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7 Keys to Making a Great First Impression in Sales

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 making the purchase she had done extensive research online 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. Gwen, the rep at the other store, was different. Even though we had just met I could tell she cared about me. She made me feel important.”

No Second Chances With First Impressions

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. 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.

Trust me, your prospects make these same imperfect judgments about you every day. First impressions are about likability and likability is the gateway to building emotional connections with your prospect. Emotions drive sales. If your prospect likes you they will be open to answering your questions, engaging in a conversation about their needs and situation, and ultimately buying from you.

Unlike trust, being perceived as likeable or unlikeable occurs in mere moments and begins in your prospect’s subconscious long before they are aware of how they feel about you at the conscious level.  Ray, the rep that turned Michelle off, is the poster child for the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

Be Likeable

The word likable 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 is 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 notions that all people bring into relationships. These perceptions, which include but are not limited to cultural, racial, and socioeconomic biases, are also beyond our control.

There was just “something” about Ray that Michelle didn’t like. That “something” could be that he reminded her of a bully back in grade school, a bad date in college, or a sales rep that broke a promise in the past. Perhaps she didn’t like his facial expressions, his accent, tie, eye contact, posture, or the tattoo on his wrist.

The point is, there are myriad reasons a prospect may not like you and many of the reasons (rational or irrational) are completely outside of your control. This is why, when you meet new prospects, it is absolutely critical that you control those things that are within your power to control.

Take Control of Perceptions

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

Smile: A pleasant, sincere smile is the best way to make a great first impression. The smile is the universal human language and people are naturally attracted to people 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.

Dress: Despite the admonition “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” people do and will judge you based on what you wear, drive, and your grooming and appearance. If you engage in face to face sales conversations dress well. Wear the best and most professional garments you can afford. Ensure that they are cleaned, pressed, and put you in the very best light.

Grooming: Look your best. Ensure that you smell good (breath – BO) and that your cologne or perfume is not overpowering. Ensure that your hair, facial hair, and nails, are clean, cut, clipped, and manicured. If you have tattoos cover them up. Yes, tats are more acceptable in today’s society than ever before however, they can potentially turn off buyers who don’t consider them appropriate. “I chose not to buy from that sales rep because he didn’t have a tattoo,” said no one ever.

Stay Focused: In today’s demanding work environment it is easy to become distracted. Jim Rohn once said, “Wherever you are, be there.” This 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. This is why, even if you are an inside sales rep, it pays to dress for success. When you look good you feel good. Your level of confidence is a direct reflection of your willingness and self-discipline to invest in yourself.

The good news is, making a great first impression 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 prospect.

For more tips on leveraging likeability to influence buying decisions read my #1 bestseller: People Buy You: The Real Secret to What Matters Most in Business

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