I learned about the power of testimonials in 1985 shortly after I started BNI®, the networking group I founded to get referrals for my consulting business.
At that time, there was only one chapter. During our weekly meetings, we followed an agenda similar to the one that over 10,400 BNI chapters use today. During the meeting, each member gave a weekly presentation about their business. Then we introduced our visitors, followed by our featured speaker’s presentation. After that, we passed referrals.
During this last part, if you had a referral to give to fellow members, you stood up when your turn came and said, “I have two referrals for Joe and one for Angela, and here’s what they are.” If you didn’t have any referrals, you simply said, “Pass,” and the next person would take their turn.
We’d been meeting for about two months, and at the end of one meeting the chiropractor in our group came to me and said, “Ivan, I haven’t gotten a single referral yet. I know it takes time, but here’s what concerns me: Nobody has even come up to talk to me or asked a question about chiropractic care. How can they refer me?”
I said, “You’re right. You’ve got to get them to use you so they can refer you. Why don’t you offer a free initial consultation to get them to come in and see what you do and how it works? Then they’ll be able to refer you. Here’s an idea. At next week’s meeting, just stand up and offer everyone a free first visit—even throw in an X-ray and do an adjustment—so they can see what chiropractic care is really all about.”
The next week when he did that, only one person out of the entire group said they would take him up on his offer. The chiropractor came up to me at the end of the meeting and said, “Brilliant idea, Ivan. They didn’t exactly flock to me.”
The Power of First-Hand Experience
The following week, the meeting was moving along nicely, we were passing referrals, and it came around to this guy who had visited the chiropractor. He stood up, hesitated, looked at me, and said, “Ivan, I don’t have a referral today, but I don’t want to pass.”
As President of the chapter, I was running the meeting agenda, so I asked him, “Okay, then, uh . . . what do you want to do?” He said, “Well, I’d like to say a few words.” I said, “O-o-o-kay, well, uh, what do you want to say?”
He said, “Well, I just want to talk about Dr. Rubin. I had an X-ray done. He showed me all around his facility, explained all the things that he did, and then he did an adjustment.” He continued, “I’ve had lower back pain for about seven years. Nothing incapacitating, just a nagging ache that bothers me when I stand too long. For the first time in seven years, my back doesn’t hurt! You all are crazy if you don’t take him up on this offer! I just wanted to say that,” then he sat down.
I looked around the room and saw people picking up pens and filling out referral slips for the chiropractor. I thought, Wow! My agenda doesn’t work! You can’t just tell people to pass; you have to give them a chance to talk about the business they’ve done with other people! It’s critical!
That’s when we started the BNI Testimonial. From that point on, if you didn’t have a referral to give, you didn’t just pass. Instead, you gave a brief testimonial about the business you had done with another member of the group. That way, your experiences would become my experiences, and I could refer the member to somebody else.
My lesson about the power of good testimonials has helped BNI chapters around the world and can be beneficial to all networking groups. Without testimonials, networking groups are missing a great opportunity to generate more referrals for their members.
I invite you to share your experience about a good testimonial.