How to make a great first impression

Making a great first impression will positively impact your sales effort and, more importantly, win over the loyalty of your customers. Let's address the all-important first meeting with a new customer.

Present a Professional Presence. Too many construction salespeople and estimators simply do not pay enough attention to their appearance. Keep an extra shirt, pants, and shoes at your office or in your vehicle for quick changes. If you are coming straight from a job to meet a new customer, a fresh set of clothes will not only make a more favorable impression on the customer, it will make you feel better as well. Keep extra deodorant and a bottle of mild cologne available, too. Your employees might tolerate how you smell but customers won't.

Drive a Clean Vehicle. It's amazing how dirty vehicles create a negative view of a contractor and his or her business practices. If a new customer sees that your vehicle is filthy he may have second thoughts about what your work crews might leave his property looking like.

A professional approach to sales and making a good first impression extends to even the look of your vehicle, so spend a few extra dollars every week to keep it clean.

Extend a Positive "Hand of Fellowship." Initiate a friendly outreach. Always introduce yourself first, reach out to shake hands with your customer - and don't forget to make eye contact! This is simply good manners and sends a positive signal to the customer that you're there to talk business. Shake the customer's hand firmly yet without squeezing the blood from it. Weak handshakes suggest personal weakness or insincerity. The crowning touch is to make eye contact. Eye contact seals a sincere greeting, so always look your customer in the eye when shaking hands. The handshake is perhaps one of the most important "getting to know you" things you can do yet it is often handled poorly. Don't underestimate the power of the "touch."

Personalize Your Approach. Using the customer's name will impress him, make him feel special, and also help you to more quickly familiarize yourself with him. Normally, first names are acceptable but if there is any doubt use the Mr. or Ms. before the last name. Do this until they tell you any different. The same holds true for professional titles, such as "Dr." This is not to suggest that you become chummy with a new customer but instead that you initiate a relationship that is open to discuss the customer's wants and needs. More often than not, taking a more personal approach will open the door to friendly conversation, opening the door to an easier exchange of how your company can meet their needs.

Provide Pristine Handouts. Construction salespeople and estimators are notorious for keeping company brochures on the car floorboard and business cards in their wallets. Invest in a small plastic filing cabinet to keep company information protected from spilled coffee, greasy hamburger bags, and dirty boots. Your company literature and other promotional items are a reflection of the company so work to keep such items clean.

Invite Another Memory. Follow-up every customer visit with a letter or e-mail.Thank-you letters, notes, and e-mails are critical to keeping your name on the brain of customers. You should be "touching" your customers at least four to six times a year as a rule. Sending such follow-up notes to customers signals your respect for them and your interest in keeping their business.

Avoid Sure Conversation Stoppers. When I visit with relatives, there are two things I have learned not to talk about: religion and politics. Over the years I have applied the same principle when dealing with customers. The last thing you want to do is to risk offending a potential customer by making an off-hand comment about a particular religion or repeating a smutty joke about the latest escapades of some politician.

As you get to know customers and they begin to open up to you about their personal lives, beliefs, and values, your discussions may periodically touch some of the forbidden topics. However, as a rule, refrain from initiating such discussions early in the relationship.

It is a very competitive market that most contractors are facing. Making the right and lasting first impression will go a long way to building a strong customer relationship. With a little extra planning and forethought you can enhance the first impression that you make on new customers.

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group Inc. a management consultant to the construction industry. He will present a number of seminars and workshops at National Pavement Expo West and National Pavement Expo. Visit www.nationalpavementexpo.com for details. For more information about PDG, its available products, and services, please go to www.pinnacledg.com.

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