For a prospective customer not entirely sure how good your product or service is, the right testimonial is the most important piece of marketing material you have. A testimonial serves as proof that your company is so great to work with that your past customers are willing to stand up and help you win over new buyers.

But to be able to win over a new customer with that sort of social proof, you need to take a focused approach to testimonials. Collecting anything past customers send you and sticking it into a brochure or a single page of your website just won’t cut it anymore.

COLLECT CUSTOMER QUESTIONS

Before you jump into gathering testimonials, start collecting the questions your customers ask you. If you can, look for the questions they asked before they signed a contract or made an initial payment (before your customers really became your customers) — it’s rare that only one prospect will have a given question.

Having a third-party vouch for you can help reassure a new customer. While a visitor to your website will know that you cherry-picked the testimonials you display there, he’ll still find it reassuring that you got those testimonials in the first place.

You’re looking for the potential issues that are likely to worry someone who is considering working with you. That might include questions about what you’re selling, but it’s more likely to focus on matters like how a buyer knows she can trust you or how quickly she can expect you to fulfill an order or turn around a project.

ASK FOR SPECIFIC TESTIMONIALS

Even if you’re doing awesome work, it’s rare that many of your customers will send you testimonials. It’s just not something many people think to do. You’re going to have to ask for the testimonials you need. And if you’re asking for those testimonials anyhow, why not make sure you get exactly what you want? You can ask for specific testimonials that address the questions you’ve already collected — it can be as simple as asking how you did at following up with those questions over the course of working together.

Make it clear that you’re asking for a testimonial that you can publish — testimonials are always more effective when you can pair the recommendation with a picture, as well as a name and a title. It might be useful to create a form that your customers can easily complete. After all, they’re more likely to give you a testimonial if it takes very little effort on their part.

Depending on how you market your business, you might want to consider collecting testimonials in audio or video formats. Asking a client to spare a few minutes to repeat what they’ve written in front of a camera can be worth your while.

EVALUATE YOUR MARKETING MATERIALS

With your new testimonials in hand, take a look at your marketing materials as a whole. Testimonials can be useful across a wide variety of promotional materials — social proof can liven up websites, brochures, and other communications with your clients.

Focus first on adding testimonials that address common questions or issues in the buying process. Build these recommendations into the body of your materials. Broader testimonials, such as those that discuss your trustworthiness, can be more effective when framing other information. You might include these types of testimonials in sidebars on your website or as pull quotes in your brochures.

Sprinkle testimonials throughout the materials you use to reach prospective clients, rather than isolating them in one section of your marketing materials.