A recent TV commercial for Proctor and Gamble’s Head and Shoulders shampoo ends by saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” The opening minutes of the approach must be designed to create an atmosphere of trust. The first 15 words you speak tell volumes about you. Every personal characteristic is watched and evaluated; your approach must be carefully considered.

Leonard Zunin, in his book Contact: The First Four Minutes, says that four minutes is the average time the prospect takes to decide whether to buy from you. People do make quick judgments based on feelings, emotions, or hunches. The more positive the feelings, the more they hear and accept what you say.

That the prospect’s first impression is based on factors unrelated to who you actually are or what benefits your product or service could offer seems somehow unfair, but in the initial minutes of the meeting, surface factors are the only ones available. During the opening minutes of the sales interview, the job of a professional sales-person is to establish rapport, build confidence, and make the prospect feel comfortable.

Your initial greeting, the handshake, use of the prospect’s name and your ability to establish rapport are all important because the prospect’s initial attention is focused on you and not your proposition. Here are some suggestions and a way of thinking concerning each of these points:

Choice of greeting – If the first 15 words you speak are crucial, selection of a greeting deserves your attention. Casual questions like “How are you?” or “How ya’ doing?” have lost all semblance of meaning. How does a person usually respond? “Great” or “just fine, thank you,” but what if the prospect is not feeling great and what if business is not going great? If a prospect covers up real feelings with some conventional answer, a vague feeling of uneasiness results. If the prospect responds with a long list of problems, no response you make can turn attention naturally toward your sales presentation.

Other timeworn greetings should also be discarded, such as “Hot enough for you?” or “Working hard?” or “I was in the neighborhood and just thought I’d drop in.”

Keep your greeting simple: “Good morning, Mrs. Jenkins. It’s a pleasure to meet you” or “Good afternoon, Ed. It’s good to see you again.”

The handshake – Maintain eye contact for the duration of the handshake. Apply firm consistent pressure on the hand. Avoid the limp-wristed, wet-fish or bonecrusher handshakes. The handshake is a particularly revealing form of communication. It is one of the first nonverbal signs you receive.

A person with a dominant, assertive behavioral style (referred to as a Driver) has a very strong handshake and may even indicate a desire to dominate by turning the wrist to position the hand over yours. Prospects with less assertive personalities (amiables, for example) tend to shake hands with little eye contact and with less aggression.

Use of the prospect’s name – Typically, when we are introduced to someone, we hear our name, then we might hear the other person’s name. Your prospects do not like to have their names forgotten, misspelled, or mispronounced. Dale Carnegie says, “A person’s name is to them (sic) the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Recall how pleased you were when someone remembered your name after just a casual meeting several weeks previously. You would stand in line to do business with such a person.

The true professional should remember not only the names of prospects and clients but also their assistants and associates. These people can be instrumental in helping you secure an order. Many executives depend on their personnel to help evaluate you after you leave.

Establish rapport – The opening few minutes of conversation should be designed to find a comfort level for both parties so that rapport can be established. In the initial face-to-face meeting it is quite natural to experience what is called relationship tension. Prospects fear being sold something they do not want, and you face the fear of being rejected.

To break the ice and ease the tension, the consultative salesperson often uses “small talk” at the opening of the interview. Small talk may be discussion of topics entirely unrelated to what you are selling. Topics like mutual friends, similar interests in civic organizations, hobbies, and family life are frequently used. I like to call this time chitchat with a purpose.

Here are four basic questions that are non-threatening, and easy to answer: (1) Are you a native of this area?; (2) Were you educated there? (Depends on answer to question 1); (3) Are you a family person?; and (4) How did you happen to get into this business?

These questions at the beginning of the interview ease the tension and may give you some insight into your prospect’s behavioral style. If the prospect seems withdrawn or even hostile, this warm-up conversation helps you determine whether that is the prospect’s real personality or whether you have arrived on an especially bad day.

Convert these ideas into sales success for you. Professional salespeople increase the odds in their favor by taking advantage of the “power” of good first impressions.

Click to listen highlighted text!