We all know the old saying about “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” In a recent article, we talked about how a home can make a great first impression on potential buyers. But how about you? What kind of first impression are you making on potential clients? Let’s do a little soul-searching, shall we? Here are five important steps you can take to make that first impression bring lasting results.
- Stay at attention
- Match the moment
- Watch your language
- Go with the flow
- Give thanks
Stay at attention. When you meet someone for the first time, be totally present and give them your complete attention. Make the person your focus, not the surroundings. And above all, don’t be distracted by electronic devices. If you’re meeting a client in the office, mute your cell phone and put your computer’s screen saver on. Mute the sound there too, so that annoying bell doesn’t ring every time you get an email. Leave the office phone on busy or tell the receptionist to hold your calls. This is one situation where multitasking is totally inappropriate. Even something totally innocent, like checking a text to see where your kid is, can turn off a client.
If you’re in a social situation, such as a restaurant or a business mixer, focus on the face in front of you. Don’t let your gaze wander around the room, as though you were expecting someone more important to show up.
Match the moment. The best way to establish rapport is to let the situation dictate the conversation. If you meet someone new at your son’s soccer game, focus on the game and how well (or badly) your kids are playing. It’s not a good idea to start a relationship by asking a virtual stranger if they’d like to sell their house! You can always hand them a business card or suggest getting together for coffee while you’re loading kids and gear into your car.
If you’re meeting a potential client in the office, keep it businesslike. A little chit-chat about the weather or the traffic is fine for an ice-breaker, but this is not the place to tell your personal story. Encourage the client to tell hers instead.
Watch your language. Your body language, that is. We’ve already mentioned focusing on the other person. At the same time, pay attention to what your gestures and habits are saying about you. Do you cross your arms in front of you? That’s putting a barrier between you and the client, basically saying “Don’t get too close.” Do you have annoyingly distracting habits, like tapping your pen on the desktop or jingling the keys in your pocket?
The way you’re dressed is a part of the conversation as well. Here again, business is business. Even if it’s 100 degrees in the shade, skip the tank tops and cut-offs when you’re meeting with a client. Looking cool and looking business-like are not mutually exclusive. On the other hand, if the weather report is predicting a blizzard, you’ll look a little ridiculous in your high heels or Gucci loafers. Opt for boots instead.
Go with the flow. Communication is a two-way street. That means listening as well as talking. It’s important to hear what the other person is saying and not to interrupt or talk over them. Let the client’s needs dictate the flow of the conversation. When he says, “I’m looking for something secluded and peaceful,” you’re immediately tempted to wax eloquent about the first property that pops into your mind. It would be much more effective to keep him talking by asking probing questions: “What does ‘peaceful’ look like to you?” or “By ‘secluded,’ do you mean out in the country?” Don’t assume you know what the client really means. Ask for more information.
Give thanks. The final step is to make the client feel appreciated. Thank her for taking time to meet with you. Tell her she’s provided valuable information that will help you do a great job for her. If it’s pouring down rain, tell her how much you appreciate her braving the storm to take a meeting.
Then answer the all-important, but unspoken, question: “What’s next?” Manage the client’s expectations by telling him or her exactly what to anticipate. If you’re meeting in your office, obviously it’s a buy or sell situation. Describe next steps and tell the clients exactly when they can expect to hear from you again. “I’ll bring the listing agreement to your house later this afternoon. Would 3 o’clock work for you?”
If it’s a chance encounter at the soccer game or the grocery store, just suggest a follow-up. “Why don’t I call you Monday? Let’s get together for coffee and you can tell me more about the kind of home you’re looking for.”
Your first contact with any potential client sets the tone for your whole relationship. Everything you do should be focused on making the client feel relaxed, comfortable, and safe. Make your first impression the start of a beautiful (and profitable) friendship.