There are a few "first time" milestones in every startup's journey. The first sale. The first round of funding. The first media mention. All of which are critical junctures that are worth celebrating on the path to success.
But there's one milestone that easily goes unnoticed and undocumented, which is the first time you proactively seek testimonials from clients.
We went through this process recently as we updated our press page, inspired largely by Alex Goldfayn's new book Selling Boldly: Applying the New Science of Positive Psychology to Dramatically Increase Your Confidence, Happiness, and Sales.
"Your customers speak and think more positively about you than you speak about yourself," Goldfayn writes. "Your customers are happy. And you need to know this."
How do we know this?
And what do they say?
Here's the surprise, and it's exactly what Goldfayn predicted would happen, given his years of experience seeing it happen with his own customers. When we asked for testimonials about our work, customers spoke more often about what it's like to work with us, than they spoke about our actual product.
The relationship matters more than the thing we sell.
That was the eye-opener, and it has kindled the fire of inspiration again and again. To pick up the phone and call rather than send an email. To get on a plane for the face-to-face. To wake up early, despite jet lag, for a breakfast meeting on a weekend. To do the things that communicate "You are important to me."
Here are four additional takeaways we learned from the process of asking for testimonials. I hope they help you as well.
1. Start with the strong foundation.
First thing's first. A solid product or service, that's actually helpful and usable, is the foundation for the relationship. Charm goes a long way but if your offering doesn't enable your customer to do their job better, and if it doesn't make them look good to their own boss, it's an impossible hole to climb out of. Make sure you're acutely tuned in to the feedback loop that's the advantageous result of a healthy customer relationship. Catch the tail end of the "Yes, but..." sentences. Notice when response time to your messages start to lag. Listen to your gut when it tells you something's off, and could be better. Then take that feedback back to your team for improvements.
2. Ask the right questions.
In his book, Goldfayn lists 20 questions that you--or someone you trust and hire--can use during the conversation. A few favorites: How does working with us help you? What specifically gets better when we work together? And, If you were describing us to a peer or colleague who does not know us, what would you say?
Here's a tip: Give the customer time to think, Goldfayn advises. Allow pauses to happen. Remind yourself to be comfortable with the quiet, rather than rushing in to fill the space. In other words, be a good listener and respond actively, the way you would while having drinks with a friend. The questions above can be guideposts that you want to be sure to address, but provide enough space and patience to let the conversation evolve naturally.
3. Don't use the word "testimonial."
It's stressful and uncomfortable, Goldfayn points out. "You're just asking people for their feedback," he writes, which was the approach we took when reaching out to our clients. "We're updating our website," I said instead of, "and I'd really like to include your perspective." What came back was eye-opening and inspirational, as I said, and it was also touching to be reminded of the personal nature of our work.
4. Share the news.
Print it out. Keep it visible, like everywhere, and in black and white. On your desk, in your office, around the proverbial water cooler. Share it with your team and encourage them to keep it visible also. "Go public" with it via social media and any outbound marketing channel you employ.