First Impressions that Last a Lifetime

Many contractors often seem at a loss when it comes to getting new prospects to remember them, their company, even their first visit. As the old saying goes, "You never get a second chance at a first impression!" So, making a great first impression has got to become a higher priority.

It has been suggested that we have as little as ten to fifteen seconds to make a first impression when first meeting someone new. If this is true, then the very first time we meet with new customers is even more critical that we have our act together, have a strategy to make that first impression a real memorable experience.

Making a great first impression will positively impact your sales effort and more importantly, win over the loyalty of your customers. For many contractors, and especially those involved with estimating and sales, this begins with the first impression made on the first personal visit with a customer. Let's address the all important first meeting with a new customer.

Tip No. 1: Present a Professional Presence.
Look and smell clean. Don't laugh, too many construction sales people and estimators simply do not pay enough attention to what they are wearing and how they smell! 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. Remember, your employees may not mind how you smell but the customer will hardly do business with a contractor they can barely tolerate standing close to.

Tip No. 2: Drive a Clean Vehicle.
Keep your truck or car clean. It is amazing how dirty vehicles create a negative view of a contractor and his or her business practices. Spend a few extra dollars every week to keep your vehicle clean. If new customers see that your vehicle is filthy they may have second thoughts about what your work crews might leave their property looking like. A professional approach to sales and making a good first impression extends to even the look of your vehicle.

Tip No. 3: Extend a Positive "Hand of Fellowship."
Initiate a friendly outreach. Always introduce yourself first, reach out to shake hands of 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. No one likes a wimpy handshake. The crowning touch for a professional handshake is to make eye contact. Always look your customers in the eye when shaking hands. Eye contact seals a sincere greeting. The handshake is perhaps one of the most important "getting to know you" things you can do yet it is often handled poorly by many in sales. Don't underestimate the power of the "touch."

Tip No. 4: Personalize Your Approach.
Use the customer's name. Using the customer's name will impress the customer, making them feel special, and also help you to more quickly familiarize yourself with them. Normally, first names are acceptable but if there is any doubt use the Mr. or Ms. before their last name. Do this until they tell you any different. Also, if the customer has some professional title, such as "Dr.", use this title until they tell you not to. To personalize your approach does not 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.

TipNo. 5: Provide Pristine Handouts.
Maintain clean and non-wrinkled literature. Construction sales people 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 promotional items are a reflection of the company so work to keep such items clean.

TipNo. 6: 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 4 - 6 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.

Tip No. 7: 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 political figure.

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.

I doubt seriously if any of the seven tips listed above are that difficult to understand. However, incorporating the tips into your actual customer contact takes preparation and strategizing. Remember, when you are dealing with customers, especially new customers, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Brad Humphrey is President of Pinnacle Development Group, Inc. a management consultant to the construction industry. For more information about PDG, their available products and services, please go to www.pinnacledg.com.

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