On this episode, I was joined by Sam Shepler, CEO of Testimonial Hero, a global B2B video testimonial creation service. He’s worked with companies like Google, Medallia and Hopin to create testimonials that reduce friction in the sales cycle and close deals more quickly. We talked about common testimonial pitfalls, winning over your sales team with ‘objection crushers’ and his tips for filming customer videos remotely. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Sam.
Margot Leong: Sam, thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate having you on the show.
Sam Shepler: Thanks Margot. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Margot Leong: Talk to me a little bit about Testimonial Hero and the work that you do with your agency.
Sam Shepler: We are focused on helping customer marketing leaders make producing video testimonials and really all forms of customer video content, just incredibly effortless. So, you know, it started out a couple of years ago, we built the first global network of video testimonial production. So we have a global network of crews and we’re really focused on those in-person testimonials and after 2020, we launched our fully remote offering. So now we’re doing a ton of remote stuff, but what we are passionate about is just making really world-class customer storytelling effortless.
Margot Leong: Great. Why don’t you share a little bit more about what the catalyst was actually behind starting the company? I’m sure that’s an interesting story.
Sam Shepler: Yeah, definitely. So my background originally is in video production and I was also an entrepreneur and so I had always appreciated the power of customer story on video for sales and marketing purposes. I had also been behind the camera and filmed quite a few of them. 2013 to 2016, a lot of people were hiring me and my crew to fly us around the world to film customer videos.
So that was fine, but like a little bit after that, we actually sold that company, and then a little bit after that, I realized, this makes no sense for our clients. They’re paying almost as much as the project to fly us everywhere, right. I just kind of asked myself, what’s the future of how we as marketing leaders are going to produce video testimonials and it definitely wasn’t flying a crew around the country and around the world. And in everything kind of started from that question of what does the future look like for video testimonials? And that really was the kind of exciting question that has informed everything that we’ve done to date from our global production network that eliminates that need to fly, and also of course our remote offering.
Margot Leong: I mean, it is amazing to me actually, how much companies will spend on testimonial videos and all of the other things that go into it. I mean, even if you think about the cost of equipment for the crew to load up onto the airplane, like that’s an additional cost and that’s expensive too, right. So there’s all these things that add up, and I like that you were thinking, okay you know, this is fine, but like what can we do better for our clients essentially?
Sam Shepler: There’s also like the productivity and lifestyle costs, we work with some very large companies and they have whole video production departments, but they sort of realized that the lifestyle that their departments want isn’t flying around the country, right. It’s a nice benefit there too as well.
Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned too, that you’re always kind of intrigued by the power of customer testimonials. I’d be curious to hear from you what you think is the power of doing this over video.
Sam Shepler: So, there’s a lot of different angles here. So first I would say there’s the social proof angle. When someone actually goes on video for your brand, that’s just such a bigger commitment than agreeing to be featured in a quote. Therefore there’s just so much more social proof that comes with that and it makes it a way more useful asset for sales and marketing. Because we all know, as marketers that sometimes people will sign off on quotes that basically gets written for them by marketing or on a written case study, those written case studies often go through so many rounds of revisions with legal. Oh, you can’t say exactly this. You can’t say exactly that. We’ll sign off on this.
By the end, the authenticity, the humanity and the emotion, and really just the impact is just stripped away from that process. But with video, of course, you know, we edit the video, but it’s always things that that person really said. You’re able to gauge their enthusiasm. There’s also the biological aspect where, as humans, we literally evolved to read facial expressions, so like being able to see a face on video and you get so much more information and so much emotion that you wouldn’t from text.
Margot Leong: Got it. I see a lot of value, of course, in customer videos. And I’m always curious though, right? From the other side, let’s say that you’re sending this to like a prospect or this is more used for like brand awareness, I’m always curious if it’s impacting them in the same way that I would like it to impact them, or are there already some sort of walls up when it comes to seeing this type of content? I feel like we see videos everywhere featuring customers. And so I’m always curious, like if the efficacy of such things are not as efficacious because people are starting to get very used to them.
So I think that’s one point, basically I think that this may segue nicely into something that you and I talked about, which is, it’s one thing to create the content. It’s like a whole other thing to think about amplification of the content and like leveraging them in the smartest way possible.
Sam Shepler: Yeah. That’s a great question. In terms of the smartest way possible and making it the most effective, the same best practices apply for all marketing. Specifically to testimonials, there’s a couple of things, like anything that aligns with the same persona, the same buyer type, that is going to resonate. If I’m a small business and as a brand, you serve me an ad with a testimonial from IBM, that doesn’t really mean anything to me. Right. That actually might even be a turnoff. The first thing to think about is like persona alignment. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter how perfect the testimonial is, it’s not going to land.
