How to make a good impression

So often, I find myself coaching my clients about all the ways that they make an impression on their prospects and clients. Whether we like it or not, we are always being evaluated, judged, and reviewed. The mistake comes when we believe that it doesn’t matter.

Here’s an example. One of my clients in the financial services industry recently ran a direct mail marketing campaign to invite people to an educational presentation about retirement income planning. He believed that his first chance to make a good impression on a potential client wouldn’t come until they came in for an individual consultation – then he’d be able to impress them with his trustworthiness, his expertise, and his ability to work with their specific financial situation

Before that meeting, the prospect will have gotten the initial written invitation, received 3 phone calls, attended an event, and been emailed. All of those things will have made an impression on the prospect long before they ever sit down one-on-one with the financial planner. Impressions are made in more situations than just face-to-face.

This is true of all of us, not just people who are looking for someone to be their financial planner. It’s human nature to assess the people around us to determine how safe we are, how trustworthy they are, or even to determine if someone may need our help. And everyone around us is doing the same. We have the choice of either deciding it’s not important what others think of us or that we want to be making the very best impression.

But why does it matter what others think of us? Whether you are an employee, a customer who wants good service, a boss who wants great employees or a business owner that wants more customers, it had better matter to you!

Yesterday I went out to lunch at one of my favorite places. It happens to be located next to a car dealership. One of the salesmen from the dealership (wearing the dealership’s name and logo on his crisp white shirt) came over to grab a quick lunch. He walked in the exit door (blocking others from exiting), ignored everyone around him (refusing to make eye contact), and was abrupt to the clerk from whom he had ordered his lunch.

He never said a single word to me, but rest assured he made an impression. When I need a new car, I no longer have any intention of going into that dealership. I saw first-hand how he treated people around him. His arrogance oozed from every pore. As a representative of that dealership, he showed me that they do not value other people and that rudeness and incivility are acceptable attitudes in their employees. The problem that the dealership has is that while he is wearing their shirt, he is representing them. The impression was not a positive one.

This morning, I was on the phone with a local legal firm. I contacted them online last week about an issue and the call was to follow up on my inquiry. The young woman confirmed my name, phone number, and email address (which had all been part of my online inquiry) and my birthdate. Before proceeding with details, I asked her for her name. She provided me with her first name but refused to provide her last name – citing company policy. Wow. I immediately made a decision that I did not want to do business with a legal firm who refused to provide the last name (or any other relevant information) about the person I was talking with. I had no sense that I could possibly get any type of personal service from a company that refused to allow employees to share their name.

These scenarios happen every day. We are evaluating people and companies to decide who we want to do business with.

Employees who are looking to advance in a company are making an impression all the time – not just by the work that they do but with the attitude that they have toward their customers, their co-workers, their boss, and their community. What happens when I see an employee dump a bag of trash out of their car after work? It tells me something about their character.

Customers who want good service (while they should always expect it) are treated much better when they are thoughtful and respectful to whoever is supplying the service. When a customer approaches the service counter with a smile, the conversation is much more likely to go their way than if they started with yelling.

A boss who wants to have employees respect them and do the requested work will have an increased chance of success when he “walks the talk”. Employees can tell, intuitively, the difference between a superior who is doing the minimum of what needs to be done versus one who is committed to doing it well. As I mentioned in my How to Change the World blog post, leading by example is the best way to make the right impression.

But this lesson is most important for business owners and salespeople. Customers are the lifeblood of your business and they are watching you. They are making judgments and evaluating your behavior. They are making decisions every day about who they want to do business with. People do business with people that they know, like, and trust. If they don’t like the impression you have made, even outside of the context of your business dealings, they will not want to do business with you.

The challenge that each of us has is that we are always making an impression, whether we want to or not, and it’s not easy to always be our best selves. I’m not saying you have to be perfect. But making the best impression possible – in all things – will lead to more opportunities for success and enjoyment in business and in life.

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