5 Tips for Knockout Testimonials

Word of Mouth image

Do testimonials work? I know they do, because I owe my marriage to one.

Picture a shy sixteen-year-old trainee nerd, nervously sweating in his brand new “I can’t believe it’s not wool” suit, and desperately trying to catch the eye of the pretty secretary. The stammering young man, of course, is me. The odds were long, and in fact it’s fair to say I didn’t stand a chance.

Not only was this lovely lady three years my senior (a huge obstacle at that age), she was also assistant to the Chief Executive. Just walking up to the office was a gut-wrenching flashback to those visits to the headmaster’s office from only a year or so before.

Somehow I did manage to get a date, but only through the magic of the testimonial.

Ultimately, after many failed attempts to squeak out something remarkable, I decided to switch tactics. Instead of the direct approach, I asked a mutual friend to prepare the way with a lavish dose of my most excellent attributes. Luckily, this friend ignored me and instead presented a more humble and accurate picture. This warts-and-all testimonial surprisingly clinched the deal.

What Others Say Matters Most

What does this tell us, other than the obvious reflection of my teenage dating prowess?

Testimonials are intermediated word-of-mouth marketing, and they do work when credible. In fact they work very well indeed if you work hard to get the right kind of testimonial. They can provide the much-needed social proof that tips a wavering prospect into a paying customer.

It’s hard to sing your own praises, and it rarely works when you do. In a testimonial, you have a third party saying what you might not be able to. Effective testimonials avoid hyperbole and specifically address a potential sticking point that a prospect might arrive at.

Here are five tips for making good use of testimonials:

  1. Don’t over-edit. Testimonials work best when they are in “real” language. Those small grammar and language quirks help the reader connect and demonstrate they are real.
  2. Use testimonials that fit. Place appropriate testimonials along with a particular point that you are trying to make.
  3. Address objections. If a prospect discovers that another customer’s worries have proved groundless, then that person is more confident to reach for the wallet.
  4. Never fake it. While testimonials are crucial, it’s not worth the risk to fake them. Most people have well-trained BS detectors that can smell a fake a mile away.
  5. Encourage specifics. Specificity works in all areas of copywriting, but is especially effective in a testimonial. Rather than “we saw a big improvement,” get your customer to state exactly what the improvement was, such as “we saw a 217% improvement.”

Ask for Testimonials

If a customer ever tells you how much they value your service or asks what they can do for you, ask them for a testimonial. In fact, even if they don’t, ask anyway! Testimonials are that valuable.

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Comments

  1. Hmmm…16 and 19 hooking up? Isn’t that illegal? :-P

  2. Great use of a story to get me to read the whole thang.

    Great bullet points.

    Nice job.

  3. Great tips, Chris. And, also, a very great use of story, in order to hook people into the article.

  4. @David – Not illegal but it certainly wasn’t popular with our parents. I think once they saw their grandchild they became more approving ;)

    @Mike – Thanks, can I quote you? ;)

  5. @Adam – Thanks, I was going to get my wife to write a testimonial as further illustration but unfortunately my timing was a bit off (I am in trouble for not doing the washing up)

  6. Both brilliant and highly entertaining. Great work!

  7. Glad you like it Cam :)

  8. Ah, the testimonial! Great points all around… I keep trying to get my parents to realize the power of testimonials for their businesses.

    It’s happening slowly :)

  9. “# Use testimonials that fit. Place appropriate testimonials along with a particular point that you are trying to make.”

    - I think this point is very overlooked and ultra-important. The more of these I get the more specific I hope they will become, thus allowing me to use them where they are most appropriate.

  10. Useful post Chris. I’m glad to have the reminder to seek specificity. In addition to giving my clients a space for their general comments about working with me, I ask them to complete four statements (see below). You can see what they actually have written on my site in the testimonials section. :-)

    1. Before working with Shonnie, I (fill in the blank). Now I’m (fill in the blank).
    2. My primary purpose in working with Shonnie is/was (fill in the blank).
    3. Working with Shonnie, I reached my goal of (fill in the blank).
    4. What I like(d) best about working with Shonnie is/was (fill in the blank).

