A few words about testimonials

To get a good reputation, you need to do more than just please clients and colleagues. You need to get them to talk to others about how pleased they are.

And, to get a really great reputation, you need to focus their talk — make sure it’s falling on the right ears. Telling other people what you want them to say about you, and to whom? Is this getting complicated? It sure is.

Starting small: Linkedin recommendations

If you use Linkedin, you’ve probably gotten a request from someone to write a recommendation that will appear under on the person’s profile page. How did this strike you? Was it something you wanted to do? Was it easy to do? Did you feel comfortable doing it?

I ask these questions because I struggle with recommendations — and writing them should be easy for me:

• I’m a sole proprietor, so I don’t have to ask my boss if it’s OK to gush about another company.

• I’m a professional writer, and it’s relatively simple for me get out some words of praise, be they glowing or merely reserved.

And yet, I struggle with these testimonials. Am I writing what the person wants me to say? Am I writing what their prospective clients would want to hear? (And are those two things even aligned in the requestor’s mind?)

The Big Time: corporate client testimonials

I bring up these issues because I’m often asked to help craft endorsements and testimonials about companies from their clients.

If doing a two-paragraph recommendation for a former colleague on Linkedin has its challenges, the issues with corporate client testimonials can be massive.

Does this customer-service policy make me look fat?

Typically, a company sales staff would love a client organization to write a testimonial that hits on each one of its strategic sales points. Let’s say that for Company A, those are

• trendy design

• rapid delivery

• customization of the product (on large orders)

• local service contractors for rapid repairs

The problem is that few customers are involved with all four sales points. The company that loved your trendy design and quick delivery has never called you for repairs. The company that loved your customization and needed a quick repair had no need for rapid delivery and barely noticed your product design.

It may also be that the customer who loved the design and delivery was disappointed when the repair work was bungled.

And yet, the expectation is that the client somehow sees you exactly as you see your (idealized) self.

Talk is cheap; hard data requires senior management

The sales force’s “dream” testimonial is filled with numbers that substantiate the customer’s high opinions of your work and quantify the difference your product or service made in their operations: With your service contract, they experienced 50% less downtime than they had while getting service from your competitor. As a result of your product’s trendy design, they doubled their sales to 20-somethings and high-spending homeowners.

Ah, but the problem is that the store manager or buyer for your customer’s organization has no authority to reveal that business-sensitive data. They know that the CEO or CFO of their company would need to sign off on it — and might well decline to make that sort of business data public. All they are authorized to give you are kind words and soft generalizations: They love your great customer service, and 20-somethings like your nice designs.

The CEO or a VP of Company A could, of course, ask his or her counterpart at Company B to make the endorsement. But, in practice, that sort of “ask” is rarely on a CEO’s or VP’s radar.

The good news

I’m not leaving you with much good news if you’re in the business of soliciting or writing client testimonials, but there is a silver lining for those of you who read them: If you come across a detailed, comprehensive testimonial — for an individual or for a company — you can pretty much be assured that it’s well deserved.

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