Last month I wrote about differentiating your business within your marketplace. To attract the right clients and projects, nothing beats well-worded testimonials for demonstrating those differences.

Testimonials provide credible confirmation of your marketing message because they come from people who have actually worked with you. In his book, Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing, Harry Beckwith writes about outside perception and inside reality. The outside perception is what prospects come to think about your business based on what they observe, much like looking at a picture. The inside reality is what they come to know about your business by actually working with it.

When I owned a remodeling company, I found that understanding this distinction led to a significant improvement in both our quality and quantity of leads.

INSIDE REALITIES My company trained employees to nurture powerful testimonials throughout the remodeling process. We motivated staff by explaining to them that good testimonials would help us generate more of the work they liked to do for clients with whom they enjoyed working. And we taught them how to recognize the kinds of inside realities that Beckwith describes.

For instance, to reveal what clients liked about our process, employees learned to ask them probing questions in everyday conversations. Questions tapped into client emotions and elicited concrete examples that expanded the conversation; they actually helped clients script what they might later write. Essentially, employees asked clients to tell short, memorable stories about their experiences with us.

For example: Can you tell me more about that and why it was important to you? Do you think that would be important to other homeowners as well? Did any of our processes help make that happen? How does this experience compare with previous remodels you've done with other companies? Can you give me an example? When did you know we were the remodeling company for you? We really enjoy working with you. How can we get that message out to other homeowners like you?

Management staff asked these questions too, typically during planned meetings throughout the process. We also performed a quality audit after the completion of each project, which included prompts for narrative feedback of this sort.

MIRROR, MIRROR These conversations revealed insights that later became valuable testimonial fodder and that mirrored the rest of our marketing message. For instance, we learned that many of our clients had busy careers and appreciated our team taking care of everything. They found our company unique in that our design/build process helped them come up with creative, realistic solutions within their budget as the design evolved. Our process made decision-making easier because it helped clients feel confident about their decisions.

By the time projects were completed, our clients had articulated their inside realities so well that when we asked them to put their thoughts in writing so we could share them with others like them, they were happy to do so.

We rarely asked for a testimonial until we had nurtured the client's thoughts. The actual “ask” usually came during the post-project quality audit. We also hired a marketing consultant to interview clients shortly after project completion. He would nurture inside realities and then incorporate them into articles for our marketing newsletter.

Two final thoughts on testimonials: Always get written permission to use them, especially if you're quoting by name or even initials or location. And remember that by training your staff to nurture them, you're not just creating excellent marketing fodder, you're also developing additional salespeople who will spread the good word about your business.

Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful employee-managed design/build company. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute and former director of education for a national K&B remodeling franchise, Shawn frequently speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies.