By Lisa Anderson Shaffer

With social media becoming saturated with big-brand advertising, it has become more challenging to establish authentic sales rela­tionships with customers. The modern wholesale buyer and retail customer want more than just an object — they want a story and a memorable experience. While a handmade business has a leg up in the story depart­ment, it can be difficult to know which sales tactics to invest valuable time and money in to deepen relation­ship with customers.

Testimonials are a great way to provide authentic feed­back to your customers while focusing on selling them an experience and not just another object. Plus, testimo­nials are terrific opportunities to establish your expertise in the field, demonstrate the value of your work, and give your customers a personalized experience — all while letting someone else toot your own horn!

Respond to consumer buying trends

We’ve all heard about charming the elusive Millen­nial dollar. It gets exhausting at times wondering how to attract this young and sometimes hard to pin down consumer. But, knowing how Millennials buy and what attracts them is really important. Millennials represent the largest group of consumers since Baby Boomers, and that’s just too large of a spending potential to ig­nore. We know that Millennials have grown up with in-your-face advertising and have a keen nose for sniff­ing out inauthentic sales tactics. They are savvy when it comes to how we speak about our brand, and that’s a good thing, especially for handmade businesses. What’s a more authentic story than yours? How you started, your choice in materials, work processes, and your in­spiration are the dreams creating a personalized cus­tomer connection are made of!

Millennials are more likely to make that final purchas­ing decision if they are able to see and read how other people use your product. Otherwise known as user gen­erated content, this little gem of advertising focuses on letting your current customers attract new and potential customers for you. While there are many ways to go about leveraging user-generated content as effective advertising, one great way is through customer testimonials.

Personalizing the customer experience

Customer testimonials give consumers a direct line to your customer experience. Reading first-hand accounts of what it is like to work with you on custom orders, the beauty and thoughtfulness of your unboxing experience, and the level of your customer ser­vice start to finish, can really seal the deal and final­ize that tricky sales conversion funnel. In short, using testimonials as part of an advertising strategy focuses on letting word-of-mouth lead the way for your product, and this offers a truly authentic show of support of your work.

To take a closer look at the how and why of using customer testimonials, I spoke with veteran San Fran­cisco metalsmith and sustainable jewelry designer Sha­ron Zimmerman of Sharon Z jewelry about how she uses testimonials to deepen customer relationships and boost sales. When it comes to creating customer trust, Zimmerman agrees, testimonials are an important part of the process. She says, “Testimonials help your future customers feel more comfortable about working with you, while also making your existing customers feel like they are an integral part of the process.”

In terms of boosting sales, Zimmerman likes to use testimonials to help establish her expertise and give customers a preview of what to expect from working with her. She says, “I use them to highlight my strengths as a designer — creativity, uniqueness, and expression — and to give my potential clients a taste of what they can expect from me. I don’t host my own reviews on my website, but I’ll often add in quotes from clients on a particular product page.”

Zimmerman recommends using testimonials in a va­riety of advertising and promotional strategies. “I have them on my website and in blog posts about my custom work; I quote them on social media — usually Face­book and Instagram,” she adds.

When it comes to asking customers for testimoni­als, Zimmerman agrees, this can be a difficult process. She attests, “Honestly, this is the hardest thing to do as a maker and designer. I think that in the past, fear of rejection prevented me from doing so. But this year I’ve reached out to friendly clients and friends and it has really opened up my eyes to the importance of this kind of ask. I am working on developing a follow-up survey to send to anyone who buys from my website, or anyone who worked with me on recent custom projects to gather testimonials, and even public re­views. This will also help me build out a testimonials page on my website to turn more potential customers into actual customers.”

Laying the foundation

You may be thinking, testimonials sound like a fantas­tic way to grow my sales, but how in the world do I go about collecting them? As Zimmerman mentioned, the thought of asking customers to speak about your work may sound daunting, but when you focus on asking the right customer, in the right way, it gets a lot easier.

When it comes to asking customers to share the love of your product, think about which customers you en­joy working with. Is there a recent custom order that was a complete joy? A repeat customer who comes to all your in-person events to buy for themselves and oth­ers? A stockist who loves to share the story of how your designs are made and what makes them unique? These are all great potential testimonials just waiting to sing the praises of your wonderful work.

One of the best outcomes of asking for testimonials is that they lay the foundation for a much stronger and more authentic advertising plan. As Zimmerman re­ports, testimonials can be used in any number of ways to better reach your customers and do so in a way that is honest, authentic, and unforced. It’s important to remember too that asking for testimonials is not just about getting positive feedback about your work. Ask­ing customers for their opinion communicates that you value their thoughts and care deeply about continuing to make their experience with you incredible.

Increasing sales is a goal every handmade business owner shares. We all can agree that creating an incred­ible buying experience for our customers only helps tell our story and further support our bottom line. Testi­monials are a wonderful way to let potential custom­ers know what to expect from working with you and to share your expertise and love of what you do in an authentic and inspiring way.