-person interviews. If you ask folks to write a letter, the letter will almost always be stiff and formal. Again, that’s not compelling copy. When you interview them, you have the chance to craft the words. Clients appreciate word crafting as long as it’s still accurate to the tone of their experience.
- Craft a variety of testimonial quotes for use in your promotional campaigns.
- Send each quote you might ever consider using to the client and get approval. Make sure they know it may be used on your website, media releases, proposals and for a variety of promotional uses. A testimonial template is helpful in this process for written documentation of their approval.
- Whenever possible, use the person’s full name, title, and company. “Pat Z. in Wisconsin” sounds like a late night, diet-aid commercial. “Patrick Zuber, President, HealthCore Company, Madison, Wisconsin” is more credible.
- Keep a file of testimonial approvals for future reference as you develop marketing materials and campaigns.
- Send a copy of brochures or newsletters where the quote is used to the client. Most people like seeing their name in print.
Read This Final Referral Tip
One huge advantage of a persuasive testimonial is something called the second person referral effect. Most people choose professional service providers from personal referral — in other words, a referral from someone they know and trust. A testimonial is from someone your prospect may not know. However, this stranger does know you and is willing to brag about the intangible — how it feels to buy from you — in print. While not as powerful as a personal referral, it carries more weight than you saying the same thing.
Finally, if your brochure claims your service is wonderful, it probably sounds to readers like common advertising fluff. If a real person testifies in detail about how it feels to work with you, the resulting impact will be much more persuasive. Having a file full of testimonials will enhance the quality of all your promotional material. Of course, testimonials also help you understand just why people buy from you. Plus, these tales of loyalty will help you build confidence to go out there and tell your story.
Is your firm struggling in other markets? Does your brand awareness seem to fall flat in some markets but thrive in others? Dawn Wagenaar, principal at Ingenuity Marketing Group, shares four steps to take to align your brand strategy across multiple markets. Learn brand positioning best practices for your firm, how to assess your competition and where you may have some gaps in your current positioning. Implement these steps to better align your brand across multiple markets.
Is your brand muddied by years of neglect or “remodeling” by a few industrious staff? You know, the niche leader who adjusts a logo for a sponsorship ad or the administrator who doesn’t stick to the branded colors?
Aside from wrangling internal staff to present a consistent visual brand, the biggest weakness and threat for professional service firms is often the outdated look and feel of their websites. The top offenders?
- Old font styles
- Cluttered home pages
- Content that is too focused on firm services rather than visitor needs
- Not responsive on mobile devices
Does My Firm Need a New Brand?
A rebrand is in your future if your brand is five or more years old. Also, if competing firms have already invested in updated branding, you can’t lag behind on first impressions. Most cold to warm leads today are creating a short list based on your website and online impression. You can’t afford to ignore your brand when your pipeline depends on it.
Branding is more than a visual image or color. A brand is the promise you make to clients and potential clients about what it will be like to work with you. Your brand promises a certain experience.
The promises of your brand are based on:
- Stories you and your staff tell about the firm
- Stories your clients tell about the firm
- Name of the firm that is easy to pronounce and memorable
- Strong brand positioning statement, key messages, and tagline
- Visual image of your packaging, including logo, font type, brochures, stationery, proposals, and website
- Your delivery of the client experience
- Your talent brand to attract and retain professionals
If everyone is saying something different about your firm, it’s hard to distinguish your value from the crowd through marketing messages or sales communications. It’s also not competitive to say that your firm delivers “quality service” or “seeks long-term relationships.” Those messages are table stakes that everyone says. You must dig deeper to your firm’s true value.
Why is Branding Hot?
The secret of good branding is in integrating what staff, clients and the public think and expect from your firm. The best branding gains a strong and permanent place in the mind.
A complete branding process in a professional service firm involves:
- Leadership research – Five or more leadership interviews to seek common themes
- Client research– “A” client phone interviews
- Competitive research – Research on three to five top competitors
- Community research– Current marketing materials, involvement and sponsorship/philanthropy review
- Create a positioning statement – a summary that distinguishes your firm within a target market or markets
- Create key messages – essentially the experience you promise to deliver in three to five themes that is different from other firms
- Gather feedback from leadership and key employees
- Conduct client focus group(s) to gather feedback on the themes
- Finalize competitive themes and positioning statement
- Train leaders and staff on use of themes
- Develop marketing and business development tactics surrounding themes
- Develop or refresh of visual branding kit, including colors, logo, stationery, website, etc.
How Long Does It Take?
This initial branding process can be completed within one to two months, depending on the availability of clients and leaders. But its value for getting everyone to speak the same language about your firm will pay dividends in the consistency and ease of promoting your firm going forward.
New Brand, Now What?
To the roll-out! Finalize your new brand program by scheduling a firm story/key message training and integration of the brand into everyday use. Make it fun for everyone to embrace the new brand. Change is hard, so get everyone on board early in your roll-out. Consider a small celebration internally before you announce to clients and the world through your materials, client communications and public relations.
Remember that good branding is not safe and not always pleasant! If there is controversy about the brand promises or the images used to portray them, it probably means the work is good. It often forces a culture shift. Not everyone may like it.
How Do You Know That Your New Brand is Working?
It’s working when it allows you to talk about your firm with confidence and explain how it’s different from the competitors. It’s working when people respond with affirmative nods and additional questions. Now you have an opening to share your unique story and build stronger relationships.
At the time Ingenuity started working with the leadership team at Rudler, PSC, this mid-sized CPA firm’s managing shareholder already anticipated a longer tenure before he could exit. However, talent retention and client loyalty were strong due to a dedication to flexible schedules and community involvement.
The firm really needed a consistent focus on marketing and business development to remain independent — avoiding the merger trend among CPA firms in their city.
Working with leadership and niche team members, Ingenuity has assisted with the following:
- Competitive research and differentiation
- Brand messaging and visual brand refresh with new tagline
- Training on distinct brand messages and leadership types
- Website updates to emphasize niches, improve SEO, build out careers pages and improve bios
- Leadership coaching
- A process for client highlighter meetings to expand cross-servicing
- Public relations support, including award copy review
- Eblast copywriting and content strategy
- Social media support to showcase culture and talent brand
Internally, Rudler revived its coop program to introduce interns to the firm culture and services — resulting in an 85% retention rate for interns offered a full-time position. The firm leadership developed a three-year strategic plan and positioned emerging leaders for the partnership track. Involvement in an international accounting alliance, BKR International, opened opportunities for new business through referrals from other independent public accounting firms across the country. Technology investments now allow remote employee opportunities to support recruitment. ING provided employee case studies to promote flexible career options on the firm’s website. A new president is also positioned to lead the next generation of professionals.
Today, Rudler has a solid foundation to remain independent: talent, marketing savvy, technology investment and client loyalty.
These items should be on your reputation bucket list to improve your visibility and credibility as a professional.
1. Write an article for your target audience.
2. Post and comment in select LinkedIn Groups.
3. Add client video testimonials to your website.
4. Win an award.
5. Take a leadership position on an association committee or board.
6. Speak as a subject matter expert in a webinar or to a live audience of prospects.
Need more tips? Call Ingenuity about creating a comprehensive reputation management strategy.