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February 13, 2013

You only get One Chance to make a First Impression

My wife, Lisa, and I are doing some updating to our home – knocking out a wall, putting in hardwood floors and the like.  And Lisa is the one in charge of the project.

During this process, she’s called numerous contractors to come to the house, look around and provide an estimate on doing the work. Her interaction with them has been really interesting… with some of the contractors not responding at all to her initial calls and others not submitting bids after visiting our home.

That’s nuts!  You’d think that these small, local businesses would jump at the chance to participate in a project like this.

Here’s what their lack of responsiveness has done… they’re off of our list!  Period.  We just won’t do business with them… even if they come back later with an apology and a lower bid.  Our feeling is that if they can’t be any more responsive when they’re trying to impress us to close the deal, what is it going to be like if we actually hire them?

So, what’s your first impression like?  Are you dazzling prospective clients… or are you ignoring them (never to hear from them again)?  Here are 5 early-contact opportunities for you to really shine:

  1. Does your website make a good first impression?  It needs to – because that’s where prospective clients will go first.  And is someone at your firm responsible for responding to those prospects that contact you through the website?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent an email to and never heard a word back!
  2. Do you have a good elevator pitch for networking?  Tell the people you meet what you do, who you do it for and why they should care.  Talk in terms that resonate with them.  Talk about benefits, not features.
  3. How do you follow-up after networking?  Do you send a ‘thank you’ note referring to your conversation with them or is it a generic note that you send to everyone you met?  Remember this saying… “Seek first to help, then to sell.”  Don’t start out asking for a chance to sell them something, send an article or white paper that might interest them.  Build a relationship – it greatly improves the chance for sale down the road.
  4. When you finally get the chance to stand in front of a room full of clients to make a capabilities presentation… is it ‘theater’ or are you putting them to sleep?  Talk only a little about what you do and more about how you can help them and solve their problems.  Lots of images in your PowerPoint and few words.  Engage the audience.  This is your best chance to dazzle!
  5. How are you responding to bid requests?  Are you fast?  Do you call them back to ask questions to better understand the project or are you an order-taker?  Do you offer up alternatives that might benefit the client or do you just give them back what they asked for?  And what does your bid package look like?  Use it to impress and reinforce your brand.

Making a good first impression takes thought, planning and solid execution… which is why so few firms are any good at it.  But if you make a conscious effort to create a great first impression, you create a competitive advantage that most other firms can’t duplicate.

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