ReviewsWhat’s the magic word? Ask my five-year-old and the answer is, “PLEEEASE!”

Ask a marketer, sales professional or business owner and the answer is ASK. A-S-K. Three little letters that lead to powerful results. And yet, we still haven’t learned to use our magic word as often as we should.

What does this have to do with social proof?

Proving your value

What makes social proof valuable is really the proof part. Customer testimonials are great, but if prospects can’t read them (on a third-party review site and / or on your own website), they don’t help you prove the value of your brand.

According to a 2016 BrightLocal survey, 84% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (vs. 79% in 2013). And data gathered in Nielsen’s annual advertising report shows that six in 10 global online consumers trust messages posted on websites.

Bottom line: Social proof in the form of online reviews is critically important to your marketing success. That’s why you can’t just hope for it. You have to ask for it.

The evolution of asking

Around the time of our website relaunch (August 2014), we started building a new page to encourage online reviews from happy customers. But I wondered … by asking for reviews, was I breaking rules (specifically, Google’s)? I wasn’t sure.

I moseyed over to Moz (we use their digital marketing tools) and started a topic thread in their community forum, where members give advice on an array of topics, from search engine optimization to email marketing. In response to my question, only one or two community members felt it was OK. The consensus was that it would violate the terms and conditions of sites such as Google and Yelp.

The good news is, things have changed since 2014.

Why it’s OK

In a recent Search Engine Watch article, a user reviews landing page made the list of recommended techniques. When one of the premier voices on search engine optimization endorses an idea, you’re probably OK to use it.

So that settles it; we can ask for social proof. But for something this critical, shouldn’t we go a bit further?

It’s a great question. In my experience, customers do not naturally think to leave reviews of B2B brands. But in the same research survey cited above from BrightLocal, 7 out of 10 people will leave an online review when asked to!

Ask on the phone

Just like with every other marketing goal, your first step is to get leads. Review leads come from sales, customer service, your order system and occasionally social media (more on that later in this post). But you can also be more direct.

Monthly, I make about four to six outbound calls to customers to discuss their experience and gauge their willingness to write a review. I don’t push them into one review format or another … some start with Google reviews, while others email their feedback.

Nervous? This is how simple the conversation can be:

  • I thank them for their business. Clients don’t always receive a follow-up call from marketing departments. Usually, it’s the customer service team or a sales representative. Chances are, your request for a testimonial is something new. Don’t lead with the request. You are building a relationship.
  • I ask them where their project idea came from. Why? I am genuinely interested. And if we helped the customer bring a unique project to life or solved a problem, what an amazing opportunity! Encourage your customer to include those specifics in the testimonial (especially when they ask, “What should I write?”).
  • I ask them about the outcome. Dig into the details, or the testimonial won’t be more than a generic “Great job!” or “Thank you!” Was a new account closed because of the service you provided? Did website conversions increase by 20%? Be candid and ask for specifics. Take notes and email the client a summary of the conversation. It will keep the testimonial top-of-mind.

Approximately 80% of the testimonials we add to our website are generated this way. Almost 90% of our Google reviews happened AFTER personalized outreach. And here’s a great resource to make it easy to send links to review your company after the call.

Ask in person

Recently, I met with a promotional partner to discuss potential blog collaboration and even a lunch and learn presentation. It turned out he was a previous customer of ours (I work for a print company).

I knew he’d had a good experience with us previously, so I was confident he would at least entertain leaving a review. This was our conversation, paraphrased and surely butchered a little!

ME: I have a favor to ask, but I’m not asking for a commitment at this moment.

Client: What’s up?

ME: Google reviews are a great help for our business. The challenge is, even when our customers have great feedback, they don’t share it online, so it doesn’t help us. I heard you had a good experience working with us. Would you consider leaving a Google review? I could send you the direct link and I’d be happy to walk you through it over the phone.

Client: Happy to do it.

If you think you’ll damage a good customer relationship by asking for reviews, think again. The client in this scenario called me a month later to ask for a reciprocal review.

Ask on social media

What about social media? A recent post to our company Facebook page was the type of customer response marketers dream about. The customer tagged our page in a post describing the amazing experience he had with our brand.

That alone is great social proof. But what if a friendly nudge pointed him in the direction of a review site?

After speaking with this customer and learning more about the project he completed with our help, he agreed to leave a Google review. Unfortunately, he did not know how to post one. One caveat to leaving Google reviews: You need to have a Google account. He logged into his account and I forwarded the direct link to our local business listing. Walking through the review steps took less than ten minutes.

Social media platforms such as Facebook are an incredible way to foster community and build rapport with customers — and are an untapped resource for client testimonials and social proof.

Respectful follow-up

If the person doesn’t respond to your request, or promises to send a testimonial (or leave a review) and doesn’t, they may be too busy or have changed their mind. It’s easy to understand. Priorities shift. Deadlines loom. You can follow up with them, as long as you don’t cross that line into the uncomfortable zone; I don’t follow up by phone more than two times. Sometimes they simply forgot to do it or forgot how to create Google reviews, so having me on the phone was helpful and it got done. Other times, it’s time to take the hint.

And now for your review! What are your thoughts on directly asking for reviews and social proof?