April 6

Virtual Sales Prospecting Tip: How To Make a Great First Impression

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. And in the world of virtual sales prospecting, the punishment for failing to make a good first impression could just end up eliminating your ability to communicate with the person you're trying to connect with forever. So, let's talk about how to make sure that doesn't happen to you — ever. 

Why Are First Impressions So Valuable?

First impressions are so valuable because they are often made within the first few seconds of initial exposure to you, well before you can take action to correct mistaken beliefs. For instance, Princeton Researchers found that people determine your trustworthiness in less than a tenth of a second.  

Further, there are volumes of research showing first impressions influence subsequent beliefs. For instance, first impression bias can influence decision-makers to place more weight on information first received than information received later. And there are the long-term implications of first impression bias such as the halo effect, which plays out when a positive first impression about one trait, such as good looks, leads people to infer the existence of other traits, such as intelligence. 

And finally, as one angel investor recently wrote: "Yes, in the end, what matters is what’s inside, but first, you have to get past swipe left."

The Problem With Making a Bad First Impression

First impressions are so powerful that scientific studies have shown they can override contradictory, truthful facts we are told about people. A 2014 Society for Personality and Social Psychology study found that even when told whether a person was gay or straight, study participants generally identified the person's sexual orientation based on how they looked -- even if it contradicted the facts presented to them. 

And first impressions have been shown to last for months (Gunaydin, Selcuk, & Zayas, 2017) and affect personal judgments even in the presence of contradictory evidence about the individual (e.g., Rydell & McConnell, 2006).

So, while we're all warned not to judge a book by its cover, it seems more often than not, we make that very mistake. And worse, we continue to believe in our initial review, even after reading the book! 

The Unique Challenges of Making a Good Virtual Impression

"If you want to make a good impression, it is critical that it is done in person," says Jeremy Biesanz of the University of British Columbia. That was the bottom line of his research that looked at the difference in how we form impressions in person versus online, by video, or by just exposure through platforms like social media.

In three studies, Biesanz and colleagues compared the accuracy and bias of impressions formed under different circumstances. In all of his studies, people could accurately attribute certain personality traits -- for example, extroverted, arrogant, sociable -- to others both in person or by video, BUT the magnitude of the positive attributes was lower and of negative attributes was higher via video. The same was true of in-person vs social media, such as exposure to a person's Facebook Profile.

Why is this? Unfortunately, his research doesn't answer that question. While I'm not a professional researcher, I have been actively utilizing virtual selling for over a decade and in that time, I've discovered FIVE key challenges that I believe make creating virtual first impressions terribly more difficult than those in-person first impressions.

  • Virtual first impressions lack a shared context. When you meet someone in real life, you're in a shared context, usually an experience or physical space like a conference, trade show, bar, networking event, or even a parent's meeting. This shared context creates a reason for the conversation and can even suggest a Conversational Catalyst or two. But when you meet someone online, it's often random and out-of-the-blue. Thus, that lack of shared context creates a bit of initial anxiety in the receiver of the invitation to connect or chat.
  • Virtual first impressions are often asynchronous. I am sending you a message on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Later, you see it, make your first impression of me, and decide if you will respond. The same thing happens when you run across my messages because someone posted them or forwarded or reshared them. You're exposed to me with zero shared context, and you immediately make a few assumptions about me based on my profile, the content I've shared, etc. And I'm not there to immediately counter any bad impressions. 
  • Virtual first impressions lack the unspoken feedback (body language) that scientists say conveys up to 85% of actual communications between two people. Thus, virtual first impressions, even video-based impressions like Zoom Calls, remove many indicators that we use in forming our first impressions of someone.
  • Nobody ever taught us how to make good virtual first impressions. I fondly remember when my oldest son started middle school. Every teacher, administrator, and coach taught him and his fellow students how to introduce themselves and give a handshake properly. It was constantly reinforced every day of his three-year tenure there, just as it was for his two younger brothers when they arrived.
  • We lack the technical capability to create virtual first impressions on social media and video sales calls. We don't understand the cultural norms of the various social platforms. Thus, we stumble. And video meetings like Zoom, oy... the lack of technical ability to create and manage those meetings often leads to horrible first impressions. And yes, I know there is an abundance of social selling and virtual sales training available today; we do a ton of it here at Converse Digital, including virtual selling skills training. But (and yes, I may be biased) so much of it is truly horrible and often leads to creating inaccurate first impressions.

How To Make a Great Social Media First Impression

Again, I'm no scientist and I haven't tested these recommendations on 1,000 random study participants, but I've been actively using and teaching virtual sales techniques and social selling for over a decade, so take these seven suggestions for what they're worth. Apply them, and decide for yourself if they help you make a better first social media impression. 