The second thing to think about is, if I’m the prospect, where am I at in the buyer journey? And this is critical because if I’m early in the buyer journey, I’m in denial that I even have a problem that needs to be solved. So why would I even care about it the ROI metrics in said video testimonial, right? Now at that point, what would be more effective is actually some sort of, customer video content that’s less of an outright endorsement, but more maybe talking about more of like a high level trend, almost more like thought leadership, top of the funnel perspective, you know, demand gen, through the voice of a customer.
You’re exactly right. Like there are more video testimonials out there than ever. And in my opinion, it just means like we as customer marketers, as advocate markers, the standards have just been raised, and therefore it behooves us to just think about it a little bit more strategically in terms of following the best practices. So are we making sure we align on the personas? Are we making sure that whatever message is in this customer video aligns with where that particular prospect is in the buyer journey, whether it’s being used on a one-to-one basis or as part of a larger integrated campaign.
Margot Leong: Do you have any examples of how you’ve seen this play out with organizations thinking about it in a very holistic way?
Sam Shepler: Yeah, absolutely. I think one example that I’ve seen some of our customers do is sponsored LinkedIn video ads, pretty short, 30 seconds. More like their customer is doing thought leadership and maybe they don’t even mention the product, but it’s kind of tangentially implied that, Oh yeah, like, ultimately at the end of the day they’re using product or solution X to solve this. So like, I think it’s all just content at the end of the day. And it just so happens that customer content is just so powerful and always going to be credible.
There’s this really good book on this that people might be interested, it’s called The Messenger Is The Message. Deena Zenyk is the author of it, Deena Zenyk and Mark Organ. What they talk about is like the messenger is the message, as it relates to customers where it’s like the fact that the message is coming from a customer transforms the message itself.
Margot Leong: Yes. And I think that, so much from a marketing perspective, we’ve been taught to be like, okay, like it’s not only good enough that the customer is talking about something they’re interested in and we’re associated, but the customer must also talk about like how great we are in order to like push it home. And I really like what you’re saying here, which is the association, just purely the association of us with this brand, is already doing so much to convey because if you think about it, people only have a relatively short attention span, right. Which is why the lengths of these videos get shorter and shorter.
And so think about what are the top things that you would want them to take away, even if they were to just watch a few seconds of the video, it’s basically like, okay. X big name company is talking about this and like it’s being promoted by this other company. And I’m assuming that the way that they’re connected is that the big name company is using this other company for some sort of solution. That in and of itself to leave someone with that takeaway is one of the only things that you really need, especially at that more sort of brand awareness, top of the funnel part of the journey.
Sam Shepler: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s exactly right. And we draw this distinction between customer content and what we call like, ” happy quotes.” Right? The fact is like buyers today are super savvy, right. More and more research is done in it in a self-serve manner. So like, I think the old way of testimonials, even in general, it was just like happy quotes, right? Like, nice, like, positive endorsements, while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, like to your point, like that’s not really what buyers today find valuable or even really want. They want to learn, they wanna get tips, they want to develop their expertise, they want to be educated.
I think there’s a huge opportunity to reframe the whole goal of content marketing, but then just ask ourselves the question, well, how can we leverage our customers and the voice of the customer to fulfill what was the initial goal of content marketing.
Margot Leong: Exactly, exactly. And I think coming from a community and customer advocacy background, and now leading marketing at another company, like it seems like such a no brainer for me like that, where’s the first place that we would look for expertise in these topics in which we would like to be known for or associated with our brand. Obviously it’s the people that are using our product in the first place. We don’t have to go out right now and pay a future of workplace consultant to come on our webinar. So many of your customers have a lot of these thoughts themselves and are able to provide not only okay. Like yeah, the product is great, but they can also provide real thoughts on how they are doing things better in their workplace overall, right? There’s so much wisdom that your customers can provide and it actually always feels a bit more sort of down to earth because your prospects can identify themselves in who you’re using in terms of showcasing your customers.
Sam Shepler: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Andy Raskin and his work around strategic narrative. Love his content. As an aside, what we’re really working on our strategic narrative right now and you know, a big part of the beginning of it is this thesis that we now live in a world where customer stories are more powerful than marketing content. Not that marketing content isn’t important, but marketing content alone is really no longer enough to generate sufficient leads and accelerate pipeline. The best marketers out there, they are really leveraging customer stories to win. So couldn’t agree more.
