Testimonials are marketing treasure, they're something every marketer needs to have in their toolkit to pull out and use when you need someone else to talk about you. Here, I’ll talk about how we get the most out of testimonials by sharing the exact system we use to develop questions to get ideal testimonials for our clients and for ourselves. I’ll also share some of the reasoning behind our process so you can understand why it helps to ask the questions the way we do.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Our System for Getting Amazing Testimonials

Testimonials are marketing treasure, they're something every marketer needs to have in their toolkit to pull out and use when you need someone else to talk about you.

It stinks when you're constantly running around just talking about yourself — it sounds like you're selling, right? But when someone else talks about you, it means so much more. Their words can do so much for you: they help connect you to people who don't know you. 

Here, I’ll talk about how we get the most out of testimonials by sharing the exact system we use to develop questions to get ideal testimonials for our clients and for ourselves. I’ll also share some of the reasoning behind our process so you can understand why it helps to ask the questions the way we do.

Our process breaks down into 6 steps:

1. Put yourself into the shoes of your target market.

The testimonial-gathering process is all about psychology, really, and understanding your target audience. It’s true that some people, once you start getting into the meat of this, start feeling uncomfortable, like they're tricking people or they're being salesy, but here's the deal: We're not tricking people, we are planning in a way that lets us help people. 

You're doing good things with the things that come out of these testimonials, right? So you need to use this psychology and these tactics to be able to have more organic conversations with people to get great testimonials, and there's nothing dishonest about it. You're using your powers for good. And as long as we're using our powers for good, everything can fall into place after that. So let's get to business.

The journey to get to an amazing testimonial starts where everything else in marketing starts: understanding who you're talking to.

When I say understanding who you're talking to, I do not mean understand the person giving the testimonial. While they are a very important person, the “person” I’m talking about is the person you want the testimonial to impact, the person this testimonial is going to help overcome their buying objections or their concerns and the challenges that they're facing. 

If you've done your target market homework, you're in the right place, because you can reconnect with those individuals. So think about your target market and who you're trying to reach through this testimonial. Put yourself in their shoes. 

Representing Multiple Audiences

As a nonprofit, I know you have multiple target markets. The goal is to find people who are going to give testimonials from each of those target markets. For instance, your volunteer testimonials will look a lot different than the beneficiary testimonials — there is no “one size fits all” testimonial, unless you have a beneficiary that became a volunteer and then became a donor, although that would be an amazing success story. Most of the time, though, you have donors, volunteers, and those who benefit from your services. There will certainly be some overlap with these groups, but generally, you’ll speak to these audiences separately; that way, you can use them in your marketing in the proper places.

Volunteer Testimonials

The people you’re talking to with these testimonials are just now deciding whether or not to become volunteers, so you’ll want testimonials from people who have been volunteering with you for years as well as those who just decided to volunteer. This way, your audience can more easily connect with the testimonials from new volunteers and see how long some of your volunteers have been with you. Think to yourself, what does that journey look like?

Donor Testimonials

It’s likely you have several ways people can give to your organization, so keep that in mind as you’re selecting donors for your testimonials. You can get testimonials from people who’ve just donated a little bit or people who donate regularly, people who give large gifts, or someone who did a rollover IRA gift. Those are all different types of donors, and you don't want anyone to miss an opportunity to connect with you at any of these points in their journeys. That's what the testimonials are for.

Who to Ask

The right person can make all the difference when gathering testimonials. I like to think about the different people I'm trying to talk to and the different places they are in their respective journeys. 

Make a list of all the different types of testimonials you need to collect so you can connect with their respective audiences, then go through and think about the people you know who would do a great job giving a testimonial. 

Whichever target markets you’re looking to represent, you want somebody who can be easily understood and can get to the point relatively quickly. I love picking people who I've already seen on camera (we do videos for clients often, so I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of my clients truly shine in front of a camera). I also like the awkward ones, because not everybody is eloquent and amazingly well-spoken. There's nothing wrong with having somebody who's a little awkward — awkward is real, genuine. It’s a language we’ve all spoken and will probably speak again at some point in our lives. Why not embrace it?

Record multiple people for each type of testimonial, because some will do a better job than others of connecting with the points that you need them to make. Having multiple recordings helps you piece something more cohesive together when one cut doesn’t have everything you’d like it to have.

What to Say

What are you going to ask these people during the testimonial filming to get them to say what you want them to say? Ultimately, that’s the goal: to frame questions that will enable them to provide the answer in a preferable format.

Back to your target market: consider the following questions when determining your script of questions::

  • What do they need to hear? 
  • Where are they now in their journey? 
  • Where do they want to be? 
  • What's holding them back? 
  • What are their biggest problems? 
  • What are their triggers, the things that they're really worried about?
  • How are you solving those problems?
  • What are their objections to moving forward? How do you overcome those objections in a conversation? 

These are all things you've probably already done if you've really assessed your target market. And if you haven't done that, go back and do that now. Because in order to get a great testimonial, you have to understand who you're talking to. So once I understand those things, the problems that my target market is facing, how they're solving those problems, what their objections are to moving forward and how I can overcome those objections.

2. Draft the initial questions.

Ask questions about the beginning, the middle, and the end of the person’s journey with you. Ask questions that help the listener or reader know who this person is — not as in their name, but what's their role and how big is their company or their organization. And if you're trying to connect with people who have specific values, what are those values and how can you portray them through this testimony?

3. Role play your testimonial.

When we did a recent set of testimonials for ourselves, we thought we had it all figured out because we’d done it before, and we had come up with some great questions. I was having other people conduct the interviews, and one of the people was new, which made me think we might save ourselves some stress by doing a practice round just in case. I wanted to make sure we had a great interviewer on the other side of the microphone so we could get some amazing testimonials, which I assume you can understand because you’re reading this post...

