Trust in marketers – that’s you & me, no matter your area of specialty – is at an all-time low.
According to a 2020 Havas study of 395,000 global consumers, only 47% of brands are seen as trustworthy. And 71% of people “have little faith that brands will deliver on their promises.”
Other studies show that business executives are now trusted less than lawyers. (But above car salesmen! So we’ve got that going for us.)
The buying environment is filled with skepticism. In our line of work, business results are at stake. So are reputations. And inertia – doing nothing or maintaining the status quo – is always an option.
Anyone can make a claim. Proof is often the difference between earning the sale or not.
Bring more proof to the table.
Don’t just tell us what you do. Tell us why we should believe that you’ll do it – before we commit our time and money.
When it comes down to it, very few of us soloists are creating new categories. Most of us enter existing categories (though often with the goal of adding our own twist).
And when options are generally similar, proof is a major tie-breaker.
Do you want your new hardwood floors installed by someone with 20 years of experience, or someone with 20 weeks?
Do you want to invest your retirement funds with a firm with a history of stewardship and security, or with a guy who sends you spam?
Do you want to hire a designer with a clearly defined process, or someone who goes entirely on something he calls “feel”?
I want you to support your offering with as much relevant, credible and honest proof that you can.
Here’s a four-step process to get you there: Create, select, deploy, and update.
Step 1: Create
No matter how much proof you’re already offering, you can always offer more.
So our starting point is to create as much proof as we can.
There are five general kinds of proof points, with many specific types within each. They are:
Direct Experience. Making a compelling promise and keeping it is the most powerful proof there is. This kind of direct experience creates word-of-mouth and referrals.
But you can also make it easy for people to “try before they buy.” Newsletters, social media posts, webinars and introductory calls all provide direct experience with you – not unlike a sampling program in your local supermarket.
Endorsements. This is recognition from third parties (the more impartial, the better). Think awards, testimonials, appearances on “best of” lists, and so on.
Pedigree. This is your track record. What have you done that’s notable and distinctive? Whenever possible, put a number to it.
Logic. This is the category of “It will work because it sounds like it should.” Consider the choices you’ve made for your processes and your approach, and tie that to a better outcome for your clients.
Guarantee. Guarantees are only as powerful as the perceived risk that the offeror is taking. Guaranteeing results is very potent, but many of us aren’t in a position to do that, because we don’t fully own the execution. In that case, what’s the best guarantee you can make?
Brainstorm ideas within each of those five categories. Zoom in and revisit every job you’ve held and every project you’ve done. Zoom out and look at what you’ve accomplished over years. Make notes without judgment. Create as many possible proof points as you can.
To give you some examples, here are the proof points I use most often for my consulting business, as well as the category that each fits within:
- Social media presence, such as blog posts, newsletters, Twitter and LinkedIn posts (direct experience).
- An ex-CMO with 7 years of double-digit client-side growth (pedigree).
- The brands I’ve served (pedigree).
- Dozens of testimonials from happy clients (endorsements).
- 94% of lifetime revenue from repeat or referral (pedigree).
- 25 years as an independent consultant (pedigree).
- A fully customized approach / no “off-the-shelf” projects (logic).
- Senior-level attention / no hand-off to a junior associate (logic).
Step 2: Select
After completing Step 1, you may be pleasantly surprised that you have more proof than you know what to do with. This is a luxury problem, and one you want to have.
Filter your proof based on:
Relevance. Some proof points clearly and directly support your key claims; others do so only loosely or clumsily. Keep the former and trim the latter.
Recency. All other things held equal, a recent proof point is more powerful than a dated one.
For example, I was named to the 2003 class of “Forty Under 40” in Cincinnati. That was a useful proof point for a few years; but now that it’s so many years removed, it gets only a brief mention in the long version of my bio.
Step 3: Deploy
Now that you’ve got a focused set of proof points, the question is where and how to deploy them. Some common locations:
- Your website (especially your home, about and service pages)
- Your LinkedIn profile
- Your sales decks
- Your professional bio
Remember that proof points support claims of benefits and difference. (Proof means little if people don’t already know what you’ll do for them.)
Most of the time, you’ll want to follow this flow: Start by making your benefit and/or difference crystal clear, then support it with the proof.
Also, a reminder when it comes to testimonials: “Short & focused” is better than “long & rambling.” People don’t read big chunks of text online. So edit as needed. Consider adding a short pull quote to use as the testimonial headline.
Step 4: Update
This is not a “one-and-done” activity. Your proof points should get better all the time.
So create a “Proof” folder. Use it to capture testimonials, awards and other proof points as you generate them. At least twice a year, revisit this folder and this exercise to ensure that your proof points are as potent as possible.
Make it a priority to inventory and improve your proof points. It will set you apart from your competitors, increase the confidence of your prospects, and make you easier to hire.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to spread the gospel to as many freelancers as possible.
Need help creating & deploying your proof points? I have a limited number of slots available for 1-1 coaching. Click here to find out more about how my customized coaching can help you level up.
Copyright 2022 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the footer section.