  • Make yourself presentable. Sometimes you'll control the timing of your first impression. But thanks to the natural virality of social media, often others will *meet* you in moments you're completely unaware are happening. Did you know that simple things like the background of your social media profile picture (avatar) affect others' first impressions of you? 
  • Never meet a stranger. Find and follow the folks you'd like to meet on social media and conduct a little Social Reconnaissance before you attempt to start any conversations with them. 
  • Politely engage with their shared content. Start small. Share content they create or post. Like what they share. Save their posts. These are all passive indicators that you like what they like and if they're listening, they'll notice your engagement. 
  • Find a relevant Conversation Catalyst and leverage it to say hello. This could be as benign as a comment about the weather — true story, one of our clients famously used that very tactic to open a dialogue with a major influencer that resulted in the influencer staying at their hotel for a major life event. But if you want to go beyond the cliche, wait for them to share something about a mutual passion you both share and then drop a comment designed to start a conversation.  
  • Make a friend. For all that is holy, PLEASE don't quickly move to a professional conversation or try and sell them something or get them to hire you. Just be a human being for a few minutes or, better yet, a few days or even weeks. Keep them talking. Build a little common ground to create a bridge between you. Create a bit of trust, empathy, and maybe even Preference.
  • Give before you get. When you finally feel it's time to introduce a professional conversation, don't jump directly to selling or "hire me" conversations. Instead, give the person a little free information that will make it easier to do their job or help them do it better. And then do it again. And again, and maybe many times over. Show them that you're a helpful, valuable person who knows a thing or two about things that can help them become more successful. 
  • Ask for the chance. Honestly, I can tell you that if you do the first six steps correctly, more often than not, you can skip this step entirely because they'll beat you to the punch. You'll get a phone call, email, or message in your social media inbox asking if you can help them with something. But if that doesn't happen, and you feel you've developed a good relationship with them, set up a call or send an email that respectfully asks, "Hey, we seem to like each other, and I think you feel like I'm pretty good at what I do, so, why aren't we working together?" 

How To Make a Great Virtual (Zoom) Meeting Impression

In March of 2020, the vast majority of the world discovered the fun and joy of virtual meetings and sales calls. And just as fast, the majority learned they had no idea how to successfully present or sell via a Zoom Call. And that's why virtual sales training became a hot topic and a significant portion of our sales training business here at Converse Digital. In fact, two years later, we're still seeing a high demand for this kind of training because research shows virtual selling isn't going anywhere. It's the new normal. If you want to learn more about our virtual selling training offerings, click here to set up a call with me

In the meantime, let me share six tips for making sure you create the best first impression possible on your next Zoom Call. And if you're looking to go deeper on the subject, I'd suggest reading 11 Tips for Hosting Better Zoom Calls and Meetings or maybe 3 Simple Steps to Building Rapport on Virtual Sales Calls

  • Look the part. Take a few minutes to spruce up your web conferencing profile. Make sure you have a good headshot with you looking directly at the person and SMILING. Until you turn on your video, this image IS your first impression.  
  • Check your lighting and audio. Every web conferencing platform lets you check your audio and video settings before entering a meeting. Do it. Make sure you sound great and pay attention to what is viewable via your webcam. Make sure there aren't any lights on behind you or a window with sunlight. If necessary, mount a ring-light or some other light on your desk behind your monitor to make sure you're well lit and easy to see.  
  • Clean your room. Yes I know, I sound like your mother. But seriously, there are people in this world that believe a messy desk indicates a lazy or incompetent person. Remove any visual clutter directly behind you. Optionally, stage really interesting items that suggest a personal story about you — something that can serve as a Conversational Catalyst
  • Be early. As my son's baseball coach says, if you're on time,  you're 15-minutes late. Technical issues happen — even to tech geeks like me. But if you're early, you have time to solve the issue without negatively impacting the meeting and participants' first impressions of you. 
  • Warm up the room. Another reason to be early. As folks enter the meeting room, instead of just sitting there on mute reading your email or something until the meeting starts, take the lead in generating small talk. If you've done your Social Recon, this will be easy and give you time to build rapport before the actual meeting or conversation begins. And because your efforts will make everyone feel more comfortable and normal, chances are their first impressions of you will be positive. 
  • Be bigger than you normally are in person. The screen makes everyone seem smaller and less energetic. Make a conscious effort to counter this by bringing a higher level of energy and excitement to the virtual room. You see stage actors do this to overcome the same dynamic in a theater. People like energy... they're drawn to it. So be the energy and help drive that positive first virtual impression. 

Whether you believe first impressions are forever or not, do you really want to risk being wrong? Especially since it's so easy to take simple steps to ensure your first impression is always positive and sets you up for future success. Speaking of first impressions, if you're a first-time reader, and I've made a good first impression on you, why not consider subscribing for a few more impressions. Of course, you can cancel free of charge at any time 😉.  Till next week. 

This post was originally published on Painless Prospecting, the weekly sales and marketing blog created by the fine folks at Converse Digital. If you want to learn how to create, engage in, and convert conversations into new clients and customers, give them a call

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