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How To Make Great First Impressions

The first impressions you make with potential customers are critical to success in sales.

By
Jeb Blount
May 29, 2011

How To Make Great First Impressions

How important are the first impressions you make with potential customers to success in sales? In this article we’ll answer that question.

How to Make Great First Impressions

At dinner this weekend our good friend Michelle told us a story about an experience she had recently while shopping for a mattress. Now this wasn’t just any mattress; this was a high end mattress that cost a couple of thousand dollars. Prior to hitting the stores she had done extensive research on the Internet and had narrowed her focus to a few brands and styles. She found exactly what she was looking for at the first furniture store she visited and the price was right. But she didn’t make the purchase.

Instead, she drove all the way across town to visit another furniture store where she met sales representative Gwen. There, she purchased the same mattress she had seen at the other store. When I pressed her she admitted (while trying not to look at her husband) that she paid more at the second store than the first.

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

She responded, “The guy at the first store, I think his name was Ray, just didn’t impress me. I mean, from the first moment there was just something about him I didn’t like. So even though he had the mattress I wanted I decided to shop around some more. But Gwen was different. Even though we had just met I could tell she cared about me. She made me feel good.”

Why First Impressions Are Important

Unlike trust, being perceived as likeable or unlikeable occurs in mere moments.

In this story Ray is the poster child for the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Like Michelle, we all make instant judgments when we first meet people. Those judgments, which are both imperfect and emotional, have a lasting impact on how we view and interact with others. And in Michelle’s case first impressions caused her to make the illogical decision to pay more for the same product because she liked Gwen more than she liked Ray. As salespeople, our prospects make these same imperfect judgments about us every day.

If you want to know how important first impressions are, just ask Ray. Sales Managers in high-end retail, like furniture and auto sales, will even tell you that the initial greeting is the most important part of the sale.

The Importance of Being Likeable

The first impression is frequently all about being likeable. If your prospect likes you they will be open to answering your questions and engaging in a conversation about their needs and situation. How long does it take to make a first impression? An instant. Unlike trust, which is earned over time through multiple interactions, being perceived as likeable or unlikeable occurs in mere moments. So when first meeting new prospects it is absolutely critical that you control things that are within your power to control.

The word likeable is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, having qualities that bring about a favorable regard. We all, to some extent, have qualities and characteristics that make us naturally likeable to certain types of people and personalities; though at the same time we possess qualities that make us naturally unlikeable to others.

The problem we face in sales, though, is that we don’t always get to choose the people we interact with. Many of the people we encounter will not be naturally attracted to us. Complicating things more are the preconceived perceptions that all people bring into relationships. These perceptions, which include but are not limited to cultural, racial, and socio-economic biases, are also beyond our control.

How To Act Likeable

There are, however, important and critical actions we can take that will positively impact first impressions and likeability. These actions are completely within our control and, when executed properly, help us both neutralize biases outside of our control and attract people who might not otherwise find us naturally likeable.

  • Smile: A pleasant, sincere smile is the best way to make a great first impression. Humans are naturally attracted to other humans who are smiling. So be aware of your facial expression and put a smile on your face.

  • Be Polite: I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “Mean People Suck.” People who are rude, impolite, and discourteous are unlikeable. Unless you were raised in a barn by animals, someone taught you basic manners. Put those manners to work in all interactions with prospects and customers. People will notice.

  • Stay Focused: In today’s demanding work environment it is easy to become distracted. Jim Rohn says, “Wherever you are, be there.” That is essential advice when it comes to first impressions. You must develop the self-discipline to shut everything else out and remain completely focused on your prospect.

  • Be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm for your product, service, and company sells. Enthusiasm is transferable and infectious. Your enthusiasm is driven by your attitude and beliefs, so it is critical to work consistently to build and retain a winning attitude. One note, though: there are few things more off-putting than insincere enthusiasm; so be careful not to get carried away.

  • Be confident. Weak people repel. Arrogant people are turnoffs. Confident people attract. Confidence is driven by your self-image, product knowledge, attitude, style of dress, health, and even your spirituality. Your level of confidence is a direct reflection of your willingness and self-discipline to invest in yourself. For more tips on investing in yourself and building your confidence, be sure to read chapter two in my book Power Principles.

Summary

The good news is, making a first impression in sales is actually very easy if you focus completely on what is within your control. And though you never get a second chance to make a first impression, you only have to make a good first impression once to lay a solid foundation on which to build a profitable relationship with your customer.

This is Jeb Blount, the Sales Guy. If you have a sales question please send it to salesguy@quickanddirtytips.com.

First Impression image from Shutterstock

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