When people shop, whether online or offline, there is always a measure of uncertainty throughout the buying process.  Typically, the uncertainty fades as the buyer journeys through the process of researching their purchasing decision.  They gather facts about what they need, look at features, benefits, quality, pricing and so on.  A brand that is really good at selling will be one that is really good at helping the potential customer to navigate through their uncertainty to confidence that they've chosen the right product or service for themselves.

Much of the sales process, after all, isn't the product or service itself.  Much of the time (but certainly not always), the customer has already identified their need themselves.  They know they need your product or service.  They are just looking for the BEST solution to their need.  The better you are at this, the more sales you will attract.

One of the ways that you can help take customers from fear and uncertainty to confidence and action is through the use of a psychological principle called social proof.  This is the phenomenon that humans determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct.  After all, it's usually the case that when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do (but certainly not always).

The Principle in Action

I remember taking a younger person to our local amusement park.  This person enjoyed roller coasters, but there was a new big one for this particular year.  It's 400 feet high and goes 0 to 120 in 3 seconds.

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When we arrived and the little man got a good look at it, they made the decision that they wouldn't go on.  Of course, having rode the ride before, I knew that he would thank me if I could somehow convince them to choose differently.  Basically, I was looking for a way to build their confidence and motivate action (just like we do with buyers).  This was the perfect situation to utilize social proof.

The first thing I said was "Everyone else wants to go on it and no one else is afraid to.  What are you going to wait all alone by yourself?"  They thought about it for a second.  Still no go.  Next, I said "Look at all the other people in line.  There's like hundreds of people and no one is dying when they get off."  They thought a little longer, took a step toward the gate and...still no go.  Lastly, I said "Look at that kid over there that's just getting off.  He's the same age as you and he's got a huge smile on his face."  BAM, it worked!  And of course, they wanted to go on again and again after that.

Now, he certainly was alleviated of all fear and doubt.  I had to wait in line for an hour with him shaking.  But, pointing out that someone with similar qualities to him (age and size) sealed the deal.  This is why you see TV commercials, infomercials, billboards and banner ads that contain people that look just like you (if you're the target).  It's because this principle is especially strong when we view the others to be similar to ourselves.

Applying this to business

Buyers, especially first-time ones, always have a certain level of fear and doubt when it comes to deciding to purchase.  It's unknown whether or not their individual experience is going to be a good one or not.  Therefore, marketers have to help them gain the confidence they need to "enter the gate" so to speak.

This goes beyond throwing more features and benefits at them and touting the greatness of the company.  Customers need to perceive that people similar to them are extremely satisfied with the results of doing business with you.  If they don't, it gives them a reason to doubt if they are making the right choice, which can cause them to either go somewhere else that provides this confidence, or make the decision to do nothing at all.

While a good testimonial certainly doesn't make the sale by itself, it gives evidence to your customers that what you say you will deliver upon has actually occurred before.  Not only that, but it's occurred over and over again with people that are similar to them facing the same problem that needs solved.

April 12, 2013

Mike Fleming specializes in Analytics and Paid Search for Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @SEMFlem. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music along with playing basketball to get his workout in. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

Mike and the team at Pole Position are available to help clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Contact them via their site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Fleming > Why Testimonials Are So Important To Your Customers