A testimonial is one of the most effective tools for attracting new clients and gaining their confidence. It may be just 10 impactful words or an entire page, but it demonstrates credibility, professional relationships and ability to execute on a proposal or pitch.
Even among professional pitchers and marketers, some of us aren’t great at asking for testimonials. Either we don’t find the right moment to make the request, or there’s a bit of doubt (possibly completely unfounded) that the work exceeded expectations, or maybe the whole process of collecting a testimonial doesn’t seem like a priority compared to other tasks.
But in reality, case studies, work samples and testimonials together are the best way to show what you’ve created and accomplished.
How to get testimonials that will bring in new business:
1. Choose the right moment.
It can’t be too soon — that much is obvious — but it also shouldn’t wait till a business relationship is petering out. Waiting too long is probably a more common strategic error among people who are used to long-term professional engagements. You don’t want to ask before the work is complete, and ideally, you want one project to lead to another, and if something’s going well, then you may feel a bit odd asking for a client’s assistance in providing materials for you to go hunt new business.
This is a counterproductive thought path, according to folks who are smart about collecting testimonials. Ask right after your first project wraps, even if the next one is already agreed.
Here’s how copywriter and editor Treasa Edmond scores testimonials:
I include the request as part of my final invoice or as part of my wrap-up email. It’s a positive and productive way to bookmark the relationship. I don’t say ‘end’ because many of my clients come back with new projects!
2. Predetermine what your exact ask is, and how much time/effort it will take.
If all you need is one quick sentence, then state it in your request. If you are trying to put together a longer testimonial, perhaps to use in a case study or a blog post, you could send over a few questions or a post-project survey.
As Katherine Pereda, co-founder of BLF Communications, suggests:
I created a Google form for feedback, and the last two questions at the end ask for critiques and compliments. The compliments field is mandatory for submission!
For full-page case studies and video testimonials, you will need to set aside time for an interview, and these you should really only request of the most loyal/happy clients.
3. Make a mental list of all the places the testimonial might be published.
Will this testimonial be used:
- On a public page on your website
- In a general deck, i.e. capabilities deck
- In a case study
- In a press release
This matters quite a bit to some people you might ask, particularly those who work in companies with strictly delineated communication channels and protocols. Also, this step can be helpful to you in figuring out multiple ways to utilize the testimonial, and therefore help you figure out what you want it to speak to specifically.
4. Ask the person you had the best relationship with, not the person with the biggest title.
It makes sense to think that a recommendation from an SVP or CEO could garner more social proof than one from a coordinator — but keep something important mind: As anyone who’s been around corporate America any amount of time realizes, often the managers, coordinators and producers are the ones to execute tactical work on the account. That includes hiring and managing freelancers and agencies.
People at the VP level and above are more likely to dip in, check on a project and then immediately be thinking about something else.
So, rather than chase praise from the top-ranked person on a project, go to someone you worked with closely enough for them to understand and appreciate the work you did.
5. Identify what services or qualities you’d like this testimonial to highlight.
We’ve all seen those movie ads with review quotes that just read “Fascinating!” or “Unforgettable!” and typically, it makes you wonder how bad the complete review must have been if only one word was usable. While a super-vague testimonial might not come across as equally suspect, it doesn’t necessarily help you either.
Ostensibly, if you’ve provided a specific service, your client’s positive feedback on you should reflect how well you did that service. If all they can say is that you’re a really nice person or always showed up on time, it may give off subtext that the work wasn’t great.
But this may not be the case. A lot of clients simply don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to figure out what you want their message to say. That is why a lot of people guide with questions or suggested talking points.
Paula Gould, Communications Director of software solutions company Men & Mice, offered this advice:
If you ask the customers specific questions about a product, feature or service that was provided, you can usually get a higher quality quote/testimonial.
6. Aim to get testimonials that will preemptively address potential client’s questions and concerns.
An absolutely brilliant bit of strategy from brand consultant Krista Walsh of Sohuis is to give the client questions that, when answered, will illustrate their customer journey — from the moments of uncertainty before they hired you to the experience of working together to their happiness with the final result.
This way, their words alleviate common hesitations that future potential clients are having as they decide whether or not to reach out.
One of her favorite questions to ask is, “What was your biggest fear about hiring me? Did it come true?”
7. Make use of positive feedback that was already given.
If you spend time on calls or in-person with clients, they may give positive feedback on your work in the moment. Try to make a record of that and see about building out a testimonial around it later.
Tracy White Zeeck of Consumer Focus USA suggests this strategy:
What worked for us was actually writing up some of the impactful comments the client said at our meeting(s). Then we reached out to them and asked if they would be willing to provide a testimonial. When they agreed, we then said, ‘If it helps you formulate it we did jot down some of the things you said.’
An even easier way to do this is if you have received thankful emails or positive comments via social media. The testimonial may already be written, and all you need to do is tweak it a bit and make sure you have permission to post publicly.
8. Think about the design/presentation.
The other day Facebook fed me yet another over-sauced, over-energetic ad from a twentysomething “marketing guru” promising 7-figure annual revenues from an automated system. This ad led to a website with a testimonial page — all of them screengrabs of text conversations in a group chat between the “guru” and his supposed clients.
I scrolled through a page of “Bro this system kills!” and “Yooooo, bro, I nailed a 3-month contract!” It looked like back-room boasting between gym membership telemarketers, not testimonials from business owners.
If even one of these success stories is true, it would be much more impactful if it were fleshed out with relevant details (e.g. what industry is this client in?), the language polished, and incorporated into a case study.
9. Besides the client, also think about asking other collaborators or project stakeholders.
Whether it’s another vendor who you shared responsibilities with, or a client partner that got good exposure or content from the project, think about people who had a good experience working with you and may be willing to share.
As PR consultant Jennifer Vincenzo McLucas suggests:
Ask anyone you’ve collaborated with that the work went well, to demonstrate you can play nicely in the sandbox.
10. Don’t put people on the spot for video.
This is the most complicated of testimonial formats, and you should treat it as a different type of ask altogether. Schedule a nice chunk of time to record it, provide questions or discussion topics beforehand, and only ask clients who are comfortable being on camera.
Above all, don’t surprise someone with the request, e.g. by asking, “Can I just record you saying that real quick?” mid-Zoom session.
For tips on producing video content, check out this ClearVoice post