June 14, 2012


One item that salespeople need to appreciate more than professionals in other careers is the value of a good first impression. Although stereotypes can be considered a negative thing, the truth is that in practical life we are all judged by others within seconds, even if unconsciously, as to our background, trustworthiness, and professionalism simply by the way we look, speak and move. Fair or not, salespeople should pay extra attention to this and leverage it to produce better results as part of their sales process improvement routine.

The Power of the First Impression

There is a worn-out cliché that states, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The reason it is well-worn is because it is true.

Picture a prospect visiting a dealer to buy a Mercedes. She notices that the grounds are littered with fast-food wrappers, foul odors permeate the air, and heavy rock music blasts from the audio system. As luxury car buyers expect a certain level of class and service, this prospect would probably decide within the first few seconds that the dealership does not have the capability to deliver the experience she seeks.

No matter what else is told the prospect during the appointment, that buyer will be unable to resolve the incongruity between the first impression received and her brand expectations. She will thereafter view with suspicion anything the salesperson has to say, all because of the opinion formed in those critical first seconds.

Visual Cues

According to a study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian at UCLA, visual cues comprise 55% of the criteria used to judge others. Visual cues are simply how one looks. This includes the way you carry yourself, the clothing you wear, the design of your website, and the brands you choose personally. As the processing speed with our eyes is 25 times faster than with our ears, these visual cues are the front line in sales.

While these criteria might seem shallow, and one can go overboard and present a veneer that is too “slick,” it pays to polish up one’s look. Exceptions exist in certain industries, such as technology, where a less formal, even “scruffy” look better meets a buyer’s expectations while a suit and tie sparks distrust.

Verbal Cues

The study reports that 38% of the cues comprising a first impression come from the way things are said, not what is being said. Talking too fast might force a buyer to feel they are being taken advantage of, while a too slow, meandering drawl will turn off many C-level players.

Salespersons can make an important sales process improvement simply by matching a prospect’s energy level when speaking. On cold calls, standing up or looking in a mirror will provide energy to the voice, piquing interest in many buyers.

Vocal Cues

The actual things said represent only 7% of how people initially judge others, so you may be forgiven for saying the wrong thing if you have appealing visual and verbal cues already established.

Sales professionals interested in sales process improvement should eliminate any vocal cues which can introduce fear or other negative emotions at the first meeting. Words such as “cost,” “sell,” “expensive,” and others can be replaced in a sales patter with “investment,” “acquire,” “luxury-priced,” which evoke positive emotions and cause a favorable first impression.

Prospects like to do business with those they like and trust, and much of that is established in the first few seconds of a sales cycle. Use these tips to produce a sales process improvement and close more sales.