Personally, I’ve always found it difficult to ask for testimonials. It just doesn’t come naturally to me.
In fact, one of the reasons I like doing calls on Clarity is that the platform closes the loop with the client for me, asking for a star rating and optional comments; to me, that part alone is worth 15% of the revenue from those calls. It’s operationalized and I don’t have to think about it.
But that’s just for Clarity calls; outside of that system, I’m back to square one… asking for a testimonial.
And of course, my clients are pretty much in that same boat, too. Some people are better at it than others, but asking for a testimonial is not always the easiest thing to do. It’s especially difficult when you just do it in a haphazard way… which results in doing it even less often and then,… not at all.
That’s why you should operationalize the process. But I’ll be honest, even if you have a strong system in place, if there’s still a human involved – on either end – the process becomes a bit bumpy.
I suppose you could just wait and hope testimonials roll in organically, but that seems like a bad idea.
Luckily I’ve got a foolproof way of getting testimonials.
In fact, the other day I was talking to some folks at a well-known search optimization software vendor about Customer Success at a high level when this very tactical question came up; how to get testimonials.
We were talking about how Customer Success leads to increased customer advocacy – and we know social proof is extremely valuable (if you do it right) – but these high-level discussions get derailed when you’ve run into low-level tactical issues in the past.
Well, like I said I’ve got this great way to get testimonials, but I assumed what I knew about this was what everyone else knew… but I was wrong.
Once I told them how to get testimonials without asking for them, I could sense that perhaps I knew something they didn’t. Perhaps this technique I use all the time with super-awesome results wasn’t as widespread as I thought.
So I decided I would share it with you… but pay close attention; there’s no TL;DR version of this and all the details matter. RT;WT (Read The: Whole Thing).
Look Both Ways Before you Go
I said the following on Twitter recently (and it applies to this technique, too.):
sometimes a technique that works in a particular situation is taken and used in a different situation without understanding why it worked— Lincoln Murphy (@lincolnmurphy) October 8, 2015
I got some pushback from people who said you should just try stuff without thinking too much about it.
Look, I’m all for taking imperfect action, but it’s probably good to have some idea why what you’re about to try might work.
I passed the driving portion of my drivers license test when I was 16 for one reason; when the light turned green I took < 1 second to look both ways before I took off and avoided getting the DMV guy and me killed by a car that ran the red light.
I passed the driving test right then and after we got back to the DMV, the guy testing me (I assume), went directly home to have a scotch and figure out a different career path.
But that simple lesson – pause and look both ways before you start – is a good one that’s saved me, both literally while driving and figuratively in other areas, many times.
Have some clue about why you’re doing what you’re doing… and then do it. You don’t have to be an expert, but don’t be clueless.
So the first thing is to understand….
The Unexpected Power of Customer Advocacy
You want Testimonials and Referrals because you know Social Proof is powerful.
But do you really understand how powerful it is?
How about the fact that customers that come in through the advocacy of other customers – according to research firm McKinsey – actually stay longer and pay you more over time?
Or what about the fact that – according to research conducted by advocate marketing software company Influitive – customers who advocate for you, actually stay longer and pay you more?
That all seems like a win-win-win to me.
But there really is such a thing as…
Testimonial Anxiety exists on both sides; the requestor and the requestee.
As hard as it might be for you to ask for the testimonial, it’s like 10x harder for the other person to fulfill the request.
I worked with a company recently that sells a marketing app to hair stylists, tattoo artists, and professionals like that; I was helping them with their customer onboarding process. Their customers are people that take pictures of their work and post to Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram all the time as part of their “marketing” so they’re definitely the Ideal Customer for this product.
Well, the product my client provides essentially repurposes the pics they take, adds a Call to Action (CTA) to book an appointment, turning what is a static pic of their work into an action-oriented marketing tool. Sweet!
