Though you may recoil when you think of those sleazy testimonials in the backs of tabloids, the fact is that a well-written, succinct professional testimonial on your Web site or other marketing materials is a positive attention- getter. Just ask any marketing guru.

As a matter of fact, people like to know about your business or your services from others who have had firsthand experience with you. A good testimonial can move someone from “curious” to “sold.”

The problem is this: How do you get testimonials? People are busy, and you hesitate to bother them for something that is going to help you when they seemingly get no benefit for themselves. And how do you know that you’ll like what they say? Or that their words will touch on the things you really want people to know?

The typical way to get testimonials is to ask someone if she’s willing to give you one and then ask her to write it and send it to you. You may or may not get it, even if she tells you she will be happy to do it. Knowing how low the followthrough rate can be in spite of the best of intentions, another approach is to tell the person you will write something yourself (to save her the hassle) and send it to her for her approval. The problem with this is it just doesn’t seem the same as getting it straight from the horse’s mouth. It feels forced — and you might find it hard to brag on yourself.

There is another way. And it works. The first step is to send an e-mail (or make a phone call) to someone you think is one of your raving fans — or at least has had a very positive experience from doing business with you. Tell her that if she is willing, you will have someone call her to schedule a five-minute phone interview. The person will ask a few questions about her experience with you and take notes.

Why not interview her yourself? Because the interviewee will feel more comfortable talking about you to someone else. She won’t feel she has to embellish her remarks or say something she doesn’t really mean just to make you feel good.

Appropriate questions are openended and designed to get the interviewee to talk: “What did you like best about working with ______? What was the main benefit you received? If you’ve worked with others (similar businesses or professionals) before, how was working with (your name) different? What is the one thing you really want other people to know about ______?” This format encourages a chattier, less formal, more genuine kind of testimonial — the kind that won’t sound canned or forced.

You — or someone you choose — can then review the interviewer’s notes and select the most compelling words, phrases and statements to create a draft testimonial. Voila! You now have a believable, in-the-interviewee’s-ownwords testimonial that highlights the features and benefits of your business or services.

Send the draft to the interviewee, giving her permission to edit in any way she sees fit. Assuming the interviewer has done his job, the person will easily recognize the accuracy of what’s written and happily sign off on it.

Be sure to ask the person to list exactly how she wants to be referenced (specific spelling of name, title, organization, etc.). Some people want to use a formal name and title; some prefer an initial or a more informal nickname. Some want to list an industry and title without naming a specific affiliation. Some want a title like “vice president” while another might want “vice president of human resources.” Some will ask you not identify them by name but to use a title such as “mortgage broker” or “Fortune 500 executive.”

Getting the person to write exactly how she wants to be listed assures that there won’t be hard feelings later. And sending you the written testimonial (email or hard copy) protects you by providing documentation that you have permission to use it.

This method of gathering testimonials has several advantages over the more traditional ones. First, the person you ask for this favor will be relieved that she doesn’t have to compose something in writing; it is so much easier to spontaneously answer a few questions. Second, you don’t have to go through the awkwardness of tooting your own horn and wondering if the person is going to think you’ve exaggerated or tried to put words in her mouth that she feels uncomfortable endorsing.

Author: Judi Craig