By Chris Bucholtz
I love the saying, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and not just because I enjoy figures of speech that are expressions of the blindingly obvious. I also like the fact that this old saw is usually trotted out after someone’s made a horrible first impression, when it’s no longer of any help.
So, instead of using the saying as an alternative to “I told you so, you slob,” let’s use it as a cautionary term. It is true – the first impression someone has of your business carries weight out of proportion to its place in what may become a sequence of interactions. In fact, it can be the event that terminates any sequence of actions that you hope to have (in other words, it can cost you that customer’s business), so it’s a smart thing to set yourself up for a good initial interaction.
But these days, the location of that interaction may be hard to predict. There are multiple avenues by which that first impression can be conveyed. So where do first impressions between you and your customers occur? Let’s limit things to a B2B context; with big B2C brands, the first impression may come from exposure to customers through mass-media marketing, pushing the initial impression far from the actual people within the business. That will not work for B2B buyers.
In B2B, there are a few primary channels where customers make initial contact with a business. Getting the experience right for the customer can make or break your relationships. Here are four that spring to mind:
1. Sales Calls
The least optimal time to make that first impression is during a cold call. In the words of CRM guru Brent Leary, “people like to by from people they like.” In a sales call to a prospect you’ve never talked to before, the prospect isn’t really sure that they like you yet – and they’re inclined not to like you, because the ulterior motive of the call is all about getting them to do something for you. This is never the way a relationship should start – but your sales team has to make these calls.
Making a good impression on the customer is all about information. Social media is great for learning about the prospect, but personal information is nowhere near as useful as business information. Sales should arm itself with as much information as possible, and then use that initial contact to engage the prospect in additional information exchange – and make sure it’s a two-way conversation.
And, as should be readily obvious, your staff should be on its best behavior – they’re interrupting someone’s work day to have a conversation. They need to do so in a respectful manner. Part of that is being polite, but part of it is learning as much as they can about the prospect before the call – that’s respectful of the prospect’s time.
The impression you need to leave is that you’re concerned with the prospect’s business – and knowledgeable enough to help.
2. Content Marketing
Increasingly, the first impression buyers get comes from content marketing – typically, white papers, but increasingly other, more creative bits of content, like videos or publically-available presentations. (You can include speaking engagements here as well, but that’s an entire subject on its own, on which much has been written already.) One of the major mistakes in creating this content is the failure to appreciate that the subjects of these piece of content fall on different parts of what I call “the education funnel.” Some pieces of content merely explain the problems your product or service solves, or discuss high-level concepts; these are at the top of the funnel. Others – TCO comparison guides, product data sheets, how-to’s and so on – are well down the funnel.
Anything at the top of the funnel may well be a prospect’s first exposure to your business, since it’s a strong possibility that a web search may surface it if your keywords are well chosen. This is a first-impression moment and it’s not a great time for a sales pitch.
Instead, go for quality. Think about what your customers need, the issues that confuse them, and the best practices that enable companies to address those issues through the use of whatever it is you sell. Once you identify those things, make sure that they’re addressed by writing talent that’s both up to the task and understands your objectives.
De-emphasize your company in your top-of-the-funnel content; don’t hide the fact that your company’s providing it, but remember that this first impression is more about the customer and his needs than it is about your need to sell to him.
The impression you need to leave is not only that you can help solve your prospects’ problems – it’s also that you understand them, and can help them gain insights into better understanding those problems as well.
When a prospect visits your website, he or she may has probably already heard of you and is looking for the full story on your company. This is your chance to show off your best to that prospect. Unfortunately, many businesses instead show off clear evidence that they haven’t really thought about their websites since 2003.
The website is your front door. How you greet callers is important – and, more than that, how easily you enable callers to navigate the information on the site is important too.
You have to have the right information – and you have to make the experience of finding it a positive one. So while the content and appearance of your front page is important – and makes the initial impression – the totality of the impression comes from how effortless it is to learn what prospects need to learn while they’re there.
Also, it’s important to create the site with your company’s attitude in mind. If you’re a freewheeling company in a fun space, make sure the site reflects it. If you’re trying to convey a sense of stolidity and security, make sure the site does that. The worst thing you can do is make an impression through the website of your business that then is a direct contrast to the next interaction the customer has with the business.
The impression you want to leave is one of a business that’s got a handle on its business, knows how to present information, and understands what information is most important to potential customers.
4. Social Media
The more businesses that adopt social media strategies, the more frequently their prospects’ first exposure to them is through social media. But this is a bit of a wild card: is the first impression delivered by someone from your company, or is it conveyed by a customer – and is this customer pleased or peeved with you?
There’s only so much you can control with regard to what is said about you, but you certainly have control about what your business says via social media. While having a strategy in place for conveying messages about your business is important, it’s also important to have a strategy in place for your employees, who may be using their personal accounts to talk about your business, too. Make sure they understand that the things they Tweet or post may be the first exposure prospects have to your business – and make sure they know that means they could be the ones who draw prospects in or turn them off.
That isn’t to say that everyone in the company has to make happy talk on social media. In fact, the entire idea of people buying from people they like can be accelerated through employee use of social media, but only if those employees are authentic in what they say and are cognizant of the impact they can have on the perception of their company.
It’s also vital that you recognize the two-way nature of social media. Messages to you need to be answered; a failure to respond is the same thing as admitting you don’t care about the prospect’s concerns, and that’s a great way to kill a relationship before it’s ever born.
The impression you want to leave is that you’re authentic in what you and your employees say, open to conversation and ready to listen.
These are just a few of the first-impression opportunities that exist. As we create more touch-points with customers, we create new make-or-break moments in our relationships with customers. The key is to realize where those moments are happening, to understand their importance, and to be conscious about how you react when the customer first shines the spotlight on your business.