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7 Simple Rules for Getting the Most From Your Testimonials

Aug 18, 2007
Savvy business owners know the value of testimonials, yet many don't understand exactly how to take full advantage of this fabulous form of third-party endorsement. What's a third-party endorsement? Someone else tooting your horn for you!

According to dictionary.com, "testimonial" comes from the root word "testimony," which derives from the Latin root testis (witness) and means "evidence in support of a fact or assertion; proof." So how can you make the most of testimonials in your marketing materials, Web copy, brochures, ads, e-zines, and business cards? There are seven simple rules to keep in mind.

RULE #1: Use the right testimonials. Although we may be a bit skeptical about the people who offer all those endorsements, at the end of the day, if no one is willing to say how good your product or service is, you're less likely to entice new prospects to give you a try. Generally speaking, the more testimonials, the better - as long as each one promotes a different benefit or overcomes a different objection.
Benefit-related testimonials answer questions that describe your business's features and benefits, like:

- What kinds of problems have you successfully solved for others?
- How does your knowledge/expertise help your clients?
- Why are people willing to pay you more than they'll pay others in your industry?

Objection-related testimonials address the questions and doubts people might raise about doing business with you, such as:

- You offer high-ticket items where the cost might be a factor.
- You have a difficult-to-reach location.
- You are new to the business.

RULE #2: Avoid the "I HOPE so!" factor. The one thing that will nullify your testimonial faster than you can say, "I wanna be a millionaire" is the "I Hope So!" factor. I recently saw a gorgeous, full-color, 12-page brochure for an elite summer camp; we're talking tuition of $1,450 per WEEK. Understandably, they paid big bucks for this marketing piece. The entire brochure was stunning, until I reached the testimonial page. The first two testimonials for the camp read:

"My son had a lot of fun at XYZ Summer Camp."


"My daughter really enjoyed her time at camp -
she made some great new friends."

You've got to be kidding, right? For $1,450 per week, my kid had better have the time of his life at your summer camp! They had the right idea, but the wrong testimonials.

RULE #3: Be specific. What would have improved the above "I HOPE so!" testimonials? Specifics. "Jack had always been terrified of the water, but during his time at camp, he won the ribbon for most improved swimmer!"

When it comes to a business testimonial, make sure your clients include the details about how much your product or service helped them. They increased their online conversions by 39.3% or they lost 23 pounds or they met the girl of their dreams after 17 first dates. The key here is to use exact numbers; do not round up or down. Rounded numbers sound less "real" and less convincing.

Also, as much as possible, use identifying information for the people who provide your testimonials. First name, last name, city, Web address, e-mail address. Let your prospects know these testimonials came from REAL people.

RULE #4: Ask for testimonials as soon as you've finished a job or delivered a product. Your satisfied clients often are more than willing to give you a testimonial - but like you, they're busy, so they won't always voluntarily offer. Sometimes, you have to ask!

The best time to ask for a testimonial is while your client or customer is beaming with satisfaction at the great job you've done. At this point, they are most inclined to offer glowing praise, full of the emotion that will connect with your future customers. You may still get a great testimonial if you wait until later to ask, but your chances of getting the best possible promotion from them are improved if you catch them in the moment.

RULE #5: The more senior/famous the individual, the more weight their testimonial carries. It just stands to reason that people are inclined to pay more attention to the president of a company than to a $10/hour employee. Likewise, celebrity being what it is, we pay even more attention to famous people. Reach for the stars when it comes to your testimonials. If you've impressed a high-profile client, ask them to share the details about their fantastic experience working with you.

Go after testimonials from the most senior / famous / credible people possible, but make sure the testimonials are true. It will do you no good to have someone famous vouch for your stunning ability to design Olympic-quality swimming pools if you've never built a pool in your life.

RULE #6: Make sure you know the person you're asking to testify for you. Because a testimonial means that someone is vetting you, having an individual give you a testimonial automatically links you, by association, with that person and/or their business - for good or ill. So do your homework before asking for a testimonial. Make sure the person speaking on your behalf is someone you want to be associated with.
And vice versa. If you are asked for a testimonial, be generous and truthful. But if you don't know the person very well, or you'd really rather not provide them a testimonial, be honest and tell them. Don't let yourself be badgered into doing something that doesn't feel right.

A testimonials is not retractable. Once given, it's given. You can delete it from your marketing copy, but if you've been matched with an unsavory person or business, it can be difficult to undo that "guilt by association."

RULE #7: Give people choices. People are more likely to give you a testimonial if you make it easy for them. Offer them a choice of ways to provide their testimonials.

- Have people write their own testimonial and e-mail it to you - or, better yet, send you a copy on their letterhead.

- Put some thoughts down on paper for your client and ask them to OK your pre-written testimonial and/or send you a copy on their letterhead.

- Gain control over what your client will say by interviewing them about their experience of working with you. Ideally, the interviewer is a third party, the reason being that your client could be hesitant to be completely honest if you were asking the questions, even if their potential comments were positive. This process works well because it allows you to preselect the questions, in effect guiding the speaker's comments. Later, you can edit the responses to craft a complete testimonial that best suits your needs. You can include all or some of the words from the interview, provided that you do not alter the meaning with your editing.

- Give your client an added incentive to provide a testimonial by adding their picture. A photo helps both them and you. For them, it is an additional opportunity for personal recognition; for you, it personalizes the testimonial, adding an air of authenticity and credibility to it.

- Think about an audio testimonial. One way is to have them leave you a message on your voice mail. This allows you to listen, duplicate, and transcribe it yourself. Another option is to purchase a software program that allows you to capture and preserve voice data for recordings or use on your Web site.

- Even more powerful than audio testimonials are those captured on video, and it's never been easier. Using your cell phone or mini-Web cam to capture the power of a real person speaking on your behalf is unmatched in its ability to convince others of your greatness.
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