A sales coach offers his best advice on making great first impressions with customers and prospects

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Take it from an experienced sales coach: one of the hardest tasks is to quickly establish credibility.  This applies to everyone you meet with for the first time.  All things being equal, a positive first impression means they will trust you to help them.  A negative first impression can only be corrected by time and hard work, if at all.

In my work as a sales coach offering training, I’ve found that making a good first impression can be easier than it seems.  It doesn’t matter what your personality type or to whom you need to connect with as long as you do some things in advance.  A good first impression is something you don’t have to leave to chance.

If so much is riding on the first contact, perhaps some mental preparation could help.  Here are six fundamental strategies that will help you set a positive tone:

  1. Be prepared to sell yourself.  Every interaction is essentially a job interview.
  2. Be prompt at the meeting, whether it’s online, on the phone, or in person.
  3. Be ready to smile, look them in the eye, and give them a firm handshake.
  4. Be aware of your appearance, as much of the first impression is visual.  Good dress and grooming create a “halo” effect.  Dress the way they expect you to look.
  5. Be self-aware and aware of others.  Stretch your personality to mirror theirs.
  6. Be clear and transparent in everything you do.

One thing that has changed dramatically over my two decades as a sales coach, helping CEOs and sales professionals create great first impressions, is the impact of social media.  It has altered the sales landscape – for both good and bad.  It’s vital that you take advantage of what social media can do to improve your “digital you.”  Here are four social media shortcuts to help pave the way for positive first impressions:

  1. Groom your online presence – websites, social media accounts, etc. – to present positive images and impressions of yourself.
  2. Send an email or LinkedIn InMail prior to the first meeting.  This will set the stage for building good rapport.
  3. Use Crystal Knows and social media to get an understanding of the personality type of the person you are meeting.
  4. Start a friendly electronic dialogue with them so that the “ice” is broken prior to the first meeting.

One of the most important things to be aware of when talking on the phone or speaking to someone in person is your tone of voice.  We detect voice tone immediately and remember people by it.  Here are six observations on tonal ranges and speech patterns that people prefer:

  1. Keep your voice as deep as possible – deeper voices are more memorable and effective – but don’t let it go so low it’s distracting.
  2. Avoid the common tendency to “uptalk” – placing rising intonation on declarative sentences.
  3. Good voice tone can be nearly 80% of the memorable content in a phone call and up to 40% of the memorable content in a face-to-face conversation.  If appropriate, a “best friend’s” voice tone can be effective.  Yet don’t be too casual or flattering.
  4. Match the speed and tone of the person you are talking with.
  5. Don’t use acronyms and colloquial phrases with people who may not be familiar with them.
  6. Take the time to speak clearly.

All preparation for a good first impression is for naught if you can’t get to a meaningful discussion.  Here are eight tips to help you quickly convert from “hello” to “so what”:

  1. Prepare an opening statement.  Use topics where you are knowledgeable or for which you have a genuine curiosity.
  2. Establish an emotional connection quickly by mentioning a shared interest.
  3. Get people talking about what they want to talk about – professional and personal interests – before you steer the conversation to your topic of interest.
  4. Address people by their names to establish rapport and build their comfort level.  Compliment them on something early in the conversation.
  5. Be polite and don’t interrupt.  Use the word “you” more frequently than “I”.
  6. Keep things simple and offer clear contrasts when offering ideas.
  7. Tell an appropriate story of interest to them when it’s your turn to talk.
  8. Offer to send additional information of value to them so you can continue the conversation.

There’s a lot to think about in making that first impression.  Great first impressions don’t just happen by themselves.  But if you prepare yourself properly — whether by working with a sales coach or on your own — you can go in with confidence and nail it.

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John Asher
John Asher is the author of Close Deals Faster, is the CEO of Asher Strategies, a sales advisory consulting firm focused on improving sales for business-to- business companies. Asher is the #1 rated speaker on sales for Vistage, a worldwide network of CEOs. Over the last two decades, he has mentored a large cadre of speakers and trainers fueling the growth of ASHER.