    • Roger Moore (really) :

      Hi, I just wanted to say how useful your response is. Being British we are a little “backward at coming forward”, and whilst researching the best approach to testimonials, I came across your approach. ,It is a great approach. Thanks

  11. My wife is two years older than me and it was all in the marketing. Grandchildren do have a way of smoothing out bumps in the family relationships, don’t they?

  12. I totally agree about testimonials making all the difference. Every client I work with I either quote them after reading or hearing something positive they said about our work together or I ask them for a testimonial. So far everyone is very willing to let me use their quotes on my website.

    I also met my husband via a testimonial. A friend told me he was a very nice guy and good-looking also and wanted to fix us up on a blind-date. I went for it because of the testimonial. They were right and here I am 20 years later married to my blind-date.

  13. Heh… that really is quite a big age difference at that age. Nice job, Chris.

  14. @Lawton – A lot of more old-school businesses like the “just the facts” approach but if they asked customers to look at some testimonials they might change their minds

    @Shonnie – Good set of questions there, I have a similar set I got from BrainAudit by Sean D’Souza

    @Matt – Yeah I think grand kids are the real prize for them :)

    @Carole – You are lucky, it’s not always easy to get clients to write them but it is brilliant when they do

    @Jeremy – nice job with the article or the age difference? heh :)

  15. We’ve been very successful with corporate executives by writing the testimonial for them and asking them to sign it. Most VP’s don’t have the time or care enough to write their own, so I do it for them. I’m careful to make it generic enough so I don’t scare them away, but still include a few specifics that address the point I’m trying to make or overcome an objection. No one has ever refused to sign it, although a few have made minor changes. Good post…#2 is the most important.

  16. Don’t forget the most important point of all: The testimonial must come from a source of some value. Such as a renown expert. A senior executive from an organization of some respect. And so on. “Jane from Springfield” will carry far, far less weight than “Bill Gates from Microsoft” will (at least when it comes to technology).

    Cheers!

  17. Expert testimonials are nice, but it’s not always true that they carry more weight than those from “normal” people.

    Prospects want to see that people they identify with have successfully enjoyed the product or service. That can often mean much more than a blurb from an “ivory tower” expert.

  18. I posted this elsewhere, but it bears repeating:

    Let’s just say this: So far, testimonials have been treated as a nice-to-have, but they’re far more than just that. They’re a science. And to get the right testimonials, you need a system that goes way beyond just asking for a ‘testimonial’.

    One of the core factors of testimonials isn’t in what you get, but what you engineer to get a response worthy of your business. This is one factor that’s completely missed out. You don’t get powerful testimonials; you create an environment so that the testimonials are powerful.

    Most sales pages don’t give you an adequate feel for what the real product/service brings. The testimonials do–if you ask for the testimonials in a manner that enables the customers to give you the testimonials.

    If you’re looking to get great testimonials, you’re completely off the mark.

    =================

    The structure of how/when you ask for testimonials is critical.

    It’s a book by itself, but let’s see how I can explain:
    Let’s analyse angles, for instance.

    When you ask for a testimonial, you’re usually saying: Hey (insert name) can you give me a testimonial?

    Which is a slightly crappy way to ask for a testimonial ;)

    Because you’re giving the person a zero-chance to respond to the question the way you want them to respond. (Waitasec, isn’t this wrong? Why would you want to control the response?) Here’s why.

    For one, it’s bloody hard to give testimonials. Try giving someone a general testimonial. Now suppose I change the way I construct the question to: Was price a big objection when you considered using our service?

    Now I’ve not just got the client to think about a testimonial, but specifically about price. So the customer may say: “No, it wasn’t a big objection.” Well that sets up the next question. So what was the big objection; what would have caused the hesitation to using our service?

    Now the customer will tell you what the hesitation was.
    But if the objection was indeed ‘price’, then the customer would go down the road of price.

