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Tip of the Day – Make A Great First Impression

Filed under: Tip of the Day

First ImpressionExperts say first impressions are made in the first 20 seconds. Make a bad one, though, and you’re up the proverbial creek. It’ll be a long time coming before you can reverse it.

With that in mind, selling today requires your strongest, smartest efforts in person to get noticed among the crowd and earn the opportunity to interact with buyers on a transactional level. Read on to learn how longtime sales pros think and act so that they make a standout first impression.
In those instances where you actually interact with a prospect, the objective goes beyond mere credibility; this is the moment to develop trust and likeability. Bill Lampton, a former fundraising executive who is now president of Championship Communication in Gainesville, GA, notes that the first live impression is not about making a sale – it’s about proving to the prospect that he or she is the focus of attention instead of the rep or the products.

“In fundraising, I realized the one thing I absolutely had to demonstrate in the first meeting was that I was a good listener,” Lampton says. “It takes discipline to keep asking questions and making notes rather than jumping in and talking, so you have to practice it. But doing that makes other people so comfortable that they think, ‘If I go with this person, they’ll listen to my problems and challenges.’ You’ll be remembered even if they don’t have any immediate needs.”

For Deb Johnson, co-owner of On Target Promotions (asi/287578), the approach goes like this: She demonstrates a bit of knowledge about the prospect’s company and their industry, and then she frames her job in terms of the benefit it brings to clients. “I say that we use promotional products to keep their name and brand image in front of clients, to increase the effectiveness of direct mail and to motivate,” she says. Then, she asks questions about overall business objectives, who the targets of their programs are and what they’ve done in the past. Only after all this does she ask about immediate needs for which she could offer ideas.

Valerie Atkin, president of dkspecialties (asi/181469), points out that there’s a difference between showing confidence and showing arrogance. “Don’t go in and say, ‘I’ve done a lot of research and I know all about your business, and I know exactly what you need,’” she says.

Johnson adds, “Your initial knowledge shows respect, but your questions show humility in recognizing that you must learn more in order to do your best for them.”

An example: Sharon Schamehorn, co-owner of Elite Sportswear & Promotional Products (asi/186738), recently spoke on the phone with the head of a safety products company who wanted items for his trade-show booth. She began by asking him about pressing topics in that industry, as well as the present state of his business in particular. “He just lit up and went on and on – he actually wanted to spend more time talking to me than we had. At the end, I got three orders instead of one.”

With several generations coexisting in the business world these days, there might be a temptation for a rep to try to adapt his or her personality to match that of the prospect in order to make a connection. Big mistake. “Reps are taught to mirror the mannerisms and pacing of a prospect, but you still have to be yourself,” Lampton says. “Anything more is you trying to manipulate the situation. If the prospect senses that, you’re done.”

Atkin strives to finds common ground if the prospect is noticeably younger. For example, “I’ll try to find out which recent movies we might have both seen. I just want them to feel like, ‘This is a real person who I have something in common with, not just a salesperson interested in my money.’ Come at it as two people simply having a conversation about whatever is going on in the world, and then shift over to business.”

On the other side, Joanne Franklin, president of Joanne Franklin Packaging & Promotions (asi/198020) notes that companies are always looking for unique and fresh ideas from the promotional field, “so a prospect who is considerably older, while they understand the value of experience, is also probably quite open to hearing ideas from a younger person who has new perspectives.” Bring to the table one or two cool new ideas to show that you are plugged in, but also demonstrate that you can cater to their entire audience. “Don’t walk in and come across as overly cool or hip – it’s too limiting,” she says.

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