People instinctively will always make a value judgment about you and your business within a few minutes of meeting either yourself or someone from your organisation. Recent studies at the University of Glasgow indicate that one forms an impression of someone’s personality from the first few words that person speaks. It is often said an interviewer decides whether or not to hire a person in the first 30 seconds of an interview. When meeting potential customers for the first time, it is vital to ensure that you observe the following principles, in order for them to form a good first impression of you.
Team members should always be properly dressed – establish clear guidelines as to what is acceptable, even if your company does not have a specific dress code. Customers have expectations as to how a representative of a particular business or profession should be dressed – this one factor is of disproportionate importance, as documented many years ago by John Molloy (1988) in Dress for Success. And remember, it’s always easier to dress down than it is to dress up.
There’s no substitute for enthusiasm. A customer wants to know that you and your team are 100% committed to your products and services. Train your team members so that when they are asked what they do, they respond with – “I work for the best __________in town/in the ________ industry. For example, “I work for the best consulting firm in the forest products industry.”
Professionalism is perhaps the most pertinent aspect of making a good first impression, from your promptness to a meeting to keeping an ample supply of business cards on you at all times. This extends beyond just that, to ensuring that you or your employees have good product and service knowledge, the ability to be an active listener, and reassuring the customer that you are both dependable and competent.
Be a Good Listener!
When you meet with a customer or prospective customer (particularly if you haven’t met them before):
- Ask them if they are happy to answer some questions
- Ask “open questions”, i.e. those that require more than a yes/no answer
- Ask for clarification or elaboration of a customer’s statement
- Ask if it’s OK to take written notes – this tells the customer that what he/she is saying is important
- Don’t interrupt
- Don’t argue or contradict
- Repeat back the customer’s goals, issues or concerns to reinforce and clarify