    So why is all of this ‘going down the road’ important?
    Well, it’s important because a testimonial is not a rah-rah set of words. A testimonial is designed to reduce risk. And increase the like-factor–both simultaneously.

    So if it doesn’t address a single focus (e.g. Price) then the testimonials you receive are all over the place. And when you consider that testimonials are precisely meant to kill objections, then you need to have testimonials killing every objection.

    So if you have a product or service and the main objection to the product or service is the following:
    1) Price
    2) Timing
    3) Distance
    4) Whatever…
    5) More whatever…

    Then the testimonials need to address each and every one of those objections. Rah-rah won’t help at all. What will really help, is the construction of the questions.

    As you’ve heard before; Input=Output
    The quality of your questions + the direction of your questions is going to determine the quality + direction of your answers.

    And that’s just one tiny-itty-bitty lesson in the secret world of testimonials :)
    =============
    The point is you do indeed need a fabulous product to get fabulous testimonials. But do you need a mega-brand? Do you need to have sold thousands of products to get fabulous testimonials?

    No you don’t.

    The mistake most of us make, is that we think that customers look at the company that brings out the product. In fact, customers don’t. Every product/ service is always measured on its own ability to get ‘results’ (whatever those results may be).

    So if you watched Shrek 1, does that mean Shrek 3 will be a wonderful movie? It sure came from the same studio, same director etc. It probably has better graphics and techie stuff. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to shell out 15 buckeroos to see the movie.

    Each product/service is individual. The brand does play its part, but a very minor part (and in many cases, the brand can be counter-productive). So that’s great news for someone who’s not an Apple or a Lego or something like that. That’s great news for the gal sitting at home, pecking away at her keyboard, creating a product/service.

    Because the product testimonials then stand on their ability to deliver the goods. But the questions do arise. How do you get those testimonials in the first place? You always go to people you know. People in a forum. Friends. Pester some relations. There are dozens of ‘communities’ both online and offline. So there is absolutely no shortage of people who’ll be willing to test your product.

    Well, they get to test your product on a ‘qualification’. And that qualification is that they have to give feedback at the end of the event (good or bad feedback–it doesn’t matter). They just have to give their feedback.

    And so the feedback builds.
    The feedback goes into two streams. The stuff that needs fixing can be fixed. The good stuff can go into your testimonial section. And yes you may even want to put the ‘ahem…bad stuff’ in your testimonials, because it balances the issue a lot (see how it works for products on Amazon, for instance).

    But of course, this comes back to the questions you ask. And the questions determine the answers. Always.

    Sean
    http://www.psychotactics.com

  19. The best “Testimonials” come naturally, the quick conversations, the fleeting comments. Like Chris was saying, they cannot be scripted; they will never work and on the next conversation with the person, usually ends in dead silence and awkwardness.

    Great Post Chris!

    Jim Moon

  20. Never forget that your testimonials must come from someone of value. Otherwise they are taken like a grain of salt.

  21. A photograph also proves to be an excellent endorsement…a quick snap of a happy customer helps you sell the next one.

  22. True, Excellent point Robb !

  23. The best way is to get testimonials from different person with their specific words (dialect and misspelling) and their own experiences with your products or services and how these products or services are resolved their problems.

  24. [...] Testimonials that are not perceived to be authentic lose all value, even worse, they can even backfire when readers feel manipulated. If you want to read about how to craft a testimonial, I recommend the posting 5 Tips for Knockout Testimonials on Copyblogger for some additional tips on what to do and what best to avoid. [...]

  25. The consistent process of getting testimonials is also important. When customers sing your praises, ask for a testimonial; When others seem satisfied, but don’t bubble over with enthusiasm, ask for a testimonial; When customers are disgruntled, don’t hide, speak with them, work with them, make it your goal to turn them into a testimonial.

    Rebecca D. Levinson- http://www.connect2agent.com

  26. Every once in a while I see a real estate website with a testimonial on the home page. What do you think about this practice?

  27. Thanks for your story and working in the relevance to improving our Blogs with authentic testimonials. Photos seem to help as well.