Margot Leong: B2B is all going in the direction of word of mouth marketing, and word of mouth has always been the most powerful type of marketing. So many guests on the show have basically alluded to this, which is that people are not really trusting vendors anymore. They’re not going to reach out to sales, they are going to do their research, you can bet they’re going to ask their friends, be on Slack communities asking for recommendations, right?
And I think that part of this is just because there’s so much noise out there constantly, not just from a marketing standpoint and content standpoint, just because we’re inundated with just so much information that I see everything going towards curation. Where am I going to choose to buy something? There’s so much work required to look for and research all these different options, just help me narrow things down by like throwing out some options or just telling me what you love and like, I’m probably going to do it. I’m kind of lazy. So if someone recommends a product, I’ll do some due diligence in terms of just making sure it fits with what I want, but most of the time, like I’m just going to buy it and I’m not going to do that much research if someone recommends it.
Sam Shepler: And that’s the power of customer video content because it’s just like, yeah, the social proof is right there and lets us make decisions faster.
Margot Leong: I think about it in like two tiers in terms of what is powerful. So if you think about the spectrum of all of the content that marketing could be putting out, what I think is like least powerful is maybe ads. But then you also have on the other end of the spectrum, just purely word of mouth in which we have nothing to do with it as marketers. It’s just friends talking to friends. Of course, we really can’t track that very well, but then the next level down is customer stories which are basically sort of replicating kind of that word of mouth feel, at least it’s social proof. Customer stories are definitely more on the more efficacious side of the spectrum.
Sam Shepler: Absolutely.
Margot Leong: We talked about how there’s so much noise out there. There’s all sorts of customer testimonial videos now, right. And so how do you stand out? I would love to hear your opinion on what you think differentiates good versus bad from a testimonial standpoint, or maybe what are some of the pitfalls that you see videos fall into that the audience can maybe avoid?
Sam Shepler: It’s a great question and there’s definitely some nuance to it. I don’t necessarily think there’s any objectively good or bad. Well, okay. Maybe there are some, but I think that’s actually not the most common mistake. I think maybe the most common mistake is just not necessarily respecting where the buyer is in the buyer journey and taking like a one size fits all approach.
For example, just having like a two minute long testimonial that takes one minute to really heat up and like get to the point. That’s kind of a pretty common format. It’s not one that we use, but that’s sort of like the old outdated format. It’s not necessarily wrong. But it’s just very slow building: context, context, context, but the problem is most people watch about half of any given video. So like, if you don’t even get to the point until like the second half of the video, then they’re never going to get there.
And that might be fine for someone who earned that attention, and they’re later on in the buyer journey, then maybe they’ve already had a sales call but if it’s more like top of the funnel, that’s not a video you want to drive conversions with. Like you want a 45 second version of that video testimonial, and it needs to be structured at a much higher clip in terms of the pacing in the kind of the what’s in it for me for the viewer. They always want to hear from customers, but they have different attention spans and frankly, different questions at different stages in the process. In our case, we always include the standard 90 seconds as well as that you know, 30 to 45, second version as well. And then we also have 15 second versions, et cetera.
So the biggest thing that a lot of people haven’t really started doing yet is thinking about, you know, more like making your customer videos more extensible, more atomized. So you’re splitting them up into micro content. We have a lot of customers who even doing topic-based edits. We call them objection crushers. So like there’s always like a couple really common questions that the sales team is trying to handle, like common objections. So every time when we sign a new customer, we get some info on what are the biggest questions, fears, and doubts that come up in the buyer journey. And then once we know that, we can create very laser focused videos just for that. So like a 45 to 60 second video just for that. That’s the biggest room for improvement is just taking a more nuanced perspective and having a more micro content philosophy.
Margot Leong: Yeah. This touches back on something I alluded to in the beginning, which is like, I’m always afraid that because we, as customer marketers are often so involved not of course with just making the video, but like we know the customer story inside and out already and like it creates this bias in which we assume people care much more than they do. And so I love that you talked about people only typically watch about half of any given video. It’s a very good point to get much more specific about what are we trying to achieve with different parts of the video and making sure that ahead of time, as much as possible, if you know the story, right, then to outline and make sure that you’re covering those specific points that you want to hit on, within the context of your larger library of content.
I think a problem that I see a lot of companies have is that the same type of customers are answering the same type of questions and it all starts to like blur together. And so what you should really be doing is thinking, okay, like, this video has this type of customer in this geo and we hit on these specific points about the product and also maybe it addresses one of the QFD’s. And so I’ve got all these other QFDs floating around. How do I make sure that future content answers some of those other ones, so that we can easily chop those up and be able to feed those during different parts of the buyer journey?