But the one thing they had to overcome – which was completely unexpected until they went out and spent time with customers – was as soon as the picture their customer is supposed to take is going to be used as part of an ad, their customers felt immense pressure.
Now they have to get it right. Before it was just casual; for fun.
Now they couldn’t figure out what to take a picture of. They froze. They had anxiety.
They stopped using the app.
And they quickly went back to posting pics directly to their social profiles.
The irony (tragedy?) is that this is the exact same thing they needed to do with the app, but the anxiety was too much.
My client’s customers were facing…
Sometimes there’s additional overhead just in the context.
I take a pic of my work and post it. Easy. Done.
I take a pic of my work and have to make it an ad that may – or may not – bring clients my way, clients upon which my livelihood – and whether my children get fed – lies… whoa. Stop. Too much pressure. I’m done.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
The same thing happens when we ask someone for a testimonial.
Umm… how do you write a testimonial? Do it in third-person or first-person? Or second-person?
Am I allowed to write a testimonial? Do I need approval from legal?
What should I say? Should I be a raving fan or throw in some real talk so it doesn’t seem fake?
I’ll just mark the request as unread and do it later (but later never comes).
I know people that have looked up other testimonials or googled “how do you write a testimonial” in response to a simple testimonial request.
I know others that have engaged in back and forth conversation for weeks only to disappear off the face of the Earth once the testimonial ask is made. Poof! Gone. They made like a tree and disappeared.
Writing a testimonial is hard. I think. I don’t know, it seems like it should be hard. So they don’t.
It’s mental overhead.
Which means it violates the rule where you avoid making extra work for your customers trying to help you.
People want to help, they say they will, they have good intentions, but then they either get overwhelmed by the request itself or life gets in the way… or probably both.
Let’s make it easy for them by making…
The Right Ask at the Right Time
I get pushback all the time on, well, pretty much everything I say (at least at first), but especially when I mention sending the right message at the right time.
For all the people that hate spam, everyone seems fine with “blasting” messages en masse at unsuspecting users and customers all willy nilly while not understanding the consequences.
Those consequences range from annoying your customers to appearing incompetent to having your users and customers opt-out of future messages from you or simply ignoring those future messages.
We’ll hit some of the people at the right time so it’s okay… everyone else will just ignore the message. Yes, the latter is true, but the problem is it won’t stop with this misguided message. They’ll ignore everything else you send.
And you’re basically saying you’re okay with that happening to all the people for whom RIGHT NOW is NOT the right time to hit them with a message.
That seems like a bad idea, right? Yes.
So when I talk about making upsell offers at the right time, I get pushback; why not ask everyone all the time?
I recently needed to get my carpet cleaned so I googled and started reading reviews of local companies providing this service… and pretty much all of the ones that had 2 stars said something like “the service was fine, but the constant upsells from the moment they got there to the time they left were simply too much. I’ll NEVER do business with this company again.”
They’ll never do business with them again, but the service was fine. Wild.
Funny how the wrong message at the wrong time (and most likely the wrong tone/delivery) can completely ruin an otherwise fine customer experience.
The same rules apply when trying to get a testimonial… since the cost of sending another email to your customer is basically zero, it may seem like there’s no cost associated with doing that (beyond labor/time), but that’s not true.
That cost is the negative sentiment, customer’s opting-out, the decision to ignore future messages, etc.
Those are more difficult to quantify than the labor and time costs associated with creating and sending an email, or the per-message costs from your email infrastructure provider, but rest assured.. those costs are significant.
Which is why you should move away from date-driven and onto data-driven (or behavior-triggered) communication.
And the best way to do that is to first…
Identify Key Success Milestones
If you’re not familiar with the concept, I go into great detail in this post on Success Milestones.
You need to figure out what Success Milestones along their path to achieving their Desired Outcome have a logical advocacy ask associated with them.
Is there a Success Milestone – when they close their first customer, complete their first project, fun their 10th campaign, etc. – where you know that they achieved their Desired Outcome and are happy with your product.
