Business 101: First Impressions That Sell

Making a good first impression can greatly impact making a sale. Let's address the important first meeting "live" and in person.

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, refrain from initiating such discussions early in the relationship.

Your professional attitude must be focused on presenting the best image possible. Follow a few simple tips as you prepare to make your next first impression.

Tip #1: Look and smell clean. Don't laugh – too many construction salespeople 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, but 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 near.

Tip #2: Keep your vehicle clean. It is amazing how dirty vehicles create a negative view of a contractor and his/her business practices. Spend a few extra dollars every week to wash your vehicle. If customers see that your vehicle is filthy, they may have second thoughts about what your work crews might leave their property looking like.

Tip #3: 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. 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.

Tip #4: 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. title 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.

Tip #5: Maintain clean and non-wrinkled literature. 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 promotional items are a reflection of the company so work to keep such items clean.

Tip #6: 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. Sending such follow-up notes to customers signals your respect for them and your interest in keeping their business.

I doubt seriously if any of the six tips are new, but I challenge you to measure the consistency you practice with each. Make these tips part of your company's customer service effort and work culture. It is important that you practice as well as model such tips. Remember, when you are dealing with customers, especially new customers, you never get a second chance to make a positive first impression.

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, Inc. a management consultant to the construction industry. For more information about PDG visit www.pinnacledg.com.

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