  28. Testimonials should come from many different people, the more the better. If you know the person that helps.

  29. This is so true. Often testimonials looks very fake and way to promotional. Your tip about keeping them real and not over editing is very good.

    Also i would suggest switching it up. If you have 20 or so testimonials to choose from, I would mix it up and use 5 or so. Then switch them out. It makes it seem as though there is more activity.

    http://onlinemoneyforteens.blogspot.com
    Rory

  30. Chris, I liked how you used a personal story to lead in :)

    We use specific questions to help pull testimonials. Occasionally this backfires; the testimonials sound a bit canned. So I also try to pull from prior emails where the client expressed specific happiness over something and ask them later if I can use that publicly.

    Two examples of our pointed questions might include verbiage like:

    1. Why did you decide to seek me us to help with your branding and site development? What problem or issue were you facing that prompted you to get a site designed?

    2. In what specific ways did our company’s work solve your problem or help you achieve your goals?

    I also leave room for them to tell me ways the process or experience could have been improved; this helps foster a better relationship AND we learn areas that need work.

  31. @Reese – Those questions are great. My approach is to get into discussion about what attracted them, worked, how and why.

    These are the conversations you will have anyway in order to make sure the project went well and the client got value.

    Some of the best though have been the “wow, can I use that as a testimonial” type, where they naturally hit all the buttons without trying :)

  32. I have been thinking of giving ‘samples’ of my service – at considerable discount in terms of $ in exchange for ‘raving fan’ testimonials.

    This post just pushed that idea home, and it is now a few extra items higher up my to do list.

    websitePROFITS: Profit Boosting Tips in 37 words or less!

  33. love you more than i can say!

  34. Great article! I couldn’t agree with you more! Word of mouth is the best way to spread your product or service, or in your case, your reputation. Testimonials can turn an almost sale into a sale!

    For anyone wanting to add testimonials to your website, I’d encourage you to checkout a product we developed called Bestimonials.

    http://bestimonials.backendlabs.com/

    Again, great article!

    Jacob

  35. Great advice Chris. I’ve also found that it’s a great idea to keep your testimonials fresh. Customers often revisit your site several times before they make a purchase. Displaying new testimonials every so often will show them that you have no shortage of satisfied customers.

    I also believe that social proof requires social proof itself. In other words, while the testimonials are there to vouch for the authenticity of your claims, who’s going to vouch for the authenticity of your testimonials?

    My advice is to skip the initialized bare minimum detailed testimonials. They can do more harm than good. Try to include pictures, complete names, websites, etc. to show your customers that you spare no details when it comes to proving that your satisfied customers do in fact exist.

  36. Great advice Chris,

    I think the ‘Never Fake it’ part is the most important. People can see through that. We try to include links to websites from our testimonials where applicable. Sadly some of the best testimonials come from people who either don’t have a website or might prefer to remain anonymous.

    Thanks for the article.

  37. Suggestion: DO NOT include your customers email addresses as I just received a very angry email from one of my clients whose testimonial I recently put on my website and he’s blaming me for his inbox blowing up with spam! Apparently “email scrapers” are all the rage nowadays and wherever an email address is exposed online, it will be used for spam… (And “yes”, I did have his permission to use his name and email address…)

  38. Thanks Chris Garrett. I created a testimonial page after reading your tips. Great post.

  39. great customer testimonial demonstrates your company’s value and why someone hired/purchased from you. Beyond showing that your customer is happy, the testimony explains their problem or pain point in some detail as well as the impact or opportunity cost of not solving it. Ideally the testimonial is persuasive to your best prospect; they identify with the situation and are compelled to reach for the phone or fill out that “contact me” form on your website.

  40. I’m a firm believer in how valuable the testimony can be to your business.
    It is one of the best prospected tools online not to mention it’s free.
    Testimonials are a means of authority especially when building your business online. I actually used a testimony from a sales site to lead me to my very first online business several years ago.

    Great post!

  41. Thanks, you gave me a great idea for my testimonials :)

  42. Thank you! We are working on getting testimonials together, but weren’t sure about the best practices. :)