How to get the perfect testimonial

Testimonials are one of the most persuasive forms of marketing around – and they’re free. For potential clients, a testimonial is solid evidence that you’re worth trusting.  Find out how you can source testimonials that will persuade new clients to choose your business.

The steps

  1. Write down your clients’ questions
  2. Find the right people
  3. Get the right response
  4. Edit wisely

1. Write down your clients’ questions

“Convince me.”  That’s what potential clients are thinking when they come to your testimonials page.  You’ve already passed two hurdles:  they know your business exists, and you’ve got their attention.  But they’ll still have some questions that you have to answer before they’ll come on board.

Answering your clients questions removes barriers to buying, and builds trust by showing you understand them. Engaging your clients’ state of mind is the difference between a simple compliment and a testimonial that’s really going to bring in new business.

Here’s an example. is a (fictional) Australian cloud-computing provider.  One of the most common questions potential customers ask them is ‘what level of support do you provide?’ If that’s the client’s mindset, which do you think will be more effective:

1) “ are great to work with” OR
2) “ are always ready to answer even the simplest questions – and they’re great to work with.”

2.  Find the right people

For a testimonial, it’s not just important what’s said, but who’s saying it.

There are two factors at work here:  relatability and status.  We  pay more attention to the opinions of people we can relate to; people like us.  So for smartfish, if their ideal clients are IT administrators, they should seek testimonials from this group.

We also give more weight to opinions of people based on their status – their role in an organisation, or their position as an expert in a field.  If Richard Branson will return your email, then use him.

A word of caution:  please don’t use anonymous testimonials.  They are worse than nothing.  What would be your reaction if you read a testimonial saying, “Smartfish are the most competent and responsive IT provider I have ever worked with”, signed, Happy Customer? Not only do you miss out on the relatability and status benefits; you leave yourself open to the suspicion that you’ve made it up.

3.  Get the right response

Here’s where the rubber hits the road.  First, choose the best way to contact your referees.  I always prefer phone: it’s easier to get a response, the answers sound more natural, and you can do other relationship-building work at the same time.

Now get ready to guide your referee.  Asking open-ended questions like ‘so, how did it go?’ (or even worse, ‘can I please have a testimonial’) will get you vague answers that don’t speak to your client’s reservations. Instead, use the client questions from step 1 to seek high-quality, relevant responses.  For example, might ask ‘What’s your feedback on the level of support we provided.’ You an also add an open-ended question at the end: ‘anything else you’d like to add’.

4.  Edit wisely

The responses you get may need some light editing for length.  Each testimonial should be no longer than a paragraph. Visitors to your website don’t want to wade through pleasantries – they just want their question answered.  If you get a lot of good, relevant material, think about turning it into a case study (see my blog post on this topic, linked to at the end of this post).

A raw testimonial may also need some editing so that it makes sense. For example, get a testimonial for their file-sharing app, which is called ‘Guppy.’ A testimonial that reads “It’s a great product…’ could be edited to read ‘Guppy is a great product.’

Deciding if you edit – and how much – is a judgement call.  Only you can decide what level of editing your referee will be comfortable with.  If in doubt, always check.

It can take a while to build a bank of really strong testimonials, but it’s worth doing. That first quality testimonial will make a massive difference in convincing new clients to choose your business.

Read on…

Why case studies beat blogs and facebook. one of my blog posts on how, like testimonials, case studies add credibility

Letting go of the wordsGinny Redish. the best book on web content I’ve read.  Great for understanding how your clients questions should influence all aspects of your web content.

InfluenceRobert Cialdini. Covers influence factors, including status and social proof. Not the first time I’ve recommended this book on this blog – and it won’t be the last.

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