How to Generate Great Business Testimonials

By Natalie Canavor

Part of Business Writing For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Today, word-of-mouth recommendation is the most effective way to market every product and service. Consider your own experience: Do you believe commercials and ads and base buying decisions on them, or do you ask your friends? You trust the opinion of people you know most of all, followed by those with direct experience of the product or movie or book or lawn service — people who post reviews and award stars.

And people read reviews and testimonials! Testimonials are the most-read elements of websites. They can also spice up all your marketing materials, LinkedIn profile, proposals, letters, and more. They work in written form and even better in video.

Asking your clients for honest feedback is a great way to better define your own value, sharpen your messaging, and attract the specific clients you most want. Here’s how to go about the process.

  1. Create a shortlist of clients or customers with whom you have a comfortable relationship and represent your preferred clientele.
    Invite each to talk about how they think you’re doing and possibly supply a testimonial. Try to have the conversation in person — offer a cup of coffee or lunch — but if that isn’t possible, use the telephone.
  2. Prepare a set of good open-ended questions. Some possibilities:
    • What do you like best about working with us?
    • What do you most value about our service?
    • How does it help you? What problem did it solve?
    • How has our work changed how you handle X?
    • Did we increase profitability, save you time, or increase efficiency?
    • What would you say about us to a colleague?
    • What can we do better?
  3. Approach the conversation with a genuine interest in hearing the truth.

    Some truths will probably surprise you because we often misgauge what a customer values. Other truths may not be so happy, but give you terrific clues for improving what you do.

  4. Listen appreciatively.
    Don’t argue! Nothing is more annoying than being asked for input then resisting what you hear. Follow-up important points tactfully. If you’ve asked for permission to record, do so, otherwise take notes — few people will object.
  5. If you hear good stuff and you think the client is amenable, invite him or her to write a short testimonial for you (a few paragraphs).

    People will do this for LinkedIn fairly readily (especially if you do it in return), but not so much for a website or marketing piece. In such cases, ask if you may write up part of what she said and give it to her for review.

  6. Assemble a concise statement that is true to the person’s meaning and language.
    Take careful liberty to adapt spoken language to a written form. Present your draft for approval and revise it cheerfully as asked. Providing a relatively long version enables you to use excerpts for different media.
  7. If the client is truly enthusiastic, ask if you may videotape a brief endorsement.
    This is a bigger favor and it’s your responsibility to make sure he comes across well. Shooting with your smartphone may not work well enough. Be sure you have the capabilities to turn out what you need efficiently and with quality.

Should you make up endorsements yourself and ask customers to sign off on them? Never! First, they won’t be convincing — they’ll sound like you. Second, you miss the opportunity to strengthen the bond with your customer and discover why you are valued — and how to do even better.