Sam Shepler: Also for customer marketers, it makes us look great to our CEO, right. Or to whoever, right. You know, because sales loves this, but they’re not thinking about it obviously right there. So you can like literally blow their mind and they’d be like, you made me some objection crushers? Like they’re going to be like raving to the CEO about customer marketing because it’s going to help them win deals so much. Yeah, it all fits together.
Margot Leong: A topic that I think a lot of customer marketers, especially early on in their careers, are always wondering is, what does it mean to get to the next level? And this can apply to anyone and honestly, any position, but how do I go from being more quote, unquote only tactically focused to being more strategic. This is a perfect example of how you can be more strategic in your thinking. It’s not just okay. Go make me a customer video. It’s then saying, okay, like I have XYZ budget to create. Let me think about what would be the best thing to do. Let me go talk to a bunch of different people on different teams to understand, okay. Like what would be the most helpful for the company, at this time, and then figuring out, okay this is why we decided to choose this specific video.
And something that I remember one of the CMOs used to say, a few start-ups ago was just like, I trust people. But I just want to make sure that, whatever you do, you are thoughtful about it. And I didn’t really understand what she meant by that, but I think this is exactly like hitting the nail on the head, which is don’t just do it without really thinking about like what this actually means for the business and how to do it in the best way possible, because it’s that type of thinking, right. That is actually going to propel you forward. And this also allows you to provide true justification if anyone asks. Why did you make the decision that you made, right? So all of this stuff is really good when just forcing you to think about strategy and like here’s some of the specific things that you can do when it comes to videos to make it truly strategic.
Sam Shepler: Yeah. It’s so true. I always think of like, what are the strategic initiatives at the executive level, And then like, how can we map customer stories to that?
Margot Leong: Yeah, how do you typically advise that your clients measure ROI of videos? What are some thoughts that you have there?
Sam Shepler: So one way is just utilization. There’s some stat out there that like 80% or so of like marketing content that gets created those unused or whatever. Right. Possibly that’s fine. Cause we all know that like X percentage marketing content is just SEO content but yeah, so I think utilization is one like is, is the sales team using it? Is it influencing deals? Is the demand gen team using it? Is it being used in campaigns? Is it being used in email flows?
And with all the tools that we have today with marketing automation, you can basically get as technical as you so desire in terms of like attribution, how much pipeline it has influenced and by using a business video hosting player, like Vidyard or Wistia and connecting it to your marketing automation, all of that being said, I find that most marketers, at least from our clients and people that I follow, they don’t worry so much about the ROI of video testimonials, which sounds crazy, but let me explain. So Udi Ledergor, CMO at Gong, he was asked this question and I’m paraphrasing him, but he basically said, we don’t obsess about ROI for everything we do. Like, sometimes we just do things because they make sense, and video testimonials, is one of them and then he went on to say like, anyone who’s worked with sales knows that the number one thing they want is more case studies. They want case studies from the same industry, geography, customer size, persona, et cetera, et cetera.
He basically goes on to say if sales is using them and they’re helping them close deals, that’s all the attribution that you need. And I absolutely agree with that. And then I also agree, like if you have the time and the bandwidth and the tools, then yeah. You can also get super granular.
Margot Leong: I love that you brought up Udi. I had actually heard about him from him being interviewed on another person that you and I both follow, you know, Dave Gerhardt, DG. He also talks a lot about how amplification is also our job too. It’s not just enough to create the content, and then to wonder why no one’s utilizing it. It’s someone’s job to also make sure that this is getting pushed out as much as possible, because if you think about creating something that you put so much work into, and then it’s basically like, all right, we pushed it out and then I’ll never look at it again. Are we doing everything we can to make sure that those are not only being amplified as much as possible, but also being amplified in the right ways at the right stages of the journey.
So we’re seeing a shift where prospects just interact with the content natively, but you know, as marketers, that’s not necessarily the systems that we have right now in place, because in the past previous five years, it’s like, Oh, we can measure everything. We can track everything. Like keep it in this walled garden and track it. Who cares if we have to make people jump through hoops and I don’t know if it’s been solved yet, but it’s something that I’m looking at and we need a better tool for that as well, so something I’m very much looking into.
Margot Leong: I think at the end of the day, like I think customers will appreciate vendors that just want to do right by them and think about how they would want to interact with that content. And I think the rest often follows. It’s when you get too obsessive about that sort of thing. As you said, make people jump through hoops to get to the content that you worked so hard to create. I’m always like, look, people are not necessarily going to buy your thing immediately once they click on your content, right. It’s really more when they’re in the right state of mind. So what are you making sure that you do to make sure that you are top of mind when they are in the right state of mind to want to buy your thing?
So I think that marketing needs to make this massive shift from buy me now, because I gave you content versus buy me when it makes sense. And like I’m the first thing on your mind. I want us to start moving more in that direction, I think we’re naturally starting to do that anyway.
So I can’t believe it’s been a year that we’ve been dealing with the pandemic and COVID and of course it looks like there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines coming. At the same time, I think that what we perceive to be quote unquote normalcy may not even return until the end of the year, if not later, in many countries. So I’d be curious to understand what the shift has looked like when it comes to testimonial videos over the past year for you. How have you seen companies adapt to this?
Sam Shepler: It’s interesting because even when the pandemic is over, work from home is going to remain. So many of the same situations will apply. I guess in terms of how companies have been adapting, to be honest, I think a good chunk of them have kind of threw up their hands and said, all right, well, we’re not doing our testimonials this year, I guess. And then a lot of them reached out to us, or we reached out to them and we sorta kind of like blew their mind. Because wait, you mean we can create world-class testimonials still? Like, I didn’t know that. So there’s that segment.
I think there’s another segment where they took a really rough and ready approach and film it over zoom, you know, do whatever we need to do. So I’d say those are the biggest. things that I’m seeing. I think that remote testimonials are here to stay because remote workers are here to stay.
Margot Leong: I’d love to understand actually a little bit more like what that looks like. So talk to me about what that middle area looks like.
Sam Shepler: There’s a couple of things. The first thing is that you’re going to get a way higher video filming on people’s smartphones. In the beginning of the pandemic, companies were pretty unprepared, and like a lot of times, there was actually like broadcast commercials that were filmed on smartphone because that was the capability they had. Point one is that smartphones are miles ahead of webcams, plus they don’t have to worry about the internet latency issues. It’s the best camera that everyone has on them, and that’s what our process is built around.
And then, the next question that people ask me is like, well, what do you do for B roll? Right? Because we’re all used to these options for onsite shoots, it’s great to be able to film that B roll around the office, you don’t really have that on a remote shoot. So for the remote shoot, we basically found that a great solution there that anyone can employ is taking product screenshots, product UI, and animating that, adding a little bit of context in place of the B roll that you might not otherwise have, to add like a nice little depth and blur and just overall cover the cuts in the video because that is an important part.
Margot Leong: How do you set that up so it doesn’t feel awkward? Is it that the customers get the questions ahead of time. What does the setup look like?
Sam Shepler: So I’ll just give the super high level, you’re basically exactly right. So first things first, when we always send the questions ahead of time, we tell people there’s no need to prepare extensively. Like we don’t want people rehearsing, it’s not gonna be authentic. We want them speaking off the cuff, but we definitely do send them the questions in advance. So we do about 20 to 25 of these a week, it’s usually it’s just a 30 minute block of time, so it’s not a huge ask of your customer. The first five minutes, one of our producers spends getting the shot set up and there’s a lot that goes into it.
But basically let’s just say like the beginning, it’s all about making sure their phone is in the right spot And the lighting and audio is good. And then we actually run the interview once we’ve confirmed that the shot looks great. We actually conduct the interview live over Zoom, but again, we’re recording the footage directly from the smartphone. So we have that back and forth conversation so we can kind of dig in a little bit more, you know, tell me more about that. Why did you feel that way? We can follow up and have that live conversation to really suss out the the most powerful bits of the story while we’re just recording simultaneously on the smartphone. And then right after the interview they just one click upload from their camera roll. And that’s basically when we go to town editing.
We have like two major concerns and one is like making it easy for the testifying customer and that’s honestly super important, right. The other is obviously the quality. We have elected to take the approach we have and we’ve built out the system to make it so easy for the testifying customer, so they don’t have to download any new apps. They don’t have to install or create any logins. They don’t have to open and set up any equipment, because all of those things kind of just introduce friction and make it a harder ask. We’re just focused on making it super high quality, but also easy. Because it’s like at the end of the day, it’s something that is a favor to ask of your customer, so it needs to be as seamless as possible.
Margot Leong: Absolutely. I’m so appreciative that you took the time to chat with us today, but my last question of course is, how can people find you if they’d like to reach out and learn a bit more?
Sam Shepler: Thanks for having me on, Margot. This has been great. I’m a long time listener, first time caller. So yeah, it’s been just a pleasure and I’m so glad that we had a chance to do this. If anyone wants to reach out it’s Testimonial Hero, testimonialhero.com, lots of examples of testimonials that we’ve done remote, as well as onsite there. And then on LinkedIn: Sam Shepler, feel free to shoot me a message. Say hi. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn.
Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody.