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You Have Only One Chance at Making a Great First Impression

: : Face to Face Sales : ( words)

The human brain has been identified as having two hemispheres: the left, which is primarily responsible for logic, and the right, which is primarily responsible for creativity. This description fits what is known as the cortex or new brain.

However, there is a third dimension of the brain, the hypothalamus or prehistoric brain, which is responsible for instincts, a critical factor in creating first impressions.

Bruno Catellani of the Institute of Communication, Management and Sales in Switzerland refers to the prehistoric brain as the guard or gatekeeper.

The gatekeeper’s sole function is to decide whether someone is a friend or a foe. It is incapable of thought or rationalization and reacts purely on instinct by how it perceives a person’s approach.

If your initial approach to a sales prospect puts stress on that person’s gatekeeper element of the brain, it will switch on the fight/flight response. Part of this process includes shutting down all other message receptors, meaning any opportunity you had to communicate has been totally lost.

It is absolutely true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Building the language of trust is the first step to successful customer service, which translates into building sales.

So if the gatekeeper doesn’t think, does the initial language of trust have to be verbal? No, the first impression is based on instinct alone.

The signals that you need to give in the first 10 to 20 seconds are instinctive. For example, your body language represented by your movements, gestures, facial expression and eye contact need to be open and relaxed.

Your voice modulation and tone are calm, the speed of your speech is controlled and gentle, and you must not invade the customer’s “space.”

Other factors that will influence the gatekeeper’s decision are your appearance, clothes, smell, enthusiasm and posture. Once you are past this initial first impression, you can get on with developing a relationship with your sales prospect.

UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian has been a pioneer in the area of understanding communications since the 1960s.

He has established the classic statistic for the effectiveness of communications. His model has become one of the most widely referenced statistics in communications and it is particularly useful in illustrating the importance of factors other than words when trying to convey (as the speaker) or interpret (as the listener) a communications relationship.

He defines communications as follows:

Verbal: The message itself, the words you use.

Vocal: The sound of your voice, intonation, projection, pitch and speed of your voice.

Visual: The posture and gestures, facial expression and eye movement that people see.

Understanding how to convey (when speaking) and interpret (when listening) will always be essential for effective communication in management, sales, customer service and all forms of relationships whether personal or professional.

Thomas Gordon of Gordon Training International, headquartered in Solana Beach, Calif., is widely recognized as a pioneer in teaching communication skills and conflict resolution. He added another dimension to the work developed at UCLA when he identified similar elements of communication:

Words: Verbal

Voice: Vocal

Face: Visual

Body: Visual

The conclusions of the work from both institutions showed a strong similarity for each component of communication in determining whether you are friend or foe.

The results were as follows:


Verbal: 7 percent

Vocal: 38 percent

Visual: 55 percent

Thomas Gordon

Verbal: 7 percent

Voice: 23 percent

Face: 35 percent

Body: 35 percent

Create the right environment to be successful in sales. Approach and greet your first-time prospect with open, friendly body language coupled with soothing, gentle voice modulation.

The total focus in this step is to get past the gatekeeper so you can develop and build rapport and open the prospect’s message receptors.

The words themselves are not that important. A simple “Hi, how are you today?” is a good icebreaker providing the tone of your voice, your appearance, your eye contact and your handshake are warm, friendly and inviting.

You only have the opportunity once to make your critical first impression, and it occurs in the first 10 to 20 seconds. Then you will have the potential for your prospect to be receptive to your sales process.

Reprinted from Capital Region Business Journal, Madison, Wisconsin- September 2005 issue.

About ActionCOACH

Brad Sugars founded the brand Action International in 1993 when he realized there was a disconnect between business advice and implementation. The answer was Action! Brad Sugars created a business coaching company so that business owners throughout the world can realize their goals in business. Today the company is known as ActionCOACH. To learn more about business, visit Brad Sugars Review blog!

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Brad Sugars started ActionCOACH in 1993 and today the company is internationally recognized as the leading global business coaching firm and one of the leading and most awarded franchises in the world. Today, ActionCOACH operates in over 70 countries and has more than 1,000 coaches around the world, coaching 15,000 businesses every week to bring them ever greater achievement and success.