Returning to Two of Marketing’s Oldest and Greatest Inventions: Testimonials and Referrals

Part II: How Now?

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 edition of the Marketing GPS Newsletter.

In Part One, I discussed how Relationship Marketing has supplanted Product Marketing. As Relationship Marketing tools (which include email, social media and search) increasingly refine and segment markets, the reach and consensus made possible by recommendations like testimonials and referrals accelerates. It’s the power of having the sentiments of your fans resonating with more and more prospects across a 24/7 medium.

In this second part, let’s discuss the mechanics of using these technologies to set that up.


Testimonials are “compliments” you actively collect from your customers. Each one gives you two things:

  1. an immediate recommendation you can distribute across all of your channels, and
  2. an individual you can reach out to for future testimonials and feedback.

When a recommending customer goes beyond the transactional relationship, in return, you bring him into your “inner circle” by getting to know him, his needs, likes and dislikes.

Here are 12 important steps to remember, when transforming a testimonial into a deeper relationship:

  1. Always ask. Whenever you hear someone say something good about your organization, product or service, ask if you may quote them in your collateral (both online and offline). Never use a testimonial without permission. And don’t just wait for them, but proactively ask – include on your website, Facebook apps box and emails feedback buttons with free-form comments field. Even ask for photos to add to the testimonial’s credibility. Incorporate feedback solicitation into your sales cycle.
  2. Edit (but never rewrite) testimonials. The best testimonials are quantifiable and include numbers. Turn a spontaneous compliment into a brief interview to gather evidence that supports the sentiment.
  3. Attribute your testimonials as much as your recommender will allow, up to and including name, title, organization, city and state. The more anonymous a testimonial, the less effective it is, though even an anonymous testimonial with an appellation as uninspiring as “Customer” is still better than none at all.
  4. Track testimonials in a spreadsheet stored in the cloud and accessible to anyone who publishes content in your organization. Be sure to include columns to record the date the testimonial was made, the recommender’s title, whether permission has been requested and the submitter’s name.
  5. Train everyone in your organization to be responsible to recruit testimonials. Incent your high-volume submitters, and retrain your low-volume ones. Submission frequency should be a performance-review topic.
  6. Segment your testimonials by topic once your list grows. Pulling up, say, a list of testimonials about your product’s high value is often the best way to convert a cost-conscious prospect.
  7. Publish your testimonials often and in dynamic ways. A rotating list on your website’s home page is a good place to start, but don’t stop there. Testimonials make good blog posts, inspire interviews which can turn into newsletter articles and videos, etc. (Speaking of videos, don’t forget to get video testimonials which are a great supplement to their print counterparts, especially as video continues to skyrocket in importance.)
  8. Solicit testimonials at events, particularly customer appreciation events. When speaking at conferences, I sometimes get out my smartphone and record video of audience members’ real-time reactions.
  9. Incentivize feedback (but not Google + referrals – see below). Instead of a preprinted register tape-message, try a printed card with good, even humorous questions that purchasers can trade in on the spot for a coupon. Offer contests that encourage feedback creativity with photos, audio and video.
  10. Thank your recommenders. Handwritten notes are best. Encourage recommenders to act as word-of-mouth ambassadors, and send them thank-you gifts on a regular basis.
  11. Consider the NetPromoter Score, which contends that the most important feedback response is a ten-point rating to answer the question “How likely are you to recommend [your organization] to a friend or colleague?”
  12. Give them the spotlight: many of your customers enjoy talking about their experiences – let them a have chance to tell their best story of interacting with your organization.


As powerful as testimonials are, referrals are even better because they’re recommendations published by third parties. My telling you I can help your online marketing only goes so far; but my giving you testimonials of others affirming I can help your online marketing adds credibility. An objective third-party statement has the greatest impact.

In Local Marketing, Google+ referrals and Yelp are the most powerful – but there are other networks as well. Just like with testimonials, though, it is very important for you and your colleagues to ask for a referral. Since you’re relying on another publisher, provide directions to make it as easy as possible for your customer to submit her recommendation.

It’s important to promote your referral calls-to-action heavily. Don’t bury them seven layers deep on your website, or in a corner of your newsletter. Instead try posting, blogging and emailing them prominently. Use offline channels as well – including directly asking customers in person. Use invoice reminders, and also print hand-out cards requesting reviews on Google+, Yelp and any other referral networks that are important to your business.

These cards should clearly show how to locate your specific URL, and the procedure for uploading review statements. Remember, too, that Google + specifically tries to filter out referral spam by IP address (too many referrals from a single address) and strictly forbids incentivizing referrals. Yelp has less strict rules, but, in general, it pays to recruit only accurate referrals from your clients.

If you find you have fewer five-star reviews than you would like, see what customer-service measures you can take to improve your ratio.

The rise of Relationship Marketing is due not only to technology, but also to a decline in the trust we now place in institutions. Let’s make positive changes to improve trust as we solicit recommendations. The alternative is to find yourself left behind with only the features and benefits of the Product Marketing era.

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About NSI Partners

A digital marketing company with almost two decades of experience, NSI Partners helps clients achieve robust results in search marketing, social media, and other digital marketing spaces.

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