You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Lorraine Willis of Achiive Ltd offers some advice on taking that crucial first step with the customer.
It takes a quick glance, maybe 10 seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In that time the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanour, your mannerisms and what you are carrying.
With every new sales encounter, you are evaluated and another customer’s impression of you is formed. These first impressions can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo: the first sales encounters set the tone for the business relationships that follow.
Whether the meeting is in your career or your social life, in sales or marketing, it’s vital to know how to create a good first impression. It won’t happen twice.
Setting up a meeting
First impressions start when you make your appointment. How you deal with the receptionist, secretary, customer or agency when making the appointment has a greater effect than you may think. The receptionist’s first impression of you may be passed on to their colleagues and managers, laying the basis for your later call.
People attend a meeting for one reason: they value the time spent doing that above anything else they could be doing at that time. How professionally you organise the meeting and communicate its objectives will have an effect on the attendance and outcome. You will be adding value right from the start.
People are uncomfortable and embarrassed with a poorly-run meeting because it reflects on their own professionalism, especially if they invited you to run the meeting in the first place. The rule is: Plan – Do – Review (see the box on page 15).
Present and correct
Be on time. The customer you are meeting for the first time is not interested in your good excuse for running late. Plan to arrive well before your meeting is due to start, and allow flexibility for possible delays in traffic or taking a wrong turn. Arriving early beats arriving late hands down.
Be professionally relaxed. If you are feeling uncomfortable and nervous, this will make the customer feel the same. If you are calm, confident and professional then the customer will feel more at ease, setting a basis for mutual understanding.
There’s nothing like a genuine smile to create the right impact. A warm and confident smile will make both you and the customer feel relaxed. But don't go overboard: people who take this too far can seem insincere and smarmy. A genuine smile is reflected in your eyes, so let them sparkle!
The right look
The person you are meeting for the first time does not know you, and your personal appearance is usually the first clue they have to go on. This does not mean you need to look like a model to create a strong and positive first impression. The secret is to present yourself appropriately.
Plan – Do – Review Plan. Prepare the meeting, topic, venue and logistics thoroughly, especially the catering. Check and recheck. Communicate regularly with all those attending from when you book the meeting to the day you run it.
Do. Allow enough time on the day to set up and be in control before the customer arrives. Be ready to meet and greet in a professional way. Prepare and practise your presentation: don’t rely on a half-baked selling message you have thought up on the spur of the moment.
Review. Few sales people follow up after a meeting, because they are usually too busy with the next sale. But if you take a little time to follow up and ask for a review and feedback, this can make all the difference to the impression you leave with your customer. It can reinforce any decisions or commitment you have gained, and inspire the welcome you receive next time.
Start with the way you dress. What is the appropriate dress for the customer and the meeting or occasion? Consider your personal grooming – this helps you to appear as a professional and feel like one. You need:
• a good haircut and appropriate styling
• a thorough shave or well-clipped facial hair
• clean, well-laundered clothes
• neat and tidy make-up.
Ask yourself: Is my appearance saying the right things?
You can create a positive impact without total conformity or losing your individuality. Yes, to make a good impact you do need to fulfil expectations. In a business setting, wear appropriate business attire. At a formal evening social event, wear appropriate evening attire. But you can still express your individuality within that context.
A confident attitude
The wrong attitude can have a very negative effect. Attitude has a lot to do with confidence, and your level of confidence gives strong signals to your customers. It's not uncommon for a person’s attitude to affect their whole performance adversely in the work environment, even though they may be good at their job.
Your attitude shows through in everything you do. Project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism or in the case of nervousness. Think about people and situations that have a detrimental effect on you – what can you do to make your attitude more positive in every situation? When it comes to making an impact, body language speaks much louder than words. Use your body language to project an appropriate positive attitude. Stand tall, smile, make eye contact, greet with a firm handshake (if this is appropriate culturally). All of this will help you to project confidence and professionalism, letting both you and the customer feel at ease.
Almost everyone gets a little nervous when meeting a customer for the first time or holding an important meeting. This can lead to nervous behaviours and sweaty palms. Being aware of your nervous behaviours helps you to keep them in check – for example, by controlling a nervous jitter or laugh. Deep breathing exercises can help you to keep your nerves steady.
Give and take
Conversations are based on give and take. Many sales calls are salesperson-focused, with the customer hardly getting a chance to speak. But research has shown that the most effective sales calls are those where the customer does most of the talking. It will help you to plan your call in advance and prepare conversational questions that encourage your customer to talk. The same is true of any business meeting: give other people a chance to contribute, and you may be surprised how much it affects the level of support your ideas receive!
Choose positive words to talk about your products, services and ideas. Use assertive language and expressions that put forward your views but do not exclude the views of others, building even-handed transactions. And remember: don’t tell people your troubles. 50% could not care less and the other 50% think you deserve them!
Needless to say, good manners and polite, attentive, courteous behaviour help to make the right impact. Anything less can ruin your chance to make a good impression. So if you want to be considered a professional – act professionally! Lorraine Willis is Managing Director of Achiive Ltd – a company that specialises in tailored business training solutions that address motivational issues to bring about behavioural change. For more details, visit www.achiive.co.uk.