There have been countless studies on how long you have to make a first impression when meeting someone face to face, ranging from 7 seconds to 300 milliseconds.
There’s also plenty of research on how long you have on a cold call to win someone over, and you’ll never find a shortage of experts telling you how to write the perfect proposal or pitch.
The studies show that the smallest facial expression or even intonation in voice, can have huge impact (see attached article at the bottom - interesting read). The choice of words we use; the font we use in a proposal etc….
…and this is all really good, useful research. But sometimes I think we forget about the real basics!
One thing is clear from all the research – people’s first perceptions of you or what you present them with, make a big difference to your future relationship and business interactions.
So why do we so often forget to check ourselves? Below are just some of the examples that, in my humble opinion make a difference:
The most successful people I know in business always look immaculate!
We’ve all done it; we wake up and think: “I’ll have another 10 minutes in bed and not bother shaving, ironing my shirt properly, washing/styling my hair.” Or we check our suit/skirt/tie etc… and it’s got a stain on it, but its only a little one so we’ll just roll with it. Or our shoes are scuffed and dirty but getting the shoe polish out will get in the way of finishing watching Homeland!
On of my pet hates is when sales people who have worked for me or come to interviews, turn up looking scruffy. I made the decision a year and a half ago not to hire someone because in the interview their tie had a stain on it and their collar was sticking up. My perception was that if they don’t care enough to check themselves before they walk in, what will they do when I send them off to pitch a multimillion-pound deal to an investment bank?
An old boss of mine said to me once: “Dress like the success you want to be”.
If you ask anyone who knows my business partner, Kevin Jackson, they’ll tell you he looks immaculate every day of the year – no matter how tired or on his game he feels and this is part of the reason he is as successful as he is.
I’m not saying you have to be suited and booted either. When I first started work at the Guardian selling to Charities and Gov departments, I learnt very quickly that tailored blue herringbone with crisp white shirt and red tie was getting me off on the wrong foot with everyone I was meeting.
All I’m saying is adapt your style to who you’re meeting and don’t look scruffy. It really does make a difference.
It’s not just about your clothes or personal appearance either. I once had someone work for me who would turn up to client meetings with a Tesco bag filled with partially dirty gym kit as they were on the way to exercise after and the look on client’s faces would be nothing short of shock.
Dirty laptop screens with food under the keys, scraggy note pads and half eaten pens all make a difference. I still remember the first time I met my executive coach; Sarah Lane (one of the most talented women I know) who, always turns up with a Smythson’s leather pad and a nice pen. I remember thinking when I met her, this lady is obviously successful.
Someone once told me a story whereby they took a proposal to their boss to read it, left it with them for review and came back the next day. Their boss asked whether it was the best they could do, so they took it back and gave him a second version after reworking it. They went back the next day and the boss asked the same question, so, rather huffily, they took it away went back through it with a fine toothcomb, tightened it up again and checked there was not a single error. They took it back to their boss saying it was the very best they could do and faultless, to which the boss responded “Great, I’ll read this one.”
The point being, we all get caught in the whirlwind, but sloppy errors in the first email or document you send to a prospect will always have a negative effect on their perception.
Whilst many of my old sales folk probably curse me for this, I always used to ask them if they wanted to play the ‘Pound(£) Game’ when they gave me a proposal to review. The game being if the proposal was flawless in terms of errors, I would give them £10. However, for every error I found they had to give me £1.
If you manage a sales team, I can highly recommend implementing this game for 2 reasons; making a bit of extra cash and quickly raising the quality of proposals and emails leaving your door.
No doubt there will be many reading this who will think I’m just stating the obvious, but I challenge you to go through a day working in a busy office, and not find someone who has fallen into the ‘it doesn’t really matter’ camp!