Monday Mornings with Madison



What is the purpose of a testimonial a/k/a the recommendation or third-party endorsement? The purpose is to help a person or company build its reputation by using comments from others who have experienced the product or service firsthand. Study after study has shown that an endorsement from an independent source carries greater weight than the same statement made in an ad, on a website, or in collateral materials. That is why an article about the value of Yelp written by the New York Times carries more weight than the same article written by an employee at Yelp.

In fact, third-party endorsements carry so much weight that an entire world of online recommendation engines have developed fueled by the power of testimonials. Alex Iskold, author of “The Art, Science and Business of Recommendation Engines” explained that there are two fundamental activities that happen online: Search and Browse.  When consumers know exactly what to look for, they search for it.  But when a customer is not looking for anything specific, that is browsing. It is the browsing that holds the golden opportunity for a recommendation system, because the user, who is not focused on finding a specific thing, is open to suggestions. During browsing, the user’s attention (and money) is up for grabs. By showing the user something compelling, a website maximizes the likelihood of a transaction.  If a website can increase the chances of providing users with good recommendations that convinces the user to buy, it makes more money. 

While most companies don’t harness the power of endorsements the way recommendations engines do (think of Amazon as the quintessential example), they can still reap major rewards from gathering and leveraging testimonials and recommendations from third-parties. After all, it is hard to sing your own praises, and it rarely works when you do. Testimonials are intermediated word-of-mouth marketing, and they do work when credible. In fact, they work very well indeed when it is the right kind of testimonial. They provide the much-needed social proof that can tip a wavering prospect into a paying customer. 

How to Ask for a Testimonial.Once ready to take the plunge, it is important to do it properly. A third-party endorsement can be requested in person, by phone or via email. While the personal approach is better, a well written email can work just fine too. 

If requesting an endorsement in person or by phone, consider saying something like this:

“I’m in the process of updating my [brochure, website, etc.]. I would like to include your comments about your experience with our company. Would you be comfortable answering a few questions if I sent them to you in an e-mail?” 

Then explain you will send some questions to which they can simply reply via e-mail. Send an email with a few questions that will help the customer think of what to say. For example, “Please describe the customer service you received from our company.” Pose open-ended questions in order to get full responses. This helps avoid having a bunch of testimonials that all say “This company was great”.  Also, by answering questions, the customer will not have to think about how to start or end the endorsement, which is often a stumbling block. 

If requesting the endorsement by email, consider writing something like this:

Dear :
I have a favor to ask. I am in the process of compiling a collection of comments about my services from satisfied customers like you. Would you please take a few minutes to give your opinion? There is no need to dictate a letter. Just jot down your comments in a reply email.
Regards,In either case, make sure the client includes a sentence that says:

I give [company name] my permission to use and quote my comments in ads, brochures, online, and other marketing efforts. Don’t use anything without the endorser’s written permission! 

What Makes a Good Testimonial?In a testimonial, a third party says what may be difficult for an individual or company to say about themselves. Effective testimonials avoid hyperbole and specifically address a potential sticking point that a prospect might reach. Here are some tips of how to get believable testimonials:

  • Don’t edit. Testimonials work best when they are in “real” language. Small grammar and language quirks help the reader connect and demonstrate they are real.
  • Address objections. If a prospect discovers that another customer’s worries were proven groundless, then that person will be more confident to reach for the wallet.
  • Never fake it. While testimonials are crucial, it’s not worth the risk to fake them. Most people have well-trained baloney-detectors that can smell a fake a mile away.

Encourage specifics. Specificity works in all areas of writing, but is especially effective in a testimonial. Rather than “we saw a big improvement,” ask customer to state the exact benefit, if possible (of course, without giving up confidential or sensitive information).

Make it a policy to always ask for a third-party endorsement. There is no such thing as having too many recommendations!  Not only are they useful in marketing, testimonials tell what a company is doing right so the company can focus on doing more of that. Next week we’ll examine how to use third-party endorsements in marketing and sales efforts. Stay tuned.

“Engagement does not mean endorsement.” Madeline Albright

© 2011 – 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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