Getting great testimonials Part 1: what goes into them

Testimonials - Flickr Dave Dugdale 10-11-14

When it comes to credibility, you can’t beat social proof

As an online business owner, you probably learned the importance of social proof fairly early on. It makes sense: unless someone’s grown to know you over time, they have no idea whether you can do what you say you can do.

In fact, even if they HAVE gradually built a business friendship with you, they still don’t necessarily know whether they can trust you with a major project. You might be a wonderful person, but still not have the experience or skills to create the results they’re looking for.

That’s where social proof – usually in the form of testimonials – comes in. It’s one thing for you to say you’re confident you can help a potential client. It’s another thing altogether for one of your previous clients to wax lyrical about how you’ve already helped them – past tense.

That’s why a good testimonial can be the difference between a prospective client or customer hitting your “Buy” button, and closing down the window.

But not every testimonial is a helpful testimonial

That said, there’s a lot of confusion about what actually constitutes a useful testimonial. In fact, all-too-many testimonials I see are little more than ego-strokes disguised as enthusiastic endorsements.

They’re testimonials that read something like “Tanja was the best copywriter I’ve ever worked with” or “I’d recommend working with Tanja to EVERYONE!” They’re lovely to receive, but they don’t really help a prospective client to decide whether or not to give you their money.

To understand why, you need to understand what a reader really wants to know before hey hit the Buy button. Sure, they want to see whether you can generally do what you say you can do, of course. But more than that, they want to know exactly what to expect if they decide to buy your product or service. So they’re also asking:

  • Does this person understand the very specific situation I’m in right now, and can they help me with it?
  • What will the process of buying from and working with this person really be like for me?
  • What specific results can I truly expect if I give them my money?

If your testimonial doesn’t answer at least one – and ideally all – of these questions, it probably won’t do much to help your prospective clients make a decision.

Testimonials that work have a definite structure

To answer these questions for a reader, a testimonial needs to tell a story about your previous client’s experience with you. It needs to answer the questions that your reader isn’t comfortable asking you directly, and addresses concerns that they might feel weird about bringing up.

That means it needs to include three important components:

  • A “before” bit: this part of the testimonial describes what life was like for your client before they connected with you. It probably includes some information about the problem or challenge they were having, and explains why they got in touch with you in the first place. This is the part that lets readers in similar situations know that you’ve successfully dealt with issues like theirs before.
  • A “during” bit: this part tells the reader what your client actually experienced while they were working with you. It often answers concerns like “Are you going to be a pain to deal with?” or “Do you actually check in with people when you say you will?” or “Will you make me feel stupid for having this problem?”
  • An “after” bit: this part is ALL about the results you helped your client to to get. It’s about the difference you’ve been able to make in their lives. This doesn’t have to be about numbers (although numbers are generally good). If you’re a coach or healer, it might be about your client feeling clearer, or more energetic, or more confident. If you sell products, it might be how much your customer enjoy using what they bought, or how they felt after using it.

Once you put those three before, during and after elements together, you get a clear story… and we all know how important stories are.

In Part 2, I’ll be covering how to actually get this information

Of course, knowing what information you need to include in a testimonial is only the start. You also need to know how to ask people in a way that they’re happy to answer. Then you need to figure out how to use the answers they give you.

For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on testimonials. What information do you like to see in the testimonials you read as potential buyer? What turns you off completely?

Please let me know in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of Dave Dugdale

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