You can sell yourself and tout the benefits of what you do, but a testimonial from someone else will get you further. Word-of-mouth recommendations drive 20% to 50% of sales and serve as social proof that you do good work, according to a McKinsey & Company study.
Yet less than a third of us ask customers for a review, and that’s probably because it feels a little like fishing for compliments–awkward and uncomfortable.
“Asking for a testimonial is only awkward when the requesting party makes it awkward,” says Lorrie Thomas Ross, author of The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Online Marketing. “If a simple request like this seems difficult, uneasy, or stressful, then your approach is wrong.”
The key is how and when you ask, experts say. Here are five easy ways to get personal recommendations from your clients.
There is a common feeling that these requests take a long time, so that myth needs to be busted, says Thomas Ross. If you want that testimonial or recommendation letter, make it simple.
Instead of asking the client to do the writing, Thomas Ross suggests that you take on the majority of the work. She offers this example of a letter requesting a testimonial from a client:
Hello (Their Name),
I’m updating my website to include current testimonials, and I would love to brag that you are my client. I’m looking for a short testimonial about your experience working with me. Here’s an example of one I’m including:
“I never thought I would see an end to my tax problems until I hired you. Anyone with small business tax problems must see this firm! – Leslie M., CA”
If it is easier, I can write one for you to edit. Let me know!
Jeremy Cohen, cofounder and general manager of the executive search firm The Talent Studios, says getting a testimonial or recommendation is all about framing the ask within the right context.
“The reality is that you are asking them to stake their name and reputation on the body of work you performed while in their purview,” he says. “It often makes sense to characterize the ask as an implicit compliment to the individual.”
For example, you could say: “I feel like I did some of my best work under your guidance, and would really appreciate if you’d be open to sharing our experience together in a LinkedIn recommendation.” Or, “Your opinion means a great deal to me–would you be open to sharing our work together with a LinkedIn testimony?”
“The emphasis needs to be on the fact that you believe their opinion has gravity and you respect it to the point where you want it memorialized on the largest public forum of accessible career information on you,” says Cohen.
Whenever someone says something nice about you, write it down, suggests Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of The Membership Economy.
“Then, when you ask for a testimonial, you can say, ‘After we finished the ACME project, you said something really kind to me, and I was hoping I could use something like that as a testimonial,’” she says. “Then quote what they said as best as you recall.”
Kellman Baxter also suggests tracking your results on key projects, so that when you ask for a testimonial, you can provide specific bullets describing your work in your request.
One of the easiest ways to get a testimonial from a client or colleague is to stay in touch when you don’t need anything at all, says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster. Periodically send a quick email to say hello and a holiday card at year end, or invite them out for a cup of coffee. This can alleviate any awkward hesitation, and down the road when you need a testimonial or reference, it will feel completely organic and reasonable, she says.
“When your former colleague asks how you’re doing, you can subtly bring up that you are in the running for a new position, and have been asked to provide a referral list,” she says. “Mention that great experience you had working at your former company and with that particular person, and [and that you] would be very appreciative if you could list them as a reference.”
If asking is still uncomfortable, turn the tables, suggests Donald Silver, COO of the public relations firm BoardroomPR. He makes it a practice to write at least one unsolicited recommendation each week on LinkedIn.
“People are pleasantly surprised and always thank me profusely,” he says. “They also reciprocate with a recommendation for me. Moral of the story: Give to get.”