Let me be totally clear… while solving for the customer’s happiness isn’t really our goal, the reality is when your customer achieves a success milestone, the humans that work there are likely to have happy feelings toward you. We solve for success and happiness comes along.
If you have access to other contextual inputs into your customer’s Success Vector – their latest NPS survey, their attitude the last time someone from your company interacted with them, etc. – then by all means leverage that intel and don’t ask a customer about their experience if they’re not “happy” or “healthy.”
There are lots of reasons not to do that, but one of the best is… you already know about their experience! Engage them in a different way, but trying to get a testimonial is probably the wrong thing right now.
And if you’re wondering if what I’ve said so far – and what I will say below – is applicable outside of email, the answer is yes. Whether you call them at the right time, pop up a Bravo widget to get a video testimonial, or otherwise make an advocacy ask, this Testimonial Framework will make things much more effective.
Okay, so at the right time – right after they achieved a success milestone – send an email to the key contact(s) at the company (your internal champion, the account owner, their power users, your certified users, etc.) and ask them…
The Secret Question
Well, it’s not so much a secret question as a framework that’s hidden in plain sight.
Ultimately, the real secret is that you’re not asking for a testimonial, but getting one anyway.
And it’s very simple.
Don’t ask them for a testimonial – for all the reasons we’ve talked about so far – instead, ask an open-ended question or start a conversation about their experience.
The last part is critical. Don’t ask about your product or what you could do better. Don’t ask how you can improve to help others later.
Just ask them about their experience with your product/company in a way that compels them to respond (open-ended questions do this very well).
Remember, they just achieved a Success Milestone and are happy with you, so asking this question right then should yield a more positive response than asking at other times.
“Hey Mary, looks like things are going great… what’s your experience with [our product] been like so far?”
“Hey Joe, looks like things are going well… I’d love to know more about your experience with [our product] so far.”
Whatever you do, don’t give them an opportunity to say just “yes” or “no.”
BTW, this is a great place to use the “Customer Success bot” method and just forward a “milestone” email to them along with your open-loop email.
The First Follow-up is Critical
“Interesting… tell me more.”
In whatever way works in the context of the conversation you’re having, ask them to tell you more.
You might jump on a call. If you do, record the call or – depending on the rules in your jurisdiction – at least record your side of the call (so make sure you repeat back to them what they just told you) and get the recording transcribed.
At the end of the email thread or the conversation, you’ll have a bunch of great stuff about your customer’s experience.
Edit that down into a… wait for it… testimonial!
The Final Follow-up is Critical, too
“You know… what you just said would make an awesome testimonial. I edited it a bit for brevity, but I’d like to post this on our website with your name, title, and company if that’s cool.”
Boom! Easy. (but use your own words)
Now, there are a few possible outcomes from that final follow-up…
- “Sure!” Well, okay… now boom! You’ve got a testimonial. BTW, this is where Cialdin’s Consistency & Commitment Principle of Persuasion comes into play. They already said what they said… taking an action that’s in-line with what they said makes total sense.
- “I can’t do that” Hmm, okay. But get a reason.
- “It would need to go through [some approval process they clearly don’t want to go through]” Okay, can you at least use it internally to prospect into other areas of the company? Can you share it with prospects via email and/or if they’d be willing to talk to prospects? If they say yes, be sure to share the quote with the internal prospect or when you’re going to set up the meeting for them to give you a reference… invoke consistency and commitment so they stick to the narrative they already committed to!
- They don’t need approval but won’t let you post it, so what gives? The fact that they won’t let you publish it – even though they have the ability to do so – may be indicative of something they’re not telling you and here’s your chance to get to the bottom of it Customer Success-style.
You could skip to just asking an open-ended question, but if you don’t know why this stuff works, you won’t know what to tweak and what to leave alone in your quest to make it work.
Hopefully, you’ll look both ways and then go… and if you do, I bet this technique works wonders for you.