What questions should I ask to get a good testimonial?

“Testimonials are stories. And stories potentially have power and grace, flow and rhythm. Look around you and you’ll see none of that in most testimonials.

Limp testimonials are a fact of life because clients don’t always know how to give testimonials and we often don’t have a clue about how to ask for testimonials.”

-Sean D’Souza, “6 Questions to Ask for Powerful Testimonials,” CopyBlogger

When we simply ask a client for a testimonial, without structure or guidance, we end up with “so-and-so is a top-notch [enter your profession here] and really knows her stuff” or “he did a fantastic job on the project – we’re very happy with the results!”

These are nice to have – and certainly more helpful than no testimonial at all. But they’re not particularly effective at busting a new potential client’s objections or demonstrating exactly how you’ve delivered value for investment for others like them.

Plus, if you don’t give any structure or guidance at all, there’s a real danger of leaving your client with writer’s block – making it a burden to complete the task. You do not want to be a burden or an item on their to-do list that keeps getting put off because it’s hard.

Make it easier for the client & get better testimonial material

Asking your client targeted questions not only make it easier on your client, it helps you construct a far more effective testimonial. One that interests the reader, addresses their objections and goes beyond all-sugar and no meat “so-and-so was great to work with!” type of testimonial.

Sean D’Souza, author of The Brain Audit and The Secret Life of Testimonials, talks about the importance of using structure to get good testimonials. He came up six questions you can ask to solicit the information you need for strong testimonials (click here to read his CopyBlogger article explaining the power of these six questions):

  1. What was the obstacle that would have prevented you from buying this product?
  2. What did you find as a result of buying this product?
  3. What specific feature did you like most about this product?
  4. What are three other benefits of this product?
  5. Would you recommend this product? If so, why?
  6. Is there anything you’d like to add?

These questions refer to products, but they can be modified to fit a consulting service context.

Although you can substitute the word “service” in for “product”, I recommend tweaking some of the questions just a little more. One of my consulting colleagues said that he tried to use these questions, but got very short responses that forced him to fill in the blanks too much. Clients can be thrown a bit by some of the original wording, and there is a way to soften it and make them feel more natural to ask.

There are also some additional questions I recommend adding in to help create a beginning-to-end story to help your potential clients get a full picture – what it’s like before, during and after engaging you.

Here’s how I ask the questions (with the person or company’s name where it says ABC).

  1. What led you to engage ABC?
    • (Alternatively: What challenge were you facing that led you to engage ABC?)
  2. What hesitations or concerns, if any, did you have before making the decision to work with ABC?
  3. What made you choose to work with ABC instead of another consultant or doing the work in-house?
  4. What did you find as a result of this project?
    • (Follow up question:Why was it worth the investment you made?)
  5. What specific feature or benefit did you like most about the service you received?
  6. What are two or three other benefits you saw?
  7. Would you recommend ABC to others? If so, why?
  8. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

(Note: generally, you can sub in “me” or “this project” or “this service” where it says ABC if you’re solo and asking the questions in-person instead of through a third party or email).

Don’t forget the flip side of the equation: what could be improved?

There’s still one missing piece. I always recommend framing a request for a testimonial as part of a request for feedback. So while we ask for all the things that went well, we should also ask what could have gone better:

  • What could have been improved or gone better – even with the benefit of hindsight?

The purpose of this question is not just to give the appearance of balance, but also to uncover how to make things even better in future engagements. I find this question fits best after question 6.

I love to add “even with the benefit of hindsight.” Unless they are unhappy, clients don’t love giving feedback that could be seen as negative. People generally want to be nice. The “hindsight” angle gives them an out. It allows them to give more honest feedback without feeling icky about it.


A more effective testimonial

A testimonial’s job is to show you are a pretty safe bet, reducing the perceived risk for a potential client to try something new by engaging you.

With the answers of these questions, you now have material to construct a testimonial that is credible, gives the potential client a clear picture of how someone else’s situation was improved because of the investment they made in your services, and ultimately helps reduce perceived risk in the client’s mind.

Want to get a great testimonial without the awkwardness? I have a done-for-you testimonial service available to help get you the best testimonials possible.