Educators rely on their peers more than any other source when they are looking for new high-tech products to use in their classrooms. So it is no surprise that you see lots of testimonial advertising in school marketing plans. Yet most companies don’t invest enough time and energy to translate this key asset, turning favorable customer comments and testimonials into powerful marketing weapons that drive additional sales to schools.
Testimonials work because your customers’ comments are more credible than your words. When you say something about your products or services, your words are viewed as claims. But when your customer says them, their words are viewed as truth. And again, when it comes to selling to schools, your customers are your best sales channel.
When a customer says something nice about you, your business, or one of your employees or your products, how you respond is critical. Customer testimonials come in many forms, including conversations, emails, and letters. Few testimonials are ready-to-use, however. Most can benefit from a little effort before you put them to work.
Although you may hear testimonial comments or get email messages that include permission to use your customer’s words and name in your school sales efforts, in most cases you’re best off contacting the customer to confirm. This is especially true if you plan to quote from a conversation or an email. Customers will appreciate your integrity. More important, verifying gives you a chance to improve upon the customer’s original quote. For example, when verifying (or rewording) their comments, you might also ask: “Were there other aspects of buying from us that you might care to comment on?”
Simply showing an interest in the customer’s words is often enough to open the testimonial floodgates. Now you need to take those favorable comments and work them to your advantage.
Three-ring binders. Letters and emails tend to get lost. One of the best ways to prevent this is to place the originals immediately in transparent sleeves and store them in a three-ring binder.
Bulletin board. Hang copies on a bulletin board in your office, or better, frame and display them behind glass in a prominent location in your place of business. Use a colored background to highlight the most recent letter you’ve received.
Testimonial database. Save excerpts from customer letters, comments, or email messages in a special testimonial database file. Enter just the most relevant words along with the customer’s name and city and other useful fields to allow your sales reps or marketing managers to sort through them quickly. (Excerpting focuses on the most important parts of the letter.)
Copies and printouts. Copy customer letters and email messages and insert them in your press kits and customer presentation folders. Format your customer testimonial file and include printouts with proposals.
Whenever possible, include photographs with your testimonials. Educators are relationship people, and they identify strongly with photos of other people. As often as possible, photograph customers taking delivery of your product or using it for the first time. Since this is generally a happy time for customers, displays of these photographs project a positive image. Even better, create posters for display at conference exhibits or events you sponsor. Simply create a collage of customer comments and photographs; have them professionally typeset and laid out.
And don’t forget to use testimonials as the basis for your firm’s advertising. Nothing beats ads written in your customers’ own words. The ads inevitably attract attention and communicate with credibility unavailable in any other way. Create a variety of ads, reflecting the different stakeholders who may influence the purchase of your products.
Thank your customers for their support and time. However, avoid paying customers for endorsements. This could detract from the credibility of their words. Feel free, however, to show your appreciation with gift certificates or coupons or other genuine ways of showing thanks for their loyalty.
The five ideas I offered here are just the tip of the iceberg of the endless ways you can leverage testimonials to help you extend your education marketing and school sales channels. Get together with your colleagues and brainstorm on this topic — get creative and reap the rewards from satisfied customers!