When I got my first job in 1975, one thing my parents instilled in me from day one was that the first impression was the most important impression.
It is important to remember that you can have the best product on the market, you can have true talent in what you do, but create a wrong first impression and you will have problems right from the start.
Shane Drew has been involved in the sign industry since 1992.
I recently noticed a sign contractor doing his job in bare feet. Having a wife who is a WPH&S Officer, the lack of safety footwear got my attention. It is against the workplace laws for anyone to operate in a factory with no foot protection. His attitude was ‘ its about me being comfortable, so take it or leave it’.
My first impression? This man didn’t take his responsibility seriously, and frankly, I thought he was a fool.
From that moment on, I had a little less respect for him. I wasn’t alone either as it was the topic of conversation at lunch.
Don’t get me wrong, he is easily one of the industry’s best applicators but the first impression he projected did him no favours.
Of course, first impressions can be defined by anything. Body odour to poorly fitting clothes. Negative body language, a dirty vehicle or a poorly designed business card. It all comes in to play when we are trying to impress a new client.
Psychologists and communication experts warn that we have less than 20 seconds to give a lasting impression.
Bill Lampton, a well respected speech communication lecturer makes the point that we have pressure everyday to make our case “instantly”.
So, how do we project a good impression in such a small amount of time?
In his recent article at businessknowhow.com, Bill Lampton gives us some hints.
1) Don’t be a bore.
Make sure the prospective client is the centre of attention, not you. Clients always like to hear positive comments about their business. Comments like “I love the logo you have designed” are simple but effective.
2) Be a good listener.
Respond with things like ’what a great idea’ or ask them to enlarge on a comment. You can only do this is you are really listening though. Be interested in the client and be genuine. Sincerity is the hardest thing to fake.
3) Use the clients name frequently in your conversation.
It is a good technique to remember the clients name, but also shows you are paying attention from the initial introduction.
4) Keep away from sarcastic humour.
I know of an experience when a businessman was trying to secure a new contract, and the prospective client told him he was rarely available on weekends as he participates in missionary type work with his family. The businessman, being atheistic in his own views, made a sarcastic comment about religion and alienated himself immediately.
A wise old man once told me to avoid religion and politics when meeting new clients or doing public speaking. Why? Because they are the two subjects that will be guaranteed to divide an audience. Its something I’ve lived by for years.
5) Give up the need to be right.
Its not important to argue the point. Wait until you have established credibility before you challenge another's statements. A bit like marriage really.
6) Like it or not, your appearance says a lot about your state of mind.
A lot of thought should be given to dress appropriately for the circumstances. One company I worked for had two staff that did quotes. One of the staff always dressed well for meeting clients that were in an administrative role. The other dressed casually and would be called on to quote clients at the more grass routes level.
It’s a good argument for a work uniform though. It gives a professional appearance from the start, and it doesn’t say ‘fly by night’ like turning up in stubbies, volleys and a T Shirt can imply.
7) Watch your language.
Lampton points out listeners will judge our intelligence, our cultural level, our education, even our leadership ability by the words we select - and by how we say them. Using ‘colourful’ language is not everyone’s cup of tea, so its best that you refrain altogether.
He says rather than mumble, speak so you're easily heard. Enunciate clearly. Alter your pitch to avoid the dullness of a monotone. Display animation in both voice and facial expression. Gesture naturally, without "canning" your movements.
None of this advice is new though. It was around when I was young, but it is still relevant.
If we have been in business for a while, we might think that our reputation will carry us through. That of course may well be true. But if you are just starting up, remember that one of the keys to getting new business is to be noticed.
It may be as simple as giving a good first impression to get a foot in the door.
I remember when I was struggling for work when I went out on my own in the late 90’s. I managed to get an appointment with the CEO of a large manufacturing company. I was very nervous as I had a lot riding on getting the job. It was almost make or break for me.
The CEO had been unhappy with the sign shop he was using. I came on the scene, convinced him that I could do the job better, and within a few weeks I was doing $2000 a month in signage and associated work. It eventually grew to average $2000 a week for many years until they sold out.
I asked the CEO some time later why he gave me a go. He said, unlike the other shop he had been using before me, I was polite, didn’t swear, and I showed a respectful attitude. He said his first impression of me was very positive, and thought I was worth giving a go.
I thanked my dad for instilling in me all those years ago that the first impression was the most important impression.
It is worth remembering today. It is still relevant.