I’m often asked, “How do you get good testimonials?”
Of course, the truest answer is, “Do good work.”
Without that, nothing I am about to say holds much water.
But, if we don’t acknowledge that it’s possible to do wonderful work and not be furnished with written testimonials from the very people you served, well… then my advice wouldn’t hold much water either.
There is a fear that underwrites this question: a deep concern about not wanting to burden, pressure or bother people with the request.
It’s a noble, if misguided sentiment.
The assumption that underwrites these concerns is that ‘we have to ask everyone’.
And so, having said all of that, I’d like to offer an approach to getting testimonials that I have used over the years, that feels good to me and that seems to result in the appearance of fine words of endorsement on my site.
Step 1) Deliver your product or service. There are four levels at which this can happen.
Step 2) Ask for feedback. This is the main secret. After most programs or after offering any new service for which testimonials would be useful, I ask people these two questions:
Question 1: How would you rate this from 1-10? (1 being low and 10 being high).
Question 2: If this wasn’t a 10, what would it have needed to be a 10?
Those two questions tell you a great deal.
Question 1 will give you a realistic sense of the value people are receiving from your product or service.
Question 2 will give you incredibly useful feedback on what was missing that should have been there or what was absent that should have been.
But… Question 1 also does something very important you might not have considered: it tells you from whom you should asking for testimonials.
My rule: If I get an 8/10 or above I ask for a testimonial. A 7/10 or below and I don’t.
If I get a seven or below, I will focus on getting more feedback if it seems there’s feedback to be had and use that feedback to make my products or services better.
If it’s an eight or above I’ll ask for a testimonial. If they gave it an eight or above they’re almost universally happy to be asked. If you ask someone to write you some kind words for your website and they rated your offerings a four out of ten, they may resent your asking.
Five Questions That Can Get You Good Testimonials?
So often people, even though they love your work, will report feeling stymied on exactly what words to write. Someone can love your work and feel too daunted to write you a testimonial or write a well-intentioned but piss poor testimonial.
The key is to ask good questions.
What follows are my favourite questions to ask (of course these can and should be modified from ‘buying’ to ‘signing up’, ‘attending’ or whatever word fits for your scenario).
1) What did I honestly think of this before buying?
I love this question because it makes whatever testimonial they write more credible and relatable. There’s a heavy chance that whoever might read their words in the future will have the same prejudices about your product or service before signing up.
When I used to run workshops for high schools I’d ask them this question and they’d tell me, “Before I came to this workshop I thought it was going to be lame with some old white guy standing at the front of the room giving motivational speeches all day…” I must have read basically those same words a dozen times.
So, when I put those testimonials in the sales letter for the program and teachers and students would read it, they’d think, “Wow. Those people had the same fears about it as me but it turned out okay. Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea.”
But also, when you see the same patterns of perception over and over, the same fears and concerns, this can actually become incredible content for your sales copy.
It can be turned into headlines, subheadlines, taglines etc.
You can speak to the risks, fears and doubts you know that folks are likely to have about your work immediately and directly. That builds an immense amount of trust and credibility. It tells people that you ‘get it’. It meets them with empathy.
2) What was holding me back from buying?
This might give the same answer as above but it also might yield new information. Their answer to this will both help you see your offers through the eyes of the client but also make the testimonials read as more grounded and realistic. Someone newer to your work will read them and think, “Ah! I’m not the only one who had the same concern about buying.”
And, of course, the feedback might help you actually structurally change your offer. For example, if they say, “I was scared to sign up because I wasn’t sure it would make me money” you might offer an iron clad money-back guarantee or a ‘double your money back’ guarantee. You might offer more free content up front to assuage their fear.
You might offer it on a pay what you want basis. You might gather more case studies of clients you’ve helped and the money you made them. You might double down on making your process better so that people are more likely to make money (or get whatever the relevant result or benefit is).
3) What turned your decision around?
Their answer to this question can help walk a potential client through the logic they need to sign up. It might highlight a part of your offer or sales letter that they hadn’t noticed before. But it also tells you what’s working in your sales copy that you can expand on, develop further and make more prominent.
4) What was the most important positive outcome you experienced as a result of buying?
This is huge. This is what I call Island B. Their answer to this question tells you what you are actually selling. I recall a financial advisor who mostly worked with couples being shocked to realize that his work was, for many of his clients, actually marriage counselling. Couples were waiting to have their financial conversations until he was in the room.
It took me a while to realize that the core of my Marketing for Hippies 101 daylong workshop was that it helped people find a way to market themselves that felt good. It seemed too simple but I heard it over and over and it helped me actually structure my day around this central theme that ‘marketing can feel good’.
Again, the answer to this makes the testimonial more compelling because it tells people that they might be able to get that result they’re craving by working with you but it also gives you great information for your headlines and subheadlines in your sales copy.
5) What do you think of this product/service now?
This is the bookend. The testimonial began with their likely not entirely flattering set of fears and assumptions about your work and now it ends with this new appraisal. This is immensely comforting to those who are on the fence. And it lets you know how your business is seen by those you have helped.
Testimonials are a powerful way to build trust. If you’re interested in a deeper dive into my thoughts on building trust, you might want to check out my “Deep Trust” package.