The importance of a first impression in sales

Research has shown that we have only 7 seconds to make a strong first impression when we first speak to someone. This defining moment will impact your relationship with the person, as well as any future business with them.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has said that there are two questions people answer subconsciously when they get to know someone new for the first time. Can I trust this person, and can I respect them?

Of course, if your goal is to nurture a business relationship with this person, you want them to be answering yes on both accounts.

Once a first impression has been made, it’s unlikely to change. As the saying goes, ‘First impressions last’, and research has shown that the judgements drawn from just 7 seconds of paying attention to someone are just as accurate as those drawn after 7 minutes. In short, those first few seconds are pivotal to the lasting impression.

Cuddy explains that when asked, most people believe that the respect (or competence) you assign to a person will be the most important factor in a professional environment. However, she argues that it is in fact the level of trustworthiness, or warmth, that is most important, as it is deep-rooted in our evolutionary instincts.

Either way, both factors will play a key role in determining the success of a budding sales relationship. We have found that understanding the factors that build a first impression is invaluable when creating the right impression for different clients.

Micro traits and Macro traits

The individual factors that make up a first impression can be separated into two categories: Micro traits and Macro traits.

Consider someone asked you the question “what was your first impression of x?”. The answer is likely to come back as something along the lines of “I found x to be [friendly, professional, distracted, uncomfortable]”. These attributes are known as macro-traits. They are the personality traits that we cognitively assign someone, based on what we have observed about them.

But if you probe deeper and ask the question why you made that assumption, you will find the micro traits that make up these attributes. These may be signs such as “he looked me in the eyes” or “her posture was stiff and closed off”.

These micro traits exist as much in our spoken communication as physical communication, so are easily applied to telemarketing. It could be the way someone addresses you, their tone of voice or the language they use.

Generally, it is hard for someone to explain exactly what it was that created a first impression, as most of this processing is done subconsciously.

Because it is harder to pinpoint these exact nuances, it is a real skill to engineer a first impression that is believable and seems natural. However, once you understand the signs that shape our assumptions, you’ll start to notice them more and more and will be able to weave them into your own communication.

As a professional telemarketer, it’s essential to convey confidence, trustworthiness and approachability. Mastering the micro traits that people associate with these characteristics will allow you to do this in a convincing way.

Understanding how people make initial judgements, and the importance of them, allows you to prepare for a successful first impression every time.

In Practise

So where should you begin applying this knowledge of how first impressions are built?

Like any technique, the more you are able to practise in real life situations the better.

Pay attention to the small habits of the people around you that you respect and get on with. How do they carry themselves, introduce themselves, what sort of language do they use? Try and pick up on elements of their verbal and nonverbal communication that you can work into your own approach.

Next time you walk into a meeting room, pick up the phone to a new client or attend a networking event, take a moment to consider what image you are portraying.

Our experience has shown us that reading people early and gently modifying your behaviour to fit them can be key to making the right first impression. Open and honest communication will help to build trust, and gently mirroring habits of the other person will help to develop a connection.

As you become more comfortable with these techniques, you will find that they become second nature and you will see the benefits in relationships in all areas of your life.

Can you recall a time when someone made a significant impression on you? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!


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