So far in this series on boosting your sales and thriving in this new economy, we've looked at the importance of leveraging who you know, of considering carefully what you say and how you say it. Let's turn now to what your customers have to say about you, and why it is vitally important that you harness the power of word-of-mouth in sales.

Customer uncertainty during difficult economic times can make any sales person's job harder, especially when pitching to new prospects. In an environment of elevated risk, its human nature that we tend to stick to what we know and what we're sure of…and that certainly applies to customers when facing a choice between buying from you or one of your competitors. As a sales professional, you already know how important it is to first sell the benefits of your product or service so that a prospect or existing customer can make a decision with confidence to buy from you. However, there's still much more you can do to help influence and boost a buyer's confidence, and that's where testimonials come into play.

Testimonials can transform selling benefits

Let's face it, there is a whole lot of fear out there today. Among the many things companies are worried about is whether they're making the right choices when it comes to suppliers. Will you be able to deliver on your promise? Are your fundamentals strong or could you be out of business soon? Are you stretching the truth with the unique benefits you are offering, simply to secure a sale? No matter how polished a sales presenter you might be, those questions are the kinds that your prospects will be asking themselves until they are given a good reason to feel differently.

Whether you're trying to persuade one person or a room full of people, testimonials provide your audience with something tangible and solid: someone else's positive experience, their satisfactory results and their glowing praise. On the face of it, these are opinions, but when they are seen as credible opinions, testimonials have the potential of taking on the similar weight as facts. Here's why. Because they give your prospects something they can measure against their own needs and expectations. Testimonials are especially powerful when they come from a peer or from someone in the same industry as your prospect. It's meaningful when you're able to say: "We've been doing business with your colleague, Phil, in accounting, for over ten years, and here's what he has to say about that experience."

Turn the great things people already say about you into testimonials

As a sales trainer, I often meet people who say: "I know my customers love doing business with me, but I'm not all that great at getting testimonials…what am I doing wrong?" If you want testimonials from your clients, you have to ask them. It's as simple as that.

People generally like to be helpful to other people, but they'll never get that opportunity to give you that all-powerful testimonial if you don't ask first. Keep your ears open for kind words and praise from your customers. Follow-up right away with a phone call or an email, explaining how important testimonials are in your line of work, and then ask: "would it be okay if I included what you said in my collection of client testimonials?"

Another approach is to simply follow-up with a customer who purchased from you recently. This is especially important when speaking to newer clients. As Andy Sernovitz, the author of "Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking" explains, they are the ones who are most excited about having found you. Make the most of that. Also, be sure to ask probing questions, such as: "why did you choose to do business with us over someone else?" Or: "why do you continue to buy from us in these economic times?" A customer who is happy with the products or services they are receiving from you is quite likely to share a few really solid reasons why they keep placing orders.

Review with your sales team the very best feedback your group has received to date and then go down the list of your existing customers to identify the ones who could provide new testimonials. Get on the phone and make those calls. If you can't do it yourself, there are all sorts of companies out there that you can hire to collect those testimonials.

Testimonials work best when you use them often

Proving to others what you already know is true — that's the real power of testimonials. However, you can't extract their full potential unless you use them often. If you're working within a larger organization, it will definitely be worth your time and effort to sit down with those responsible for corporate marketing and identify every opportunity possible to include testimonials on outward-bound corporate communications.

No matter how large or small your company is, make sure every proposal that goes out the door has at least one testimonial on the front page. Every page on your website should feature glowing feedback and recommendations from your customers. You can also collect a group of testimonials and insert one in the signature line of each email you send. Like so many things that characterize the business habits of the top-10% of sales professionals in organizations of all sizes, the key is to be consistent.

More tips on how you can obtain and use testimonials are covered in one of my previous newsletter articles, available here.

The proof you need to sell more

More than any other marketing tool — from advertisements to opinion polls — recommendations from other consumers is still ranked the number-one selling tool, according to a recent study by Nielsen Research.

In an economy of all seasons — from sunny to stormy — it remains effective because it provides consumers with something that is valuable to them: proof. It demonstrates that buying from you isn't a risky decision — it's a smart decision, backed by the track record you've earned from those who know best: your customers.

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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