Don’t Mess Up Your First Impression: Formula for Making Your Mark in Business

Guest post by John Asher

We’ve become so accustomed to interacting via electronic means that the importance of human connection seems like an afterthought.  Not really necessary.  Old school.  Dead as digital tape.


Nothing could be further from the truth.  I speak to business leaders all over the world about how to improve their people and processes in order to grow their companies.  There’s one big issue I’ve found in common with all their business challenges: connecting with customers.  It seems like we’ve forgotten how to do it.  And our opportunities suffer for it.


Here are seven proven ways that everyone – from salespeople to CEOs – can make great first human impressions and rise above data-constrained transactions:


Be prepared to sell yourself

No matter who you are or what you do, you first need to sell yourself.  Every interaction with someone is essentially a job interview.  Only after you’ve sold yourself can you sell who you represent and what ideas you have to offer.  An old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  This happens very quickly.  Common knowledge used to be that a first impression took anywhere from 7 to 30 seconds.  Now we know from recent neuroscience research that a first impression comes in as little as 0.7 seconds.  Why?  Because it’s not made in the logical parts of our brains, but in the emotional parts.  And because it’s a feeling, it lasts longer in the memory than the details of what was observed.  We cling to first impressions.


Be knowledgeable of who you’ll be talking with

One of the best and fastest ways to learn about someone is through social media.  Look up their organization, their business or mission, the field they’re in, and even their peers and competition.  LinkedIn is great for getting their biographical information and your mutual interests.  Consider linking up with them prior to the meeting so that first meeting will feel more like the second.  And because they’ll likely be researching you, in turn, pay attention to and “groom” your social media profiles with appropriate photos and current information.


Be prompt at the meeting

Whether it’s online, on the phone, or in person, the person you’re meeting with is probably busy.  Being prompt shows you’re organized and respect their time.  If it’s on the phone, call at the agreed moment.  If it’s online or a conference call, make sure the technology works properly beforehand so you don’t waste the opportunity.  If it’s in person, get the correct directions and access information.  Show up a little early, but not so early it’s awkward for both of you.


Be ready to smile, look them in the eye, and give them a firm handshake

There’s no better advice than to stick with the fundamentals.  When you meet someone, smile sincerely, look them directly in the eye, address them by their name, and give them a firm handshake.  People don’t buy from companies and organizations; they buy from other people.


Be aware of your appearance

The biggest mistake is not paying attention to how you look.  Because our eyes process information 25 times faster than our ears, appearance is disproportionally important in making a good first impression.  Good looks, dress, and grooming create a “halo effect” and kick in what’s known as the physical attraction bias.  As for what to wear, a good recommendation is to dress to their expectations, not your comfort or convenience.  When you suit up for a meeting, consider the organization behind you and the organization in front of you.


Be self-aware and aware of others

Neuroscientists tell us there are cognitive biases that affect perceptions.  The primacy bias explains the importance of the first impression.  It’s the tendency for the first few things people notice about someone to influence how they interpret information later.  There’s also the likeability bias.  If you’re considered likable by attributes such as being nice, polite, respectful, confident and thoughtful – you have a greater chance of making an emotional connection with someone.  And emotional connections are key to building successful relationships.


Be clear and transparent in everything you do

A great way to make a positive impression is to be upfront with who you are, what you do, and why it might be of their interest to talk with you.  Practice an opening statement, perhaps mentioning someone you both know who referred you to them.  Ask them an open-ended question to get them talking about what they want to talk about.  When it’s time to switch to what you want to talk about, don’t just start talking.  Consider asking them further questions to continue the good feeling and comfort level you’ve established.  You can make a positive and memorable first impression by saying less, not more.


JOHN ASHER, author of Close Deals Faster, is the CEO of Asher Strategies, a sales advisory consulting firm focused on improving sales for business-to-business companies. Asher is the #1 rated speaker on sales for Vistage, a worldwide network of CEOs. Over the last two decades, he has mentored a large cadre of speakers and trainers that has fueled the growth of ASHER.