5 Ways Salespeople Ruin a First Impression

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A good first impression is timeless. And in a highly competitive industry, it’s invaluable.

In just the first 7 seconds of interaction, people start to form their opinion of you. They evaluate your status, authority, approachability, competence, confidence, and likeability faster than you can make a proper introduction. From a study that proves a connection between personality and appearance, we learn that even something as superficial as the way you look says a lot about who you are.

So, if you want to improve the way you interact with clients (and become a more likeable person altogether), look out for these 5 ways you might be undermining your first impression.

Mistake #1: Treating Others Poorly

Every contact you make holds opportunity — whether it’s for a sale or for a referral. Too often, salespeople become dismissive if they realize they aren’t speaking to a decision maker or the product isn’t a good fit. But never underestimate the power of a referral.

If you discover you’re not talking to a good prospect, your next question should be, “Who else in your circle would be a good fit?” If you’ve made a good impression, even a “no” can lead to a great opportunity. So stay respectful, even when there’s not a sale.

Mistake #2: Not Dressing the Part

Face it, looks matter. One of the easiest ways to improve your first impression is to dress well. Most of us live behind our computer screens, which makes our clothing choice less significant in daily life. But when you’re meeting new people, you should spend the extra energy on your appearance.

I’ve actually sat down with salespeople simply because they were well dressed. Why? We associate well-dressed people with respect and attention. So when you dress the part, you’re more likely to get the respect (and listening ear) you’re looking for.

Mistake #3: Discussing Controversial Topics

Political discussions ruin a first impression, especially today. People are so entrenched in one side that you’re likely to find yourself at odds if you even allude to being affiliated with the other party.

Also, keep discussions about how much you drink, who you’re seeing, or how late you party off limits. Those topics only hurt your reputation.

Tempted to make a derogatory comment about the opposite sex? Don’t. Talking about topics, jokes, and lifestyle choices that are deemed controversial quickly ruins a good first impression.

Mistake #4: Not Listening

Ever tempted to walk into a sales meeting and launch into your full sales pitch? If you spend more time talking than listening, that tells clients you’re out of tune with their needs. Clients want to know about you and what you have to offer. They don’t want to hear a 45-minute monologue about the history of your company.

Mistake #5: Poor Email Etiquette

Email gives you the chance to make another great impression. Before you meet, send them an email invite that includes the date, details, and location. To really set yourself apart, create an event that links to their calendar. It tells them you’re organized and won’t let their needs slip through the cracks.

Also, proofread. Use proper grammar and spelling. Most people will write you off if you don’t.

Bonus Tip: Be Punctual!

Don’t hurt your chances of a good first impression by arriving late. When you’re late, you waste people’s time. Efficient people will eliminate your business immediately — they don’t want to waste more time in the future.

Plus, latecomers often have plenty of excuses for their tardiness. Excuses drive people crazy. So plan accordingly, giving yourself plenty of travel time to arrive on time or early.

It’s tough to overcome a bad first impression — so don’t make one. Start on the right foot and leave an impression that makes people want to do business with you.

7 Rules for Getting Past the Gatekeeper

getting past the gatekeeper sales meetings

You’ve driven across town for a sales meeting, only to find the receptionist catching up on the latest issue of US Weekly while Dr. Jones is tied up. Now what? We’ve all been there – suddenly in a battle to get past the gatekeeper.

In many cases, gatekeepers are low-waged employees who don’t really understand the business. They don’t care about how awesome your product or service is. It could be the perfect solution to solve all their company’s woes, but it doesn’t matter.

Your purpose is never to sell the gatekeeper. Your purpose is for the gatekeeper to send you to the decision maker, and these strategies will help get you to the person in charge.

1. Dress the Part

We’ve all seen the caricatures of salesmen: baggy shirts with sweat stains, un-tailored pants, and the general look that they just climbed an uncountable number of stairs. This look doesn’t help your case. If you dress like a salesperson, you are the salesperson. But if you look like a hotshot, you’re going to get past the gatekeeper much faster.

In fact, the more you can blend into the office environment, the better. In pharmaceutical sales, some of the smarter reps wear scrubs. If you’re wearing scrubs and you ask to speak to Dr. So-and-so, no one even asks you why you’re there.

Don’t stand out, but if in doubt, err on the side of being overdressed, not underdressed.

2. Use Body Language

You’re trying to blend in with your clothes. Now, act casually. Don’t look like you’re about to pounce into a 5 minute monologue. You can even act confused: “Oh my! You’ve changed so much in here,” or, “It took me forever to find a parking spot. Are you guys always this busy?”

Body language works hand in hand with clothing choice: get in the door without being pegged as a salesperson.

3. Let Go of the Literature

People often make the mistake of holding literature in their hand when they walk in. This is an immediate turn-off. A gatekeeper’s first mission is to discover friend or foe. They have several roles: answering the phones, receiving packages, and trying to keep out the riff-raff (aka: you.)

If you come in holding a brochure, you’re sending a clear sign that you’re a salesperson. The sooner the receptionist discovers you’re in sales, the harder you’ll have to fight an uphill battle to get any information.

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4. Learn to Talk to Strangers

You’ve been trained not to talk to strangers your entire life. Well, it’s time to start. Nobody likes talking to strangers, but it’s no reason to ruin your chances at sales.

Remember, it’s just another person. Practice talking to people in everyday situations without the pressure. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable you’ll make the gatekeeper.

5. Capture Information

I love to walk in when a receptionist answers the phone because I have the chance to capture information. Listen to what she’s talking about, take note of names, look for clues about what she’s eating, drinking, or reading, and try to find some kind of commonality.

If she’s drinking a Red Bull I can later say, “I can’t stop drinking those things. How many of those do you drink a day?” Those little pieces of information pay off in the conversation to come.

6. Start a Conversation – But Not About the Sale

Gatekeepers’ jobs may be to keep out people like you, but they’re still human beings, right? Warm them up through casual conversation. Use the information you were able to observe to ask about their drink, talk about the parking situation, or note how busy they are.

For example, you may say, ”Hey, listen. How big is this office? I didn’t think you guys had this much space.” You want to have a conversation without giving the reason you’re there. The better you can connect with the gatekeeper, the better your chances are to move on to the person in charge.

7. Use First Names

First names are critical. Give them yours, use theirs, and speak about the person you want to see on a first name basis. Exchange names early on or casually use the gatekeeper’s name in conversation if you’ve read it from their desk.

If you’ve been able to find out the first name of the decision-maker via a phone call or LinkedIn, use it with the receptionist. If you say, “I’m here to see George,” it sounds like you know him and you’re more likely to get through. (The exception: doctors. They usually don’t want to be on a first name basis.)

There’s no need for the gatekeeper to stand in your way. Be proactive in your approach so one person won’t stop you from making your pitch and gaining a client.