Let's face it. Today's consumers are skeptical.

Can you blame them? With all the marketing hype and sales pitches people receive each day, we are all a bit jaded. However, to make the sale we must overcome our prospect's natural skepticism and create a relationship of trust. One of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal is a good old-fashioned customer testimonial or two.

It's one thing to toot your own horn. People expect you to sing praises about your own products or services. As a result, there is an inherent disbelief in any marketing message that comes from you.

But it's a different story when others--who have nothing to gain from your success--say good things about your products or services. Providing third-party testimonials increases your credibility and should be a part of your marketing message.

The Power of Persuasion

Testimonials are powerful. They create believability, credibility, and a sense of security for your customer. They help to break down the natural barriers and distrust that most buyers feel towards you or your business. Watch any infomercial and you will see that they are loaded with customer testimonials. Why? Simply because they work.

Testimonials have the magic power of persuasion. Look at the success of the George Foreman grill. George has sold millions of dollars worth of this product. But really…the company that developed the grill has sold millions of dollars worth of grills by using George Foreman's testimonial.

Testimonials That Keep on Giving

An extra bonus is that testimonials will also create more loyalty in your customers. Once people have put their name and reputation on the line by publicly endorsing a product or service (or person), they will stand behind that decision even if they suspect it's a bad one.

What's more, when you ask your customer for a testimonial, they will feel as though they are helping you and your business grow. Because they feel as though they have a vested and direct hand in the success of your business, they will remain loyal.

Nine Strategies for Successful Testimonials

There's more to obtaining testimonials than just asking your customers for their comments and feedback. If you want to have powerful testimonials that catch your prospects attention and build a relationship of trust, consider the following testimonial strategies.

1. Try to get a testimonial from your customer as soon as possible. This could be the day you make the sale or within the first week after you make the sale. Your customer will be at their “giddiest” and most motivated to write you a great testimonial then. Don't wait until the honeymoon period is over. Consider having them write the testimonial before they leave your office or store.

2. Always ask your customers to include your unique selling proposition (USP) in the testimonial. For instance, if your USP includes exceptional customer service, same-day installation, and a money-back guarantee, then ask your customer to attest to those qualities.

3. Have your customers be specific in their testimonials. For instance, if you delivered your product the same day your customer purchased it, tell your customer to include the time that it arrived. If you delivered some kind of outrageous act of customer service have them write specifically about what you did and how it helped.

4. Ask your customer to talk about the struggles they were having previous to receiving the benefits of your product or service. Most likely, the reader will have had the same or similar struggles and will empathize. This will only make your prospect more interested in receiving the benefits of your product or service.

5. Ask your customer to state their credentials. This will make their testimonial even more persuasive because their comments will be perceived as coming from a credible source.

6. Always try to get a picture with them using your product or service. As a matter of fact, try to take the picture yourself so that you know you'll get a good one. Take several and make sure they are showing the benefits of the product or service. Pictures double the effectiveness of your testimonial and bring the testimonials to life.

7. Make sure you get permission from your customers to use their testimonials in your advertising. Thank them profusely and let them know that it is testimonials like theirs that help your business grow.

8. Ask them if you cannot only use their name but the town they live in. Addresses, even if it's just a city name, increase the believability of the testimonial. It demonstrates that they are real people who live in the same community.

9. Now here is a controversial tactic but it has worked every time for me: Let's suppose your customer procrastinates in sending in their testimonial. Call them up and mention that you know they are very busy, but that you value them as a customer and their testimonial is important to you.

Suggest that to save them time and hassle, you will draft a testimonial for them and they can make any editing changes they want. Then send it back. Of course, you'll want to send a self-addressed envelope. You get the perfect testimonial and they don't have to do any work.

Controversial? Sure. But this tactic has worked every time for me.

Here's a sample letter from the spa industry asking for a testimonial from a customer:

Dear Frank:

Thank your for purchasing your spa at Spa City USA. It was a great experience helping you in your selection process. You were well informed which made our job easy. We wish we had more customers such as you who take the time to make a good decision.

We know you had several choices from which to purchase your spa and we were flattered and grateful that you chose to purchase your spa from us. We consider it an honor when someone shops around and comes back to purchase at Spa City.

From time to time we ask a few of our special customers for their feedback. We often use this feedback as a testimonial in our marketing material.

Because we had such a pleasurable time with you Frank, could I ask you to jot down a few words about your experience at Spa City and the people that helped you so that we can use it in our marketing material? You would be helping us tremendously in our marketing efforts.

You might want to include specifics such as names, positive incidents, and how you feel today about owning your spa. Again, this will help us as we market our products and services here in the Seattle area.

Enclosed you will find a form to use and a pre-paid envelope with which to mail it back to us.

Thank you so much for your help and for being a great customer.

Cordially yours, David Frey

This testimonial request letter makes your customer feel as though he is really helping out your business (and he is!). It makes him feel special and assures him that his comments will count. It also makes it easy for him to fill out and send back. The easier it is to respond, the higher your response rate will be. Always follow-up a testimonial request letter with a phone call and a letter, especially if it hasn't come back after a couple of weeks.

Always Thank Your Customer

If you thank your customer for their testimonial it will increase the goodwill you already enjoy. Take a moment to send a personal letter thanking them for their time and effort. Following are a couple of example letters you might use as a guideline for thanking your customer.

This sample letter is designed to go to people who have given you an unsolicited testimonial after purchasing their spa or pool (or your product or service).

Dear Mr. Jones:

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your kind remarks in the letter I just received from you. Your praise of our store and its people is most gratifying.

It is unusual for someone to take the time to express his satisfaction with a product or services. It's people like you who make our special effort worthwhile.

I am very pleased that you like your new Maxis spa as much as you do. When I sold it to you, I really believed it would help your back problems and allow you to relax after a long days work. I hope it gives you many years of enjoyment.

Thank you again for your kind words. I'm proud to know I've been of service. If you need anything don't hesitate to call.

Cordially yours, David Frey

Thanking your customer always tends to improve your rapport and solidify your relationship.

Besides that, it's common courtesy. Of course.

Next week: What to do with what you've got: using testimonials effectively.

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David Frey is a long-time marketer.