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One chance to make a first impression

Nov. 1, 2007
We form opinions about people all the time. Establishing a positive first impression is important in sales because it influences buying interest.

By Anita Sirianni

We form opinions about people all the time. Establishing a positive first impression is important in sales because it influences buying interest. Because many people have a negative image of salespeople, you must work harder than other professionals to get off to a good start. Most reps take Popeye’s “I am what I am” attitude when it comes to working on creating an impression, but this undermines their sales efforts. The better the impression you make, the greater chance you will have at initiating relationships which will lead to more business opportunities and ultimately increased sales.

As a dental hygienist working for years in several private practices, it was interesting to observe the variety of salespeople who approached our office. Being on the other side of the “window” afforded me the opportunity to see the best and the worst in salespeople. Reps commonly made mistakes in approaching the doctor and staff. Reps with a good approach had an advantage over others because we gave them special consideration and access to the doctor. I have summarized some excellent strategies for salespeople to establish a great first impression.

Image is everything!

We may never have a second chance to make a first impression, but we create new impressions all the time. Creating a good image is more than sporting a crisp shirt and wrinkle-free trousers. The impressions you make are shaped by the overall condition, professionalism, and look of anything you present to the customer. That includes your personal image, your communication skills, your sales approach, materials and supplies, literature — everything! If you want to stand out among the competition, consider what you are doing to look and act the part. Take careful inventory of every aspect of your business image and follow the appropriate measures to improve it.

A gatekeeper can be a rep’s biggest enemy or greatest ally. Failing to recognize their importance in the selling process is a big mistake. Staff members are not doormats to walk on, but stepping stones to success. Office managers have shared stories of how reps talk down to them or fail to learn their names after many years of contact with the office. Gatekeepers want to be respected and treated with importance. Take the time to get to know their names, interests, and responsibilities.

Creating a good image is more than sporting a crisp shirt and wrinkle-free trousers. The impressions you make are shaped by the overall condition, professionalism, and look of anything you present to the customer.
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Lead with specific advantages you offer for the gatekeeper. Clearly explain how your product will help make her job easier or more effective, then ask for her advice on the best way to work with the office and meet the decision maker. Introduce your offering by asking questions rather than pushing features and benefits. The more you demonstrate interest in the people and the business, instead of your product, the quicker you will win allies who will support your cause and help you win over the decision maker.

Since so many reps call on the same accounts, it is especially important to set yourself apart from the masses. What are some creative ways you can establish a positive impression and have fun doing it? I know of a pharmaceutical rep who became the best in the company by doing magic tricks in the waiting room. If you are good at telling funny stories or tasteful jokes, use them to be memorable. Your ticket to entry may be a game of chance — literally. Tape a lottery ticket to the back of your business card and tell gatekeepers, “It’s worth a million bucks if you could introduce me to the decision maker!” or “My product is the winning ticket to success.” The impressions you make are a big part of creating interest in you and your company.

The right place at the right time

Office managers often view salespeople as an interruption. These same office managers are hired to keep the schedule and the office staff focused on their business. Our research shows that the second mistake salespeople make is not respecting the buyer’s time. So, if you want to set yourself apart from most reps and increase your chances of success, what’s the best way for you to demonstrate respect for the prospect’s time? Schedule an appointment. Most reps will stop in on an office because it is more convenient for them. Expecting to be seen because you were in the area is arrogant and irritating to the busy people you call on!

Scheduling appointments is the best way to build value for you, your message, and your product. It underscores the importance of your message. Most salespeople don’t want to make an appointment because it means they have to organize their schedule better and figure out how to sell an appointment over the phone. Making appointments is actually more productive for you. Consider the time you lose making calls when no one is available to see you. If you really want your accounts to respect you and your product, respect theirs by making an appointment. Just one more tip — the majority of reps are late for their appointments. Another good way to make a good impression and set yourself apart is to arrive a few minutes early.

Finding the bullseye: A matter of purpose

Don’t bother to open the door, pick up the telephone, or lick the stamp unless you have done your homework! Every rep wants to sell his or her product or service and it seems that few care to whom they sell to. The reps who create the best impressions are those willing to roll up their sleeves. So much of the power and punch of any sales presentation starts with planning before the call, yet so few reps do it.

Before your presentation, take some time to investigate the customer’s current condition. Of course, understanding specific customer needs is ultimately done at the sales presentation, but a preliminary visit or call can determine what, why, and how much. Find out what product or service they are using why and how much they currently use. This will help you qualify the account and give you a major edge over your competition. Talk with staff members, other vendors, or colleagues to figure out why they have selected this product or service. Find out what motivated them to buy that product and determine what their experiences have been. Investigate how familiar they are with your product and its specific benefits. Consider why your product would be of interest or benefit to that particular prospect. All of this information will provide a strong foundation for why the customer will buy from you in the future. That’s the reason you do the homework!

The more specific information you apply in your presentation, the better your results will be. Doing your homework before each call will dramatically increase your effectiveness and accelerate your sales results and create a positive impression that lasts.

Anita Sirianni, The Professional Sales Coach, is one of the industry’s most popular consultants and sales trainers. Anita shares her strategies and practical approach through customized programs for leading corporations throughout the world. For additional information about Anita Sirianni’s high energy, interactive Championship Courses or to book Anita for your next sales meeting, call (800) 471-2619 or visit