You know that one person that you detest, but everyone else loves? For me, that was Alex. Something about him drove me up a wall — yet whenever I asked my friends how they felt about him, they couldn’t compliment him enough.
It took me a long time to figure out the cause of my distaste. One time, Alex mentioned “the day Maya introduced us,” and I suddenly remembered I’d gotten a bad first impression of him. He’d seemed standoffish and arrogant.
“I was so stressed that day,” Alex was saying. “I’d just gotten this email from my boss saying the latest numbers had come in and they were dismal. He wanted to meet first thing Monday morning.”
It was unsurprising, then, that he’d been distant. However, it was definitely surprising that this five-minute interaction had shaped my views of him for years and years.
The takeaway? First impressions really matter. As research shows, not only do your conclusions about someone form in 30 seconds or less, but they usually last forever — even if in the future the person acts completely differently than you were expecting based on your first impression.
Clearly, this matters in sales. If you screw up the first connect call, your prospect could have a negative opinion of you for the rest of the relationship. Even if you manage to close the deal, those favorable terms, positive reviews, and referrals? Yeah, probably not going to happen.
Good news: By avoiding these seven mistakes when you call a prospect for the first time, you can ensure their first impression of you is great.
1) Speaking too quickly
I understand the urge to talk fast — after all, you’ve got a lot of information to communicate in a very short time. But adopting an auctioneer’s rapid-fire style isn’t the right solution. Not only can speaking too quickly make your prospects anxious if they can’t follow along, it also decreases the chance they’ll absorb everything you say, let alone evaluate it. And if they can’t think critically about your statements, good luck winning their business.
With that in mind, concentrate on speaking at a normal rate. You can get better at identifying what “normal” sounds like by practicing with your fellow reps, running call reviews, and trying to match others’ speaking patterns.
Calling multiple prospects in a row can be draining, so it’s understandable if your posture slides. Plus, if you’re in inside sales your prospects can’t see you — who cares if you’re slumped in your chair?
Even if the person on the other end can’t see your good posture, they’ll be able to hear it. Sitting upright makes it easier for your diaphragm to support your breathing, which in turn makes your voice sound fuller and richer. In other words, keeping your back straight can make you appear more engaging, powerful, and charismatic.
So before you pick up the phone, make sure your head is straight (not tilted up or down), your feet are flat on the floor, and your shoulders are pushed back.
3) Being inflexible
Ideally, you’ve got an agenda for the phone call. Yet you shouldn’t be so married to your agenda that you ignore what your prospect wants to talk about — for example, maybe you’re focused on identifying the person with purchasing authority, while the prospect wants to talk product features.
If you ignore or evade their questions so you can “stay on-topic” (that is, your topic), you’ll come across as pushy and self-interested. The solution? During the beginning of the call, explain what you’d like to cover — then ask, “Is there anything you’d like to discuss today?” Not only will they feel like an equal member of the discussion, but you’ll learn their biggest priorities and objections.
4) Using the wrong tone
According to a study from researchers at the University of Glasgow, strangers decide how trustworthy or dominant you are after hearing just 300 to 500 milliseconds of your voice. Not only that, but most strangers come to the same conclusions — meaning there’s such a thing as a universally trustworthy “hello.” The opposite is true as well: If your voice sounds untrustworthy to one person, there’s a strong chance it sounds untrustworthy to most people.
However, how you apply this study’s findings may depend on your gender. The study’s authors found that men who raise the tone of their voice are seen as more trustworthy, while women must vary their pitch to achieve the same effect.
5) Sounding unenthusiastic
On the first call, projecting enthusiasm was probably easy. But as the day goes on, you might find yourself losing some of that positive energy.
Unfortunately, if you sound apathetic, your prospect will assume you’re not truly invested in helping them — and recovering from this negative impression will be almost impossible.
When possible, set up the majority of your phone calls to coincide with your peak energy levels. And if you feel your energy flagging, take a short break: Get up, walk around, watch an inspiring TED talk, switch to a different task for a couple minutes, or even reflect on your latest achievement to get your adrenaline pumping.
(Just make sure you don’t overcompensate when you’re feeling tired Veering into infomercial host territory is just as off-putting.)
6) Appearing uninterested
People can tell when you’re genuinely interested in them, and unsurprisingly, they love it. But communicating that interest can be challenging.
Here’s where doing some research before the call is incredibly handy. Citing details from their LinkedIn profile, website, blog, or social media account tells the prospect you see them as a person, not a sales opportunity.
These details can be related to their work, their personal life, or both. For example, if you see that your prospect retweeted an article about the benefits of having pets, you could say, “I enjoyed that Atlantic article you shared on Twitter. How many pets do you have?”
You’ve also probably heard that our brains light up whenever we hear our own names. Use this to your advantage by saying your prospect’s name — selectively, of course.
We usually interject while someone else is talking for two reasons: Either we’re excitedly announcing we share the same opinion, or we’re too impatient to wait our turn.
The first type of interruption is forgivable among friends and family — but not with prospects. Not only can it be seen as rude, but you don’t know if you’re actually in agreement until they finish talking.
And the second type of interruption? It’s never forgivable.
If you’re a chronic interruptor, remind yourself before each call to let the other person finish their thought before you start yours. And don’t just start talking when they’re done — make sure you’re processing what your buyer is telling you, then respond to them instead of rattling off the thoughts you had while you were waiting for them to finish talking.
Try waiting a beat after you think they’re done to make sure they’re not simply taking a breath. While this might feel awkward, remember that the silence feels much longer to you know than the prospect — and you’ll be surprised at what many people will reveal when they feel you’re really paying attention.
It can be a little intimidating to realize that a prospect’s opinion of you hinges on the first three minutes or so you spend with them. If you come across the wrong way, you’ll be trying to overcome that mistake for the rest of the relationship. But the opposite is true as well — if you make a great impression, your prospect will think you can do no wrong.