Do prospects want your testimonials ... or you?

Published on: 
Published on 5/15/06

As evidence that the Tin Man finally had a heart, the Wizard of Oz conferred a testimonial upon him.

Marketers consistently use testimonials from presumably satisfied customers to serve as evidence of an organization's heart, brains and courage, along with other laudable qualities. For consumer products, this may be acceptable. When it comes to law firms, I strongly disagree with the value of using clients' names for testimonials.

My contrarian perspective, developed by 25 years of practicing law, is against the view of all salespeople I've ever met. Most advice on this subject from marketers is that testimonials from recognizable clients/customers are good. People want to associate with others whom they want to emulate (witness today's flood of celebrity-focused advertising).

For business clients, the reasoning seems to be that if you're a small but growing company you should engage a law firm that has helped other small companies that became big and successful. The implication, by naming these companies, is that the firm can do the same for you.

However, the contrarian perspective is that clients don't want to acknowledge that they have circumstances requiring legal advice. Clients want to keep their name out of the press and off an attorney's website. That's the whole idea of confidentiality. Not only is the subject matter to be confidential, but so also is the very fact of representation to be confidential.

We can get around this by asking permission, and many clients do give it for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they respect the lawyer and want to help.

That's not the point, however. I believe most clients subconsciously are reluctant, even when they do give permission. I've seen this reluctance in my own coaching practice -- many of my clients ask me to keep their identity confidential, even though there is no rule governing this.

And I respect their wishes. My attitude is that if I can't get business without using a name, then I have not yet proven my credibility. This is not to be confused with giving references in a confidential communication. It is also different from giving case histories/war stories of work you've done in the past, which are quite appropriate and can be made without disclosing client names.

In fact, clients often appreciate this, especially when you assure them that even for matters of public record (litigation, stock offerings) their names will not be mentioned by the lawyer for his or her personal gain; in other words, not used for testimonials.

So, how should we "entice" prospects into using our services? From the smaller firm's perspective, the number of contacts you make, the number of people you talk to, will have the biggest name-impact recognition.

This goes beyond the issues of branding or marketing. Getting "out into the public eye" can do more than advertising alone for firm-name recognition. Writing articles and attending lunch or bar association functions markets your name -- not that of a client in a testimonial.

Of course, all the personal marketing in the world won't make up for unreturned calls, or unresponsive service, or math errors on the bill. Service is fundamental. If clients want you, it's because of the quality service you can and should provide.

This Coach’s Corner Article is listed under the following categories: