MAKE it standard practice to ask clients (or other contacts) for testimonials — they build your credibility and your business. But at what point in the sales cycle should you ask?

This is a tricky question. In general, don’t ask for any testimonial before its time, which may be before, during, or after the completion of a sale or project, depending on your client, your product or service, and your own needs.

Let’s say that one month before finishing a project, you call your client to ask how things are going. The client tells you she’s very happy with the results and that her life or business has changed for the better because of your product or service.

At this point, your testimonial detector should be pinging loudly. It’s the right time to make your pitch: “That would be a great thing for other people to know about my company. Would you be willing to write me a testimonial on your company letterhead by the end of the week?”

If the answer is yes, the next step is to coach your client in writing a testimonial that fits your needs.

Guiding the content

Ask your client to say why she chose to work with you, how she benefited from your products or services, how you solved a problem for her and what other people should know about your business.

What issues are most people concerned about when using a service or product you provide? Ask her to address those issues. Don’t be afraid to offer suggestions. You will make it easier for her to write an appropriate testimonial, and the result will be more valuable for you.

Stay updated

Finally, review your testimonial file or binder at least every two to three years to identify testimonials that are no longer valid or credible. Specifically, you may want to discard or re-file a testimonial that:

* is from a company that is no longer in business;

* is or was written by someone who has left the company;

* represents a product or service that you no longer offer;

* has begun to turn yellow with age; or

* needs to be updated with new statistics from the customer.

Now that you understand what testimonials can do for your business, try asking for three written testimonials on company letterheads this week.

Make it easy for your advocate. Specify what you would like their testimonials to cover, based on what you know of their satisfaction or successes from using your product or service. Ask for them to be typed on company letterhead, signed and submitted by a certain date.

Remember the law of reciprocity. If you want to truly motivate someone to write you a testimonial, write one for him or her first.