For the next several months my blog will focus on the attitudes, behaviors and knowledge that makes a great salesperson. Great salespeople know selling is a process. It begins with the first impression you make on a prospect and results in a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. You only get one chance to make the first impression. Whether by phone, video conference, written correspondence or a networking meeting, be prepared to make a great first impression.
The Importance Of Rapport
Prospects don’t care how much you know about a problem until they know how much you care about them. This first step in the selling process is called “rapport”. Great salespeople know the importance of the first impression. They are diligent in the preparation for the first meeting. Even before making the phone call to schedule a meeting, salespeople have done research on the company and the prospect. They seek to know whether there is potential opportunity here and the role the prospect has in the buying process. Armed with this information great salespeople are equipped to begin a dialog. Done well the rapport step builds respect for the salesperson and confidence they have the best interest of the buyer at heart.
How About That First Impression?
Great salespeople know the first impression starts before the first meeting. They realize prospects will seek to find out about the salesperson. So make sure your “public image” is impeccable. It’s the age where we search for information about people online. All your digital life is available. Think about what a prospect might see before you post.
When you meet with a prospect who has been referred by a customer, anticipate the prospect and customer have had a conversation about you. Hopefully your customer is a fan and has said great things about you.
At the first meeting you will set the tone. The prospect will begin forming an opinion of you right away. Here are the tried and true actions great salespeople have used:
- A firm handshake. Not limp and not a bone crusher. Just enough to show your confidence. (In the age of COVID choose another appropriate greeting.)
- Eye contact. Look the prospect in the eye. (In a video conference look at your camera. This gives others the impression you are looking at them.)
- Erect and confident. (Whether in person, on video or on the phone be confident.)
- Be respectful of their time and gracious for the opportunity.
Rehearse your entry and first lines. There is only one chance at a good first impression.
The Arrival For The First Impression
You have set the date and time and now the opportunity for the first impression is here. Be on time. In fact arrive a few minutes early. And expect to wait. Most of the time it is a power thing. The prospect wants to show you who is in charge. Since you anticipate this you are not intimidated.
What to do while you wait. Yes, you have done all the research in advance and are well prepared for the meeting. So what to do while hanging out in the lobby. Here is what my mentor Jim Wilson suggests:
“Being observant can give you a slight edge over the competition. Pay attention!
- Are there any awards on display in the waiting area?
- Any framed press releases or articles that have been published?
- Is the company’s mission statement on the wall?
- Is the place bustling? Is the phone ringing often?
- Listen to the conversations…do they sound upbeat?”
Also, if there are others in the waiting area, don’t be shy. Introduce yourself and engage them in conversation. It’s amazing what you can learn from other visitors to the company.
Now For The Main Event
After a short wait (hopefully) the prospect’s assistant comes to take you to the meeting. Engage the assistant in pleasant general conversation during the journey to the prospect. Remember the assistant will be very valuable to you as the sales process progresses.
The door opens and the prospect comes from behind his desk to greet you. You do what needs to be done to create a good first impression of you. At the same time, you evaluate their handshake, eye contact and body language. Also look around the office for personality clues:
- Are there family photos?
- Mementos? Awards and other “hero” plaques?
- Is the office neat and orderly? Or are there piles of papers everywhere?
Now is when great salespeople begin to control the sales process.
How You Control The First Impression
What’s the goal you set for this meeting? Hopefully it’s to learn enough about the prospect to know whether to continue the sales pursuit. You do that by asking good questions. By creating that good first impression you can engage the prospect in conversation which will build respect for you. Here are what great salespeople do right away:
- Thank the prospect for the meeting
- Confirm the time allowed
- Get agreement on the agenda
- Ask relevant open-ended questions
- Listen intentionally.
Great salespeople have scripted the introduction and rehearsed it so it feels normal. This gives the prospect confidence in the salesperson and builds respect.
What Not To Do For A Good First Impression
At the beginning of this blog post I stated that prospects don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Don’t go into the sales meeting with a pitch. You are not there to tell the prospect all about the great things your company does, about the long list of customers who love you, about the features of the products and services or how much money you can save them. None of this important until you know how much “pain” the prospect has and whether it is a problem you can solve. You are there to listen a lot and speak little. Great salespeople encourage dialog.
Be Prepared For Surprises
What about the best laid plans? They oft go astray.
- The prospect is not available. There are many good reasons that the prospect’s availability changes at the last minute. The best prospects will have arranged for someone else to take the meeting. Use this time to learn what you can from the substitute. And schedule a new time to meet with your prospect.
- The prospect has invited others to join the meeting. Now you have the chance to build rapport with the whole team. Take the time to learn why each was invited and how they can contribute to the buying process.
- The prospect is distracted. People pop in and out of the office. The prospect answers the phone. They shuffle papers on the desk. Read emails. Or otherwise pay less attention to you. Great salespeople politely excuse themselves noting how busy the prospect is. If there is value in attempting another meeting ask to reschedule at a time of less distraction. Otherwise cross this prospect off the list and move on.
- The prospect puts off bad vibes. Great salespeople use all their senses. Sometimes it just feels like a prospect is not a good candidate. Politely end the meeting and move on.
For A Strong First Impression Control The Conversation
You want to create that great first impression. So you are prepared to show the prospect just how smart you are. They ask questions and soon you are answering them. Great salespeople know that’s backwards. Knowledge has value. What you know about how you helped others solve problems, reduce costs, increase sales, grow market share and become more profitable is not to be given away. Use the “reversing technique” to keep the prospect talking so you can learn how best to help them. Don’t become an unpaid consultant by giving away valuable information.
What You Can Do Right Now To Make A Great First Impression
- Make sure your public information is impeccable
- Prepare for the first meeting so you will be confident
- Practice handshake, eye contact and confident body language
- Work hard to keep the prospect talking and you listening
- Be prepared for surprises