From the March 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

First Impressions

You only get one chance to make a first impression. I remember how my dad used to tell me that over and over again. And as anyone who makes his living in sales knows, right or wrong, once that first impression kicks in, it can be pretty tough to change. For example, if you choose to meet a new client in your garage wearing your favorite Speedo, you may have a hard time getting a second meeting, let alone any business. That's probably why most advisors wear conservative suits when out prowling for new clients. This look says, "I am capable of both handling your investments and recommending a good dry cleaner."

That brings me to the point in this column where I reveal a little too much about myself. When I first became a financial advisor back in the early 1980s, my firm required me to go door to door and make 1,000 face-to-face cold calls before I could open an office. The importance of first impressions hit me early on in this adventure.

During my very first week of cold calling, I approached the owner of the largest car dealership in the area, and, much to my surprise, he agreed to meet. As I was driving to the meeting, I had a major sneezing fit, though I managed to avoid crashing into the guardrail or any oncoming traffic. I remember thinking how fortunate I was that I didn't have this sneezathon while sitting in front