We took the questions we’d just brainstormed as a group and role-played them. I played the interviewee and just tried to really imagine myself as the target market, answering questions the exact way I think they would answer. As I was asked a question that didn’t seem to easily help me format the answer I was after, we would stop. I realized our questions were not right - they were far more yes/no than open-ended. I wanted questions that invite calm, organic conversation. 

We immediately started reworking the questions. Even after a round of tweaking, I just wasn't being prompted by these questions to say what was important for people to know, I was getting way too specific. That's the other thing: you don't want to get too specific. You want these to feel more like a storytelling. You want your audience to be able to see themselves in the journey that that the testimonial is portraying.

4. Craft the “perfect” testimonial.

What we ended up doing was working backwards to break down the parts of the testimonial that our audience needed to hear: the part of the testimonial that's identifying a challenge that they're facing, the part of the testimonial that's identifying that this person is like our target market, the part of the testimonial that tells the journey that they went through to arrive at the final destination, which is where our target market wants to be, the part that addresses the objections the buyer might have about the process that we're asking them to undertake.

Then we formulated questions that would get our client testimonials to the end results we were after. This worked way better than just brainstorming questions we could ask about their experiences with us.

5. Choose the right words to use.

Now, when you get this perfect testimonial, I want you to really think about the words your target market actually uses. Those are the words you’ll want to use in your questions, because they will encourage your interviewees to use those words in their responses — just like when you’re writing and you find you’ve used the same word like six times without realizing it. It's the same way when conversing back and forth: people tend to paraphrase back to you what you asked or said to them. So use the words you know your target market actually uses in the questions you're asking them. 

Example: Carrie, the Busy Volunteer

Let's say you're trying to get people to volunteer for your organization, and a common objection you hear (or imagine people have) is they don't have a lot of time. When picking a volunteer to interview for your testimonial, you want to pick somebody who's busy, and you want to ask them to talk about themselves and their lives a little bit to illustrate to your audience the picture of a busy person who finds time to volunteer. 

I’ll use my best friend Carrie as an example interviewee. Carrie is a super busy lady; she's got two kids, she's an orthopedic nurse who performs surgeries, and she's also volunteers at our church, and at the food bank and somehow always finds time to do this. Carrie would be a great person to make a testimonial with for your organization, because she's lovely, she’s well-spoken, and because she’s a prime example of someone who has very little time and volunteers. 

Set the stage - This is where the story starts to take shape. We let people see that Carrie is a real person, that they're a lot like her or want to be like her.

Question: “Tell me a little bit about yourself, Carrie.”

Ideal Response: “I'm a mother of two, and I'm a nurse, and my kids are in lots of sporting events. It's pretty amazing to watch them grow up.” 

Create the scene - I want Carrie to specifically talk to this objection to help other people overcome that same challenge.

Question: “Carrie, you are such a busy person. How did you find time to volunteer at the Food Bank?”

Ideal Response: “Actually, it wasn't hard at all because you can sign up on their website and choose which shifts you want at the food bank. You can sign up for just an afternoon or for a couple of hours, so I just treat it like a family event and schedule it on our calendar.” 

Take the opportunity to learn more about them - This might not be something you use in your testimonial, but you might want to learn more about why people are volunteering for your organization. Since you've already got them on the phone or on camera anyway, why not ask? Why not learn? You can even play these responses back to your new hires or to your board. It’s an excellent opportunity to reconnect with your target market.

Question: “What brought you to this organization? How did you find us?” 

Ideal Response: “I’m a nurse, and people eating healthy is extremely important to me. I am always concerned about my kids eating healthy. And I'm also concerned about other kids in our community and making sure they have food to eat and that they have the basic needs for their lives. I feel like by bringing my daughter to the food bank to volunteer, she gets to see not only that giving to her community makes her feel good, it also shows her that there are other people in the world who don't have what she has.”

Wrap it up - You just got them to talk about their objections, challenges, and outcomes of the journey, right? When you ask them to give advice to someone else, they somehow wrap it all up in this neat little bow and get it said way faster in the end. So we want to ask them this question because this might be the only part of the testimonial you use,

Question: “Carrie, what would you say to somebody who's considering volunteering at the food bank?” 

Ideal Response: “I would tell them that volunteering at the food bank has been super fulfilling. And it really didn't take a lot of time or effort. It was really streamlined and I had an amazing time with my daughter, building this activity together and giving back to our community. We felt so good once it was done, and I was so proud of my daughter in how hard that she worked. I feel like I got more out of it than I probably gave. And it felt like I was part of something important. We're totally doing it again next month. It's worth setting aside the time to do.”

Big thanks to Carrie for letting me put words in her mouth. But this is how you're going to craft those perfect testimonials: by really thinking about your target market and putting yourselves in their shoes.

6. Fail forward, fail fast and move on.

You won’t nail it the first time, and that’s okay. It's really hard to get this right on the very first try. So pick a person that's awesome, forgiving, and a huge champion of yours. Ask them your questions, and if they don't give you the answers you need,  go back and think through your questions again, 

What you don't want to do is just keep plowing forward and waste everybody's time making a bunch of testimonials that don't actually speak to your audience. It's totally okay to fail. You just have to be cognizant of the fact that you're failing and fail forward, fail fast and move on. 

That, in a nutshell, is how we get great testimonials. 

I know that my example is a little rough, but it does give you a really good example of how to role play through these testimonials and understand what answers the questions might yield. Hopefully it serves as a starting point for you as you're collecting testimonials for your organization. 

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