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How to Use Customer Recommendations to Grow Your Business Don't wait for associates or customers to give you their thumbs-up with personal testimonials and endorsements. Here's how to be proactive about asking for endorsements.

This story originally appeared on Business on Main


At a time when one-click LinkedIn endorsements are stacking up faster than rush-hour traffic, obtaining sincerely worded recommendations is a lot like pulling into the carpool lane. You have to invest upfront in planning, personal contact and collaboration, but the effort is rewarded by access to a less-crowded environment and a quicker route to building credibility and trust.

Sit back and collect endorsements
LinkedIn endorsements verify what you do (though most of us on LinkedIn have been endorsed for some skill we don't possess), while recommendations detail how you do what you do and the unique value you deliver.

LinkedIn endorsements are what social networkers call "lite" recommendations and what Forbes writer Eve Mayer likens to a "Stove Top stuffing version," with less "meatiness than Grandma's homemade stuffing."

Endorsements are easy to give and even easier to get. With no input beyond LinkedIn-provided prompts, your LinkedIn contacts simply click endorsement buttons -- at a reported rate of 10 million times daily. And while the endorsements, in the words of detractors, may serve as little more than "eye candy," they require no energy on your part, leaving you free to steer your efforts toward developing thoughtfully worded recommendations instead.

Reach out and ask for recommendations
Rather than waiting and wishing for customers or associates to put compliments into words, get proactive with your requests.

Communication pro and serial entrepreneur Peter Levitan accompanied an email announcing his newest venture with this request: "I'm launching an advertising agency consultation business in February. I'd like to include a few very brief kudos/recommendations from some of my most trusted and super-smart buddies -- people like you. You know: Peter is a really smart guy; really knows the business; knows how to run business development; boy is he going to set you up for success. ... Would you write one for me? As help, here are a couple of recommendations from LinkedIn. Let me know if you have questions. Thanks ahead. Oh, the deadline … next week."

And guess what? People responded, both to help an associate and to enhance their own visibility.

Follow Levitan's example by keeping this advice in mind:

  • Tell the reason you're asking for recommendations and the type of recommendations you're hoping to receive. This puts your request in context and prompts greater response.
  • Explain why you're reaching out to the request recipient. This allows you to share a compliment and conveys that your request is one of a select few and not a mass mailing.
  • Share helpful information. This saves the recipient time and increases your odds of receiving the kind of recommendation you're hoping for.
  • Give your response urgency by stating a reasonable deadline.

Anatomy of a good recommendation
The point of endorsements, testimonials, reviews and recommendations is to provide those with little or no awareness of you, your business or your reputation with assurances from those who have high regard for you and your offerings. Obviously, if the words spoken on your behalf sound like they came right out of your marketing department, they miss the mark. Instead, showcase only those recommendations that meet these standards:

  • Genuine opinions: People respond to recommendations that are frank and unscripted.
  • Conversational: Sentences don't have to be editorially perfect. Instead, they need to sound as if a real person actually shared the words.
  • Focused and specific: The best recommendations feature a specific aspect worthy of recognition rather than a general shout-out for overall excellence. For example: "When I said I was in a rush they didn't offer same-day service, they asked if I could give them 45 minutes. Amazing!"
  • Identifiable: People believe people who are willing to put their names behind their words, so request permission to identify recommendations by name.

Spread good words spoken on your behalf
Once people put their compliments in writing, spread the praise far and wide. Use recommendations in full or in accurately excerpted versions on your website, in social media, and in sales materials, letters and presentations.

There's an old line that "it's never crowded on the extra mile" (or in the carpool lane) because most people don't invest the time and energy required to gain an advantageous position. Waiting for one-click endorsements won't give you access to the brand-building fast lane. Asking for and leveraging helpful recommendations will.

Barbara Findlay Schenck is a small-business strategist, the author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies and the co-author of Branding for Dummies, Selling Your Business for Dummies and Business Plans Kit for Dummies.

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