So say you’ve got the world’s greatest online course, law practice, startup company or product. How do you get people to believe you?

While there’s something to be said for tooting your own horn, it’s always more credible when the praise comes from someone else.

That’s never been more true than today. From reviews on Amazon to Yelp, people use third-party validation to make their decisions about what to buy and from whom.

In my program the 3-Step Copy to Cash Machine, I cover all kinds of third-party validation and other ways to boost credibility and trust in your copy. But of all the marketing currency you could amass, a collection of good old testimonials or reviews is still the gold standard.

Why Testimonials and Reviews Work

Like anything else in marketing and copy, there’s a ton of psychology going on behind the scenes that almost no one talks about:

(Almost) no one wants to be first
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explains: While a few brave souls love to be “innovators” (2.5%) and trendsetters like to be “early adopters” (13.5%), the vast majority of people fall in the range of early majority (34%) and “late majority” (also 34%). These people want others to risk being first, and only jump in when there is proof that the won’t look like fools for buying from you. If your product or concept is brand new, the best things to do is find a few of us pioneering types, call them a beta or pilot group (we love that) and give them a special price and early access in return for a review or testimonial. Then when you release it wide to the masses, they’ll know they are not the guinea pigs and that others have gotten results.

People love stories
It’s no secret stories sell, and a good testimonial is really a good story: “I had this huge problem, I thought there was no hope, I discovered this amazing product, here’s what happened, I won, and look where I am now. The End.” In marketing, like in the movies, people especially love stories about people who are like them. They want to identify and go along for the adventure. This has the advantage for you in allowing the prospect to start having a vicarious ownership experience through one of your previous happy customers, while learning about your product or service.

People want to save time
Testimonials allow people to shortcut the due diligence they probably should do but are too busy or lazy to do themselves. They also make buyers feel more confident in their decision. If you have multiple testimonials that highlight different benefits, the one that most closely matches the reader’s own need will act like a dog whistle and cement their conviction that this is for them.

People want to belong
You’ve probably heard the term “social proof”. Testimonials (as well as other signals like a large Facebook following) let buyers know that not only are they not first, but they are joining a “club” of people who know, love and have committed to your brand.

OK, Better and Best Testimonials

These are just a few of the benefits of testimonials. But the trick is getting them, and getting the best ones. (To automate getting testimonials and verified reviews that visitors can view on your website, check out Review Trust software here.)

An “OK” testimonial is just a little better than nothing. It’s the person saying. “Mary’s terrific” without any specifics. Unless the person saying it is super-famous, it really doesn’t do much good.

A better testimonial gives a little more information about what it is about you or your product that’s great. “Mary’s graphic design services are top-notch. Her company did an amazing job on our website. We’ll be using her again.”

The best testimonials tell a real before-and-after story and cite actual results. “Before coming to Mary, our website was a mess. I knew we were losing a ton of business. We hired her after seeing some of the work she’d done for other companies like ours. She listened to what we needed and gave us a beautiful site that was even better than we were expecting. Now, we’re proud of our site and we even get compliments from our clients! We’ve also gotten 40% more leads every month since the upgrade. If anyone is thinking of hiring Mary’s web design firm, do it!”

To elicit the kind of testimonial you really want, don’t expect your clients to come up with them on their own. The easy way to get story-based testimonials is to ask the right series of questions, then string together the answers.

Here are my seven questions to ask to get great testimonials:

  1. What you were struggling with or looking to solve before you hired me?
  2. What made you choose me to work with me, as opposed to someone else?
  3. What projects or goals did we work on together?
  4. What specific results have you received so far? (How are things different now?)
  5. What was the thing you liked most about our time together?
  6. What’s next for you now ?
  7. What would you say to someone else who was considering working with me?

Obviously, if you sell a product rather than a service, you’d want to adapt these slightly.
Answering these questions works equally well on video as it does in print.

When and How to Ask
The best time to ask your client to give a testimonial is during or right after they’ve worked with you. This way, it’s fresh in their minds, they still have enthusiasm, and you won’t have to approach them months later for an awkward favor.

On the other hand, don’t despair if you’ve got clients you never approached from whom you’d like testimonials. Use the letter I’m giving you for free as an excuse to rekindle the relationship.

A lot of times, clients will agree to give you a testimonial and then forget or just not do it. In those cases, it’s ok to write one for them. Make it sound like you just want to save them time, and tell them you’ll let them approve it. Most will happily agree.

Video is even better than text (and of course a video testimonial can also be used as text) so always ask if they’d do a video for you. Many will be happy because it’s easier than writing. Have them answer the same questions, that are also in the email template you can download here.

How to fish for compliments and catch some big ones
It’s not cheating to simply ask clients what they are getting out of what you’re doing while it’s still going on — without revealing what you are doing. These can end up being the most natural — and therefore the most credible — testimonials of all.

Ask clients to comment about what they think of your product or service on facebook. Then screenshot each of the comments (you can use Loom or Snagit) Voila! Instant social proof graphics for your website or sales page!

If you run into an old client at a seminar, be bold, whip out your phone and video them answering the seven questions or even just the last one. The energy of being live and in person will come through.

NINJA TIP Toward the end of a satisfying Zoom or Google hangout session with a client, ask, “So how was this for you today?” Then let them talk, shut up and hit record if you have not already. Or if they simply volunteer, “Wow! This was great!” you can reply, “Really? That’s good to hear! What was great about it?” Again, be quiet (maybe even mute yourself, and simply nod encouragement) hit record and let them talk. Of course, you’ll want to ask them if it’s ok if you ever wanted to use what they just said in your marketing. (Act like you just thought of it!)

Just ask for it (and look for it)
The most important thing about testimonials is just remembering to ask for them and keep an eye out for spontaneous praise:

  • Have a “system” where you always ask clients for comments after VIP day or at the end of a meeting.
  • Put following up with clients for testimonials in your calendar.
  • Make it easy for your clients by automating the process. Review Trust software lets people click a widget on your site and leave a testimonial, even a video.
  • While a big before-and-after story is great, any positive communication about you can be valuable. Take screenshots or video screen captures of Facebook comments, Twitter shout-outs, thank you emails, and mentions on Facebook live videos.

If you found this valuable, it’s just a smidgen of what’s going into my new and improved Copy-to Cash Machine course that will be re-opening soon. To get on the VIP early notification list, click here.