Take a moment to try this thought experiment … At what point in your life did you look at your birth certificate to confirm that you were indeed born on the day that your parents said you were born?
For most people, the answer is never. You simply took your parents’ word. Because you trusted them.
Your parents hopefully did a lot of things to help build that trust — like feed and clothe you, teach you lessons, play with you, and protect you. People who don’t have that experience, however, feel something entirely different: they question everything. They don’t inherently trust.
For most of us, though, if we read or hear something from someone we know, like, and trust, we accept it without question.
As an entrepreneur, you need to think of your customer as a child who’s been burned one too many times. Who’s been hoodwinked, ridiculed, and neglected. Who’s defensive, reserved, and hard-nosed.
In fact, this is the case. Your job is to win the trust of that child.
Five simple methods
Joanna Wiebe presents a concept called “So What? Prove it.” It’s a blunt way of examining how your prospect views your product claims.
To make your prospects care, you need to show them how your product can make them see a better version of themselves. And then you need to prove it.
The conventional way to prove a claim is to present testimonials, endorsements, or press mentions — leveraging the power of a source that is known, liked, and trusted.
But if your product is new, then you’re likely wondering how you can generate these statements of social proof.
The answer is, incorporate gathering proof into the product development process.
Then, you won’t have to put a lot of pressure on yourself and scramble to acquire social proof the moment you launch a brand-new product.
Here’s how to generate proof as you develop your product.
1. Offer free trials
In The Robert Collier Letter Book, Robert Collier tells the story of a Pennsylvania mail order house that used typical rules of attention and interest but their main argument rested on proof.
In other words, testimonials. This is one of their ads:
When 10,000 men from all over the country send all the way out here just to get a raincoat, there must be something unusual about these coats.
Statements we write about ourselves don’t have as much impact as statements that come from someone else.
And it doesn’t matter if you are in a little town tucked away in Pennsylvania, or living in the mountains of Thailand, you can build a business on the back of statements coming from the mouths of customers.
As Collier said:
Let some third person make the statement, however, apparently from excess of enthusiasm over the wonderful value or service he has received, and we prick up our ears. Let that be backed by positive proof and we are ready to risk our money.
But how do you get third-person statements if you don’t have any customers yet?
What you can do: Run a free trial. Onboard as many people as you can in the early stages of your product launch. In these early stages, ask for feedback through email or a membership forum.
And when the free trial ends and someone converts to a paying customer, send that person an email that says something like:
Thank you for using [your product name]! Let us know how we can help. And if you don’t mind, would you let us know if you’d recommend our product to family and friends? And if so, why?”
And you have a testimonial.
2. Create superb welcome experiences
If you bought a Tilley fishing hat a few years ago, you received a letter that congratulated you on buying one of their hats, gave you tips on how to care for the hat, mentioned an enclosed gift, and pitched a few other relevant products.
That’s on the front cover of the letter. Flip the letter over, and the magic was on the back.
There you found an “Insurance Certificate.” This “insurance” allows you to get a replacement hat for half-off if the hat is lost or stolen.
This is a cute and clever gimmick, but it makes the buying experience thrilling, and it may inspire a customer to write a testimonial.
The testimonial might end up in your email inbox. These days, people also frequently praise great customer experiences on social media. When you discover these testimonials, ask the writers for permission to use them.
But you don’t have to wait around for that to happen. To garner a testimonial, Tilley could send an email a few days after the package arrived with this:
How are you enjoying your new fishing hat? Had a chance to land a big one yet? Let us know when you do. And if you don’t mind, would you let us know if you’d recommend our product to family and friends? And if so, why? Thank you!
What you can do: Deliver a superior experience to your users, and then check in with your customers (once you have them) to find out their exact thoughts about your product.
3. Ask for volunteers
Do you belong to a forum? A mastermind group? A Facebook group?
These communities can be the perfect places to find willing testers who will review and give you feedback about your product.
I’ve seen this happen dozens of times inside of Authority: People create a new forum thread, write a brief introduction, and then ask for feedback. Depending on the size and warmth of the group, two or three people usually volunteer.
If their experiences are positive, you can ask them if you can use their comments as testimonials.
What you can do: Tap the members of your communities to test your product and provide feedback — and remember to return the favor when they’re ready to reveal their next product.
4. Build relationships with credible experts
In the publishing world, authors often get influential people to recommend their books. Inside the opening pages of a book, potential readers can see high-profile people saying great things about the book.
But how do you approach credible experts who get many requests?
Remember what you should always be doing: building meaningful relationship with other people. You can interact with influencers on Twitter, or comment on their blogs or podcasts.
What you can do: Cultivate relationships over time and offer to be ridiculously useful as a general practice — long before you even conceive of your product idea.
You’ll be well-positioned to discuss your product when the time is right.
You can also hire an expert to design the product itself or collaborate with a top-notch engineer. With their permission, use these experts’ names when promoting your product. Tell the world that they helped you refine your creation — whether it’s a software product or podcast.
5. Invite people to a beta version
Our early Rainmaker Platform launch involved a few hundred people who got access to the platform. Mind you, these people still had to pay to play, but because we allowed them to become part of the product development process, they were internally motivated to write about the Rainmaker Platform.
We gave them a clean, usable system, but we wanted users to tell us what they wished it could do.
We had a clear idea of what we wanted it to do, but we wanted to ask actual users. Within weeks, and without prompting beta version participants, full-fledged reviews began cropping up everywhere.
As we hoped, people were honest, and gave us both useful feedback and testimonials.
What you can do: Create a strong community with your first customers and make it clear that they are part of the product development process.
When you open the communication channels with your audience and encourage feedback, you and your customers ultimately end up with an improved version of the existing product.
Collect, curate, and publish the best testimonials
The product development stage is the ideal time to collect an initial group of testimonials.
Over time, make collecting testimonials from customers a priority. Keep them in one central location so you, and anyone else who creates content for you, can draw from them.
Eventually, you’ll go from zero to 10,000 satisfied customers, and you’ll have plenty of potent testimonials and endorsements to choose from when you need to dispel doubt in the mind of a cynical, cagey customer.
Let us know over on LinkedIn how you encourage feedback from customers and collect testimonials!