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Lazy Lies in Testimonials

I was talking the other day to one of our vendors who is going out of business but starting a new line of work. He had referred me proudly to his new website, and I told him how impressed I was with the testimonials on the site. They were especially impressive because the business is new.

(Note: Testimonials are quotes from customers or clients praising the product or service. They are a form of evidence that the product or service is worth buying.)

He responded, "I'm glad you like them. I wrote all of them."

In response to my questions, I learned, shocked, that our vendor had made up all the testimonials and simply added attributions like "John T." and "Rita M." and "Ellie A."–apparently based on real people who had been his actual first customers. 

His defense was "But that's what they would have said!"

Yes, they might very well have said those words, but they did not. Neither did they approve them or put their names to them.

That's lying. And it's a bad way to start a new business.

Here is what you can do to get testimonials for a new business:

If you can get your first customers the normal ways, fine. Ask them for comments and permission to quote their words.

If you don't have customers yet, ask people to try your product at no cost or low cost–with the understanding that they will give you feedback on your offering. If the feedback is not positive, improve the offering. If it is positive, get their permission to use the comments.

If their comments are positive but not stated well, ask for permission to edit them. Then get their approval on the final wording.

If a customer says, "Just write something for me, and I'll approve it," interview the customer so you can use his or her words and ideas. Then get approval on what you write. 

Use your customers' first and last names, and include identifying information such as their company names or geographical locations. Those details show your potential customers that the testimonials are real.

As for "But that's what they would have said!" recognize it for what it is: lazy lying.

Don't let stress, frustration, or credit card bills compromise what you know is right. Start a new business telling the truth.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Lazy Lies in Testimonials”

  • Thanks a lot Lynn for this post, I am also starting a new business now and your words are very heart-warming (hope that is correct use? 🙂 for me.
    I will definitely follow your suggestions on the difficult Polish market. Dziękuję 🙂

  • Great post.

    I used this:

    Write testimonials if you benefit from my website services. I ask for name, company+position (optional) and country.

    Write your success story if website services help you achieved value for your career.

    What do you think?

  • Archee, good luck with your new business in the difficult Polish market. I hope the market is ready for you.

    Yes, “heart-warming” is correct.

  • Mohammed, do you ask individual clients for testimonials? I always find the personal approach most effective.

    Sometimes clients do not recognize what they have achieved until we ask them specific questions. Then they recognize the value we bring.

    Thanks for sharing your wording.

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