If you’re like me, you’ve become addicted to reading people’s comments before buying anything on Amazon. We want validation that we’re making the right decision, and what could be more sincere than the spontaneous assessments of people who have already bought and used the product?
While marketers have sold things using customer testimonials since – well probably the beginning of time – the use of such opinions has ballooned in recent years. We go online to read what everyday people have to say about restaurants, movies, and the products at Best Buy. And whole websites, likes Angie’s List, are built around people wanting to have access to other people’s reviews.
A straw poll conducted by Real Estate Business Online found that 73.5 percent of their real estate professional respondents believe that testimonials are essential to building their businesses.
One of the reasons testimonials can be more effective than you simply talking up your own business is that they seem more authentic, and therefore trustworthy. If you say how great your own product is it sounds like bragging. And of course, you have an ulterior motive to make yourself sound as good as possible. But if some disinterested third party says how great your product or service is, it’s more believable.
If prospects know nothing about you, they require a good deal of selling on your part to convince them that you deserve their business. Testimonials can be an important part of that sales process by making prospects feel more at home with you. They feel that they know you better because of what others say about you. The testimonials help you take a short cut into your prospects’ good graces. So, if you have testimonials from happy customers, you should by all means use them.
What Makes a Great Testimonial?
One of the most important attributes of a testimonial is that it is credible. If people think that you made up the testimonial yourself, it will dampen response instead of increasing it. So the testimonial has to sound as though it comes from a real person. It can’t be over-hyped (“These cornflakes absolutely gave me a reason to live. I will be forever grateful to the geniuses who created them”). It can’t sound too slick, like it was written by a used car salesman.
The more specific the testimonial is, the better. Just saying the cornflakes were good is not nearly as effective as saying, “The cornflakes had a nice nutty flavor, and they were really crunchy. I poured the milk on them, and then my daughter called me to help her in the next room. When I came back three minutes later I was afraid they’d be ruined, but they were still nice and crispy.”
Personal stories of the individual’s experience with the product or service are especially nice. And enthusiastic reviews are much more effective than lukewarm statements.
The more information you can give about the person giving the testimonial, the better. First name, last name, and city and state would be ideal, but most people won’t want to reveal that much information about themselves in your sales piece that could reach hundreds of thousands of readers. First name and last initial, along with city and state is pretty standard. And don’t publish any testimonial or place it online without written permission.
People are always drawn to pictures, so if the person writing the testimonial is willing to provide you with one, try to use it.
It’s nice to have a series of testimonials from a variety of types that cover the range of your customer base, for example men and women if that’s appropriate for your product. You definitely want to make sure your testimonials come from your target audience. If you primarily sell to senior citizens, that’s who your testimonials should come from. And if they can directly speak to concerns of senior citizens they will be especially effective (“As a woman in my seventies, I was hesitant to have a construction crew come to my home. But the people at Acme Construction were wonderful. And they refitted my bathroom with a walk-in tub and grab bars so that I feel comfortable in my own home again”).
And you want to give the impression that this is just a sampling of the many testimonials you have on file from satisfied customers (“Here are just some of the glowing comments we received from satisfied customers over the past year”).
Finally, a great testimonial sounds authentic. That means the language may be a little confused, or the story line a bit jumbled. You may be tempted to polish it up, but don’t do too much, if anything. If a word is obviously misspelled you can fix it. But don’t rewrite testimonials to make them sound better. They will be more effective if they sound genuine.
How Do You Get Testimonials?
If one of your clients or customers spontaneously sends you a testimonial, that’s great. But even if someone loves your product or service, they won’t necessarily think to provide you with a testimonial. So, if you’re talking to a customer who praises your work, go ahead and ask if they would be willing to write down their comments and let you use them in some of your marketing materials. You may be surprised at how many people will say yes, as long as you promise not to provide any more identifying information about them than they feel comfortable revealing.
Keep hard copies of written testimonials. Also, get written permission to use the testimonials, and keep it on file. Hang on to those permission slips, even after you stop using that particular testimonial. It should be a permanent file.
How Do You Use Testimonials?
Use testimonials in all your written sales materials. If you have video testimonials, put them on your website, and extract quotes to use in your written materials.
Use a variety of testimonials from different customers and clients, and keep updating their use. If you use the same testimonial for 20 years, it may look as though that’s the only testimonial you ever got. If it’s a great one, it may become part of your company image. But in general, the more testimonials you have, and the more you change them out, the more it looks like you’re a growing company that is continuing to get new satisfied customers.
Testimonials are a powerful selling tool that can help ease the doubts of new prospects. If you have testimonials, use them. If you need more testimonials, ask for them. A satisfied customer may prove to be your most effective “copywriter.”