Anyone can say they offer a quality product or service. But savvy consumers want proof. That means third-party endorsements. Since most small businesses are unlikely to get access to Oprah, that leaves gathering testimonials from best clients.
But, too often, testimonials consist of “You were great to work with—I’d do it again!” To make your testimonials into compelling stories, follow the steps below.
Who to interview
- Note we said “best clients” above. Pick the ones who are most like the ones you want to work with in future.
- Make sure they have a compelling story to tell. If your work for them didn’t have a big impact, their story won’t carry much weight.
- If possible, interview “influencers.” These are individuals or businesses who have name recognition or clout with your target market.
- Choose people whose stories will highlight the key aspects of your business. One may praise the quality of your product/service while another may detail the extra care you took on a project. Focus on your key selling points; don’t be distracted with testimonials that highlight aspects your target market doesn’t care about.
What to ask
- What was it like before they used your services? This is what’s known as “defining the problem.” It could be their previous provider constantly went over-budget and that led to a cash flow crisis for your client. It could be that shoddy materials led to an insurance claim. Or it could be that your client was tired of the tried-and-true and wanted a fresh approach.
- What was it like working with you? You can lead them through this by talking about some specific things you did for them and then just asking them what they thought or felt about it as it was happening. Also be sure to ask if your client was initially skeptical about working with you—it’s always a little scary to invest in a new provider, so what were some of their concerns and then how were those concerns assuaged?
- What specific results did they get from using your product/service? This part is critical. The more specific, the better. “Sales went up 38% per month” is far more compelling than “Business improved.” Clients may also tell you that they recommend you to others, that they receive praise from their own clients or family/ friends, or that they just feel more confident. All of these results are proof of the value of your service. Be sure to refer back to “what was life like before you used our services?” to see how the problem was resolved.
Don’t be afraid to ask about how people feel instead of focusing only on tangible results; often people value their emotional well-being as much as more concrete considerations.
How to ask
- Once you have your list of potential contacts (this may be 10 or may be 50, depending on the size of your business and your marketing needs), approach them for permission to share their story. Depending on your relationship with them, this may happen via e-mail, phone, or in-person. They can determine if they want their full names used, location, etc, if they have privacy concerns. If they’re not interested, thank them and let them go. Do not pressure anyone into talking.
- Set up a time to interview them when you’ll both be comfortable. Practice beforehand so you can keep the interview to 15-20 minutes.
- The easiest way to do the interview is to record it using a small handheld digital recorder. Tell your client beforehand that this is how you’ll be doing the interview so you can focus on what they’re saying instead of having to take notes. A small recorder is best because it’s less obtrusive/less intimidating.
- Ask your question and listen carefully to the answer. The first answer to each question will often be vague. Encourage more specificity by asking follow-up questions and by prompting them with stories they’ve told you in the past. Dig deeper—the more specific, the better.
- Give them a little air. Often we get so wrapped up in trying to have a conversation quickly that we overlook a crucial point. A moment of silence allows your client to collect their thoughts. You might review a list of questions in your hand to allow a little air into the conversation.
Finessing the testimonial
- After you’ve concluded your interview, thank them and retire to your office! Go over the story you recorded and find the pertinent points. Draft a few pithy sentences that capture the essence of what your client said.
- Your summary does not need to be verbatim, since spoken English is far more informal than written English. Your summary does need to be a faithful capture of the intent of the speaker, however. Use direct quotes when you can. Do not try to “spin” the testimonial in a direction the client didn’t go.
- Leave the testimonial for a day and then go back to polish it. The time away will help you see it with a fresh perspective. Make sure it highlights a key aspect of your business.
- Share your written version with your client. This is easiest done through e-mail. Ask if the testimonial reflects their experience. Encourage them to make edits. If they do, incorporate those and send it back. Once you get their approval, your testimonial is ready to go!
Where to use your testimonials
- Third-party endorsements help prospective clients decide if you’re the right provider for them. Put your testimonials where prospective clients will see them! The obvious places are your website and any printed promotional materials such as brochures.
- Less obvious places include the back of your business cards, advertisements, trade show booth dress, and signage. Don’t overdo it; your use of testimonials will vary depending on the type of business you’re in. But if the use is appropriate, it will build your brand.
- You might also consider re-formatting the testimonial into a brief “story” and using that for advertising instead of the standard list of “features and benefits.” Along with a nice photo of your client, this can make a strong impact.
- Once your testimonials have been published, let your clients know so they can check them out.
- Thank your clients! A handwritten note, along with a small gift such as flowers, a gift certificate, or fresh fruit are appropriate ways to thank your clients.
- Review your testimonials as your business evolves. Gather new ones when appropriate and retire outdated ones. Make sure that your testimonials help prospective clients decide whether you’re the right provider for them.