In today’s socially plugged-in business environment, a little positive word-of-mouth can go a long way. Even if it’s just on your website, some favorable testimonials can give your business a welcome sheen of success and positive results. They provide social proof, letting your potential clients know that you have a history of providing what you promise in your marketing materials, sales copy, and conversations. It shows that they can trust you and justifies their purchases.
Although most of us understand the importance of testimonials, I still meet many clients who are uncomfortable asking for them. They feel that testimonials should just happen naturally—that happy customers and clients should want to provide a positive review without being prompted. While this does happen sometimes, the fact is that most clients need a little nudge.
To ensure that you get results, you might want to give your clients that nudge at specific times, such as when:
- you’ve solved their problem
- they’ve achieved success through your offering
- they express that they’re happy with your work
- they thank you profusely
- you successfully deliver a product on time
At that moment, ask if they would be willing to share their story with your potential clients. If they agree to do so, inform them that you’ll send an email with a testimonial request.
Another option is to provide them with a survey at the end of a project, or when your transaction is complete. Not everyone will fill out the survey, but those who are particularly happy with the result (or particularly unhappy) are very likely to do so.
Testimonials That Build Trust
For a testimonial to inspire potential clients to work with you, it needs to say much more than “great work!” A perfect testimonial should describe the reason why the client chose to work with you, and it should outline the results. The more real and specific the details, the better. It should outline why your work was great, and it needs to be in compliance with the new FTC guidelines, which I’ll explain a little later.
Of course, most of your clients will be busy people who don’t have much time set aside for tasks like this. That’s why it’s your job to make it easier for them. One way to do this is to provide them with a few sample questions in your testimonial request email. Here are a few that you might want to put to use:
- What prompted you to seek [your/your company’s] services? What situation or problem did you need to solve?
- Why did you specifically select [you/your company] for this project?
- What made you believe that [you/your company] was the best for achieving your desired result?
- How did you benefit from working with [you/your company]?
- What are the two most significant improvements that have resulted from your work with [you/your company]?
- What exactly did [you/your company] do to contribute to the outcome you wanted?
- What were the results of working with [you/your company]?
- Describe why you feel that working with [you/your company] was successful.
- In the future, what type of businesses would most benefit from working with [you/your company]?
- If a potential client was on the fence about whether to work with [you/your company] or not, what would you say to them?
If your questions can encourage your client to open up and provide honest feedback, the testimonial will be convincing.
Sample Requests for Testimonials
Your letters of request should be appropriately warm and professional, so that the client is reminded of why it was good to work with you. If you’re unsure of how to get started, here are some samples:
Letter to a client whom you’ve asked to write a testimonial:
Working with clients like you makes my business a great joy. Thank you for agreeing to provide a testimonial. Your story will help inform our potential clients why it’s good to work with us and how they can benefit.
To help you get started, I’ve included a few questions, but please feel free to write whatever you like.
[Include two to four questions, using the above list as a guide.]
Thank you for your time and kind support. We value your business and look forward to working with you again in the future. Please let me know if there is anything further I can do for you.
[Your preferred closing],
Letter to a client asking if you may quote them for a testimonial:
Thank you for taking the time to express your kind comments to me. Your praise brightened my day, and clients like you make everything I do worthwhile.
With your permission, I would like to share your thoughts with potential clients. Your words will help them to understand how they can benefit from working with us, and why they should do so. Do I have your permission?
Thank you again for your business, and please let me know if there’s anything further I can do for you.
[Your preferred closing],
Letter asking for a testimonial:
I hope all is well. Because I value you as a client, I would appreciate your feedback. With your permission, I would like to use your comments as a testimonial to help convince future clients that they can benefit from working with me.
To help you get started, I’ve included a few questions, but please feel free to write whatever you would like.
[Include 2-4 questions, using the above list as a guide.]
Thank you for your time, and thanks again for your business. Please let me know if there’s anything further I can do for you.
[Your preferred closing],
Whenever a client provides a testimonial, don’t forget to send them a kind thank-you note. A personal handwritten note is best for this situation, and a thank-you gift may even be a good idea in some circumstances. The goal is to make your clients feel that they’ve done a good thing, while also keeping your business in their minds so that they’ll provide referrals and work with you again in the future.
Complying with FTC Guidelines in Testimonials
Before I go any further, a quick disclaimer: I’m not an attorney; this article is my personal opinion. For a detailed explanation about the FTC’s rules governing endorsements and testimonials, please contact an attorney. Now, here are my thoughts.
Recently in America, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) changed its rules for endorsements and testimonials. Before, you were permitted to put the best testimonials on your website or in your marketing copy or brochures, but you had to include a little note saying that the results may vary or that the described results are not typical. This way, you showed that some clients achieved success, but you indicated that success was not guaranteed.
The fact is that not every client is going to find success when working with you. Some clients, for whatever reason, get the ball rolling, and then fail to follow up with their side of the process. For instance, if you purchase my home study program, but then neglect all the fieldwork, it will be unsuccessful. Your part is just as important as my part. That’s why the old rules were beneficial to so many companies—the rules allowed you to put your best foot forward, even if your actual results were inconsistent.
With the new rules, you must do more than just provide a disclaimer. Now, all your testimonials must be authentic; this means that they must reflect the typical user. So, for example, if you offer a diet plan, your marketing materials can’t say, “This plan helped me lose 100 pounds in three months” if only one out of 100 customers achieves this result. Now, marketers are required to make more realistic statements such as, “When followed as directed, this diet plan can help you lose up to 100 pounds over three to six months.” Of course, you can only make this statement if this is the typical result.
This is easy enough for diet plans, but what if you offer web design services? It can be hard to determine, let alone demonstrate, the results of a “typical” user, because the typical user doesn’t exist. One person may use your service and achieve great success, while another may take a half-hearted approach and have lackluster results before giving up. Plus, your clients may have different levels of knowledge and experience, which will obviously affect the results.
This is what makes the new rules so challenging. Let’s say, for example, one of your web design clients achieves exceptional results with your new site design; they make $50,000 in their first month, and write you a testimonial. Unless a good number of your subsequent clients achieve similar results, you can’t use that client’s testimonial. Remember, the FTC can levy fines of up to $11,000 per incident, so these rules are not to be taken lightly. It’s worth noting that the new rules apply to any companies marketing to US consumers, not only to US companies.
Contextualize Your Testimonials
These issues can become thorny, but there is a relatively simple solution: Contextualize. With that client who earned $50,000 in one month, for example, all you have to do is explain that client’s experience and knowledge, and outline the steps they took to achieve that level of success. Basically, you create a case study, and case studies are powerful tools for engendering trust.
To further elaborate on this example, you might explain that the client who earned $50,000 had a long history of business experience, and an established network of contacts that helped them close the sale. Then you might outline the hard work that they put into it (with the aid of your service, of course). This is a believable story that establishes your credibility and shows the value of what you offer, which will make potential clients more likely to buy.
There is another aspect of the new FTC guidelines that requires an increased level of transparency in your endorsements and testimonials. In short, your relationship to the person providing the testimonial must be completely out in the light of day. So, for instance, if you want to have your spouse or a friend provide a testimonial for you, you must make this relationship absolutely clear in the marketing material.
Ultimately, these rules are meant to discourage businesses from using testimonials of this kind. After all, if I were to have my husband write a testimonial for me, how credible would it be to you? You might read it, but it’s unlikely to sway your buying choice. Keep this in mind when putting together your testimonials.