The Most Useful and Most Under-Used Sales Tool, Ever! The Amazing Power of Testimonials

By Colleen Francis

For any sales professional interested in selling more to more people in less time, testimonials are an absolutely vital part of the formula for success. If you're not using them in your business right now, you are missing out on one of the most useful and under-used sales tools...ever!

I have some thoughts on why most people don't use testimonials anywhere near to their full potential. First, let's talk about why testimonials are so effective. Consider the story of legendary businessman W. Clement Stone. He built what would one day become a multi-billion dollar empire by selling fire-insurance policies door-to-door during the Great Depression.

There's no denying that Clem's knack for people skills was big part of his success. And he also had a little something extra—a binder overflowing with testimonials from his customers. Legend has it that that binder never left his side when he was knocking on all those doors. There was a good reason for that. It was chock full of stories—and not just happy accounts from people who were satisfied. It also told painful stories about how people had lost houses, husbands and wives to misfortune...and how relieved they were that, thanks to Clem, they had signed on the dotted line long ago, and now were covered. Frankly, after reading stories out of that binder, it's hard to imagine how anyone could ever say no to him!

That's the amazing power of testimonials. They work because they reaffirm for others what you already know is true.

As a sales professional, you take pride in the work you do (and I can say that with confidence about each and every one of you reading this, because you already invest in sales training from Engage Selling Solutions). When you meet with prospects, it's likely that you talk about all the great things that you do for your clients. You might also talk about how often you go the extra mile because service matters to you. But let's face it: in sales, no one ever becomes successful and stays that way for long if all they ever do is talk about the sizzle without ever showing the steak.

That's where testimonials come in. They back up what you say with what noted psychologist Robert B. Cialdini calls social proof. If we drill down a little deeper into human psychology, we also learn that testimonials have amazing persuasive powers. That's because they touch on both the fact-based and emotion-based motivators that drive people to buy things. They reaffirm that your claims are credible and that your services are the real deal. They validate the feelings that a prospect has for you. And they do so with a message that is unmistakably authentic and sincere.

When you combine all those motivators together, it helps you make a very convincing case to prospects. That way, you can say "don't just take my word for it, have a look at what my customers say..." It deepens the confidence that people will have in your message and it can dramatically reduce the barriers you face in closing that sale.

Testimonials are a form of word-of-mouth communication, which according to a McKinsey & Company study, influences three quarters of all purchasing decisions. Add to that the estimate by consulting firm Keller Fay—that there are some 3.4 billion word-of-mouth conversations each day—and you quickly realize that talk is anything but cheap!

W. Clement Stone understood this—and that's precisely the insight that you can get working for you, no matter what you're selling.

So why are testimonials under-used? You might think that it's odd, given their amazing potential, that testimonials are seldom among the top-five selling tools used by organizations large and small. It's not because they're ineffective. Testimonials are under-used because most people don't know how to find them. And even when they do find them, they don't know what to do with them. So let's look at how you can address those barriers and harness the power of word-of-mouth.

Keep your ears open wide
When you're talking to your customers on the phone, does anyone ever share with you a little story about how they were able to make great use your product or service? Check your email. Has anyone ever sent you a note just to say "thanks for the great work" on that last job you did for them? Or have you ever received glowing feedback from a client who responded to a survey that you sent out? Each of those is a testimonial, just waiting for you to act on it. And that takes me to my next point…

Ask and you shall receive
Remember our friend W. Clement Stone? He once famously said: "If there is something to gain and nothing to lose by asking, by all means ask!" When a client says great things about you, about your work or the products you sell, give them the opportunity to turn that praise into a testimonial. Simply ask: "I'd really love it if I could include what you just said in my client testimonials. Would that be okay?" People generally like to be helpful to other people, but they'll never get that opportunity to give you that all-powerful testimonial if you don't ask first.

Newer customers are passionate
Get on the phone and call your newest customers. No matter which industry you serve, the most passionate praise you'll find for your work and the service you sell tends to come from customers with whom you have only recently started doing business. Andy Sernovitz, the author of "Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking" explains why: they are the ones who are most excited about having found you. Your repeat customers, on the other hand, are already accustomed to the great service you provide. But that group can offer another important perspective, too.

Repeat customers are wise and insightful
Your repeat customers provide people (and that includes you!) with important insight about what makes your product or service worth coming back to—again and again. So make a point of calling up those that you have been doing business with for a long time and ask them why it is that they call on you. The answers you get will often include a great sentence or two that can be added to your testimonial collection. Again, all you have to do is ask.

Make it easy for people
One of the most common comments you'll hear from clients when asking for testimonials is "Well I'm really not much of a writer, so it's hard for me to put it in words." The real power of testimonials comes from the fact that they're not polished...they're authentic and from the heart. A marketing professional I know quite well recently shared with me his secret about how he addresses this issue in his business. "I borrowed an idea from John Caples—one of the great copywriters of the 20th century. When asking a client for a testimonial, he'd simply say 'Finish this sentence in 25 words or less: I really like (product/service/person) because…' This really works because it gets right to the point about the feelings people have for you, for what you do and for what you're selling."

Make testimonials part of your strategy for cold calls
Turn a testimonial into an opening statement that you can use when making your cold calls. It's a great way to get the conversation started on the right note because it's one (or more) of your customers who is talking about all the great things you can do for that prospect at the other end of phone. This strategy can be really compelling when the testimonial is one that the person you are calling can relate to specifically in their line of work. Let's say I'm calling a prospect in the tourism industry and I share with them a sample of the great feedback I received recently from a client who works for that industry's national association, I'm making it clear that I understand the challenges they have to deal with in their work. There's also a deeper message being processed by the person I'm calling: "If Colleen has worked with them, then she understands what we need and if she understands what we need, then she understands me."

Do unto others
Write testimonials for others with whom you do business and whose services have impressed you. It's a good thing to do. It also helps to deepen those all-important reciprocal relationships. Plus testimonials you write about other sends an important message to everyone about the high standards you have not only as a supplier but as a buyer, too. Social networking site, LinkedIn is a handy tool for doing this. Not only does it encourage reciprocity, it also helps you become part of a trusted network of professionals.

Make testimonials noticeable
As you build your collection of testimonials, you'll need to find a place where people can read them. Lucky for you, you have a lot more choices than W. Clement Stone did back in the Depression-era. Not only can you put them all in a binder to show prospects, you can also include testimonials in other products...and most won't cost you much more than a few minutes of your time. Here are some examples. Create a special web page devoted to testimonials. Consider ways that you can include sample quotes from that collection and feature them in steady rotation on the main page of your site. Another approach that I've seen is to include a new testimonial on the signature line of every outbound email. The possibilities are endless and the potential benefits to your sales record can be quite amazing. Even lucrative.

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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