Testimonials – Good vs. Bad and how to get them.

Not all testimonials are created equal.  Done well and used the right way, a strong testimonial can be an absolute gold mine and drive tremendous sales to your business.  Poor testimonials can be ineffective – or even turn people away.

“If they’re offering a bottle for free, it must be good!”  – Jean from Springfield

“It was better than CATS, I’d go see it over and over again!”  – Joe S.

Everybody’s run across a product that you suspect is sketchy anyway and a questionable testimonial is usually enough to confirm that you want to stay as far away from it as you can get.


There’s the bad testimonial: 

They sound fake, contrived, stretched, made up, over the top, outrageous.  Straightforward and sincere is difficult to make up and most people can tell when something doesn’t sound right.  If you’re making stuff up, you’re not helping yourself.  Even if you’re not making it up, if it sounds over the top, people aren’t likely to believe it.

“Prior to getting started with the Elite Team, I was a cable guy working horrible hours, now that I am a part of the Elite Team I made 19,000 my FIRST 2 weeks. This program is awesome!” Talk about making some real money!
-Jared McCart, Valparaiso, IN

The ineffective testimonial:

The testimonial is vague or too general.  It’s nice that the product or company is great, but what did it do – exactly?  Why was it was great?  And most importantly, as a potential buyer how would it apply to me?

“Very useful site, attractive, easy to use.”  (From BetterPhoto.com)

Basecamp is just awesome

“That’s all I have to say. Basecamp is just awesome. A special place in heaven will be reserved for you guys.”
-Anthony Howard, creative director

The compelling testimonial:

The best testimonials are those that are specific and focus on how the customer was better off, more effective, empowered, etc. by your product or service.  The compelling testimonial is not focused on how great you or your company / product / service is. 

Remember – with all marketing, it’s not what you or your product or service can do, it’s what your product or service does to solve your customer’s problems.

Basecamp has totally changed my business… I can’t think of any business that couldn’t benefit from using Basecamp

“Just a quick note to say that after just 3 days, Basecamp has totally changed my business. My clients have a visible confidence in their projects that was hard to perceive before and my time-management skills have improved significantly. A big thank you to all your hard work and persistance through the development process. Of course I use this for my graphic design and web development business, but I can’t think of any business that couldn’t benefit from using Basecamp.”
-Ben Potter, BPD Studios

In some cases they may not be ‘traditional’ testimonials – on Constant Contact they use Customer Examples and success stories that not only illustrate why and how they use the product, but what specific benefits they got out of it.  See an example here:  Constant Contact

There’s a great article by the writers of Creating Passionate Users that was written last year on this topic – you can find that article here.  Another good article from Grokdotcom that takes a similar focus can be found here.

How do I get Testimonials?

Finally now that you know what to look for, how do you get the right kind of feedback from your customers?  I ran across this article from the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses) that had some good suggestions both on what a good testimonial is and how to get them.

You may be fortunate enough to get unsolicited feedback, but that’s difficult to count on.

Essentially it boils down to asking for them.  If you know a customer is pleased with your product or service, ask them for a testimonial.  Not all of them will follow through, but you really only need 1 or 2 really good examples to get you started.

It might be worth your while to do a case study with 1 or 2 of your clients and have a 3rd party interview them to pull out the details and the background on how you’ve helped your customers.  (Note – a 3rd party is recommended because customers are likely to be more open with someone else, if you have a good relationship with the customer it may not be needed).

It can be difficult to get great testimonials, but done right and used in the right context, they can be the single most compelling marketing for your business – they should definitely be a key point of marketing for a small business owner.

Do you have any stories about testimonials – any great ones you’d like to share here?

Shawn Kinkade   www.aspirekc.com

5 thoughts on “Testimonials – Good vs. Bad and how to get them.”

  1. Great article on testimonials.

    You have reminded me that this isn’t a topic that I have written about on the Business Coaching Blog yet although I have elsewhere.

    I like testimonials that move through the prospect’s buying decision and are relevant to the buyer

    Below is first the testimonial and secondly what I want the prospective buyer to be thinking.

    1 – I had this problem – yes me too

    2 – I tried X and Y and it didn’t work – same here

    3 – I heard about this company and I was initially sceptical – me too, I’ve been ripped off before.

    4 – My problem was bad. I needed to do something – I hear you man

    5 – This company offers a strong risk reversal, what had I got to lose – that’s right I can get my money back if it doesn’t go right.

    6 – It worked for me, it was easy and fast – that’s what I want to hear

    7 – Now two years later, my problems are still cured and I’ve almost forgotten just how much I was suffering – If it worked for you, and you are so much like me, it should work for me. I want it. Where do I sign up

  2. Paul – great model flow, the question is can you get your clients to address all of those points (although even if they only touch on half of them you’re still in good shape).

    Thanks for the response.


  3. Hi Shawn

    Fist, the second point is right – cover half of them and you are on the way to having a really specific testimonial that means so much more than “Paul is great”

    I see no problem about leading a client through a testimonial process, starting off with a check that they are delighted with the service being provided.

    Then ask them if they would would prepare atestimonial for you as it will help people like them and help you.

    [most people by this stage will want to do both]

    Third check that it’s OK to ask a few questions to help them think about their experiences.

    Ask the questions, write their responses on the form, highlight and key phrases that you’d love to have included.

    Thank them, say that you have been taking a few notes as you talked and would they like you to send them your notes so that they can remember some of the great things they said.

    People like to do things the easy way and they will recognise their own words.

    Hey presto, what do you think you get back? A story testimonial that has real connection with people who are in the same position that they were in.

    The only problem I have with formula testimonials is that they can start to appear too alike if you have many customers starting from the same place.

    That’s why it is a good idea to get permission to use all or part of the testimonial in your promotion.

    I really am going to have to blog about this or all my ideas on testimonial building will be in your blog.


    Paul Simister
    Your Profit Coach

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