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"Buyers believe buyers first, the seller second and the business third." This is a direct quote from an entrepreneur I coach, and he's right.

Testimonials are amazingly persuasive: They touch on both the facts and emotions that drive people to make decisions. They reaffirm that your claims are credible and that your services are the real deal. They validate the value you deliver to the prospect. And they do so with a message that is unmistakably authentic and sincere.

When a client says great things about you, about your work or the products you sell, give them the opportunity to turn that praise into a testimonial. Simply ask: "I'd really love to share your success with others. Would that be okay?" People generally like to be helpful to other people, but they'll rarely think to give you that all-powerful testimonial unless you ask.

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Here are the some great ways to acquire testimonials:

1. Contact your newest customers first. Get on the phone and call your newest customers. No matter which industry you serve, the most passionate praise you'll find for your work and the service tends to come from customers with whom you have only recently started doing business. Follow Audi's lead: Fewer than 30 days after a new car purchase, an Audi representative calls to confirm that the customer is happy with the purchase and to ask for feedback on the dealership. If that feedback is positive the surveyor asks if that information can be shared.

2. Contact your wise and insightful repeat customers. Your repeat customers, while perhaps not as excited because they are used to the great service you give them, provide prospects with important insight about what makes your product or service worth buying. Make a point of calling up people you've been doing business with for a long time and ask them why it is that they call on you. The answers you get will often include a great sentence or two that can be added to your testimonial collection. Again, all you have to do is ask.

3. Make it easy for people. One of the most common comments you'll hear from clients when asking for testimonials is "Well I'm really not much of a writer, so it's hard for me to put it in words." The real power of testimonials comes from the fact that they're not polished, that they're authentic and from the heart. A business owner I know recently told me that he interviews all clients starting with "Finish this sentence in twenty-five words or less: I really like (product/service/person) because . . ." This approach works because it gets right to the point about the feelings people have for you, and how what you do.

4. Do unto others. Write testimonials for others in your client community and those whose services have impressed you. This creates reciprocity, and sends an important message to everyone about the high standards you have not only as a supplier, but as a buyer, too. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn are handy tools for doing this. (Please note that I am not suggesting you use the LinkedIn "endorsement" function. That I find useless and quite frankly, annoying. Instead, use the functionality that lets you actually write a testimonial for the client, supplier, or partner.) You will find that they will return the favour with glowing references for you too.

5. Thank your customers regularly. When you ask for a testimonial, you are battling with numerous other competing customer priorities. By thanking them (sincerely!) for taking the time to act on your request, your customers will treat your request with higher priority. And when you receive the testimonial, be old-fashioned; send a handwritten thank-you note.

Testimonials are the best way to convince prospects to do business with you. They allow you to say:  "Don't just take my word for it, have a look at what my customers say . . ." When you do so, you deepen prospect confidence and dramatically reduce barriers to closing the sales.

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Sales expert Colleen Francis is founder and president of Engage Selling Solutions. Ms. Francis ensures clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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