Why testimonials work so well

What do you do if your prospect knows nothing about you, as is often the case? How can you sway or “nudge” their thinking about your business, products, or services?

You do it by including plenty of testimonials in your marketing materials.

Testimonials overcome a prospect’s skepticism (“Who the heck are you? And why should I listen to you anyway?”) by helping them connect emotionally to other people who’ve used and liked your products. Reading those true-life stories makes prospects more receptive to what you have to say. And sell.

Testimonials are a cornerstone of direct-marketing success because they are real comments from real people. Not, as David Ogilvy said, “the puffery of an anonymous copywriter.”

Today, I’m going to show you not just how to get testimonials… but how to get really good ones.

All I Did Was Ask

Some years back, I had a client who knew he needed testimonials to punch up his marketing. But he had no idea how to go about it.

I went through his database of 4,500 customers and selected 10 people from diverse backgrounds. A businessman, a homemaker, a computer programmer, a doctor, a student, a stand-up comic, a teacher …

I then went through the list of 10, one by one — and wound up with 10 testimonials.

My client used these testimonials in advertising, leaflets, newsletters, and press releases. I even had three of those customers interviewed on local television.

How did I get them? To borrow the title of Terri Gross’s book (she’s host of the radio show “Fresh Air”) … All I Did Was Ask.

Based on What I’ve Learned Over the Years, Here Are Some Tips…

1. If you know the customer on a somewhat personal level, just call them. Say that you’d like a testimonial about your product, service, or a particular experience they had. (“I was lost in the woods with bears all around, and your plane-in-a-suitcase saved my life.”) If they seem open to it, ask if they can give you the testimonial right there on the phone. You can write it down or use a handheld recorder. When you hear a particularly good snippet, say, “That’s good. May we use it?”

2. If you’re on less familiar terms with the customer, write a short letter or e-mail first. Explain that you’d love to share their good experiences with your product with others, and ask them to e-mail their testimonial to you. If you don’t hear back in four or five days, phone them.

3. Say thank you. Even if you’ve already thanked the customer over the phone, write a thank you note. Include a copy of the testimonial. Tell them when and how you expect to use it. I’ve always included a small gift, too.

4. Before you call or e-mail a customer to ask for a testimonial, prepare some questions to help them get into it. Questions that will evoke more than a yes/no response. For example: “What’s your favorite dish on our menu?” “Could you share a little more about the day you got trapped in the snowstorm? How did our emergency beacon help the rescuers find you?” “How does the yield of our seeds compare with other brands you’ve used?”

5. It’s okay to edit the testimonials. A customer may give you a page-long story with rambling non sequiturs — but that’s not going to help your business. Cut it down to get to the point. Keep the meat and trim the fat.

6. Try to use all the testimonials you get. If you get something that’s not appropriate for the promotion you’re currently working on, use it in the future.

7. Keep a “testimonial file.” And remember that collecting testimonials is a process, not a destination. Always be on the lookout for good ones. Ask your customer service folks to do the same. (They will often receive calls and e-mails that can be turned into great testimonials.)

More Tips — From Some of My Own Marketing Mentors

From Bob Bly:

“What I look for in a testimonial — more than anything else — is SPECIFIC RESULTS. (‘I made a 100% gain in my portfolio in 12 months with the Trade Triangle.’) I’m less interested in superlatives. (‘Thanks to the Trade Triangle, I can trade with confidence and have shortened my learning curve.’)”

From John Forde:

“I like ‘real,’ so I try not to touch grammar mistakes or awkward writing. (Though I will do some editing if it speeds up the testimonial a bit.)”

From Michael Masterson:

“I much prefer testimonials with full names. And I don’t like testimonials that seem made up. The grittier they are the better. Testimonials that express doubts are terrific. In fact, I wish I had one for every doubt the prospect might entertain. A testimonial that states and then refutes the doubt … what could be better than that?”

Your Testimonial Action Plan

Every experienced marketer I know swears by the power of customer testimonials.

So start building your testimonial file today. And use those testimonials everywhere. Your website, direct-mail promotions, and pay-per-click campaigns. Your press releases, postcard mailings, and e-mail signatures.

Remember, all you have to do is ask.

P.S. Securing glowing testimonials for your products and services is one of the keys to growing a profitable business. They help set you apart from the competition. And they make your prospects feel like they are taking less of a risk by making the decision to buy from you. For more tips on marketing your Internet business, check out my Internet Rant newsletter. Each week, I cover a different element of online marketing, from search engines to Web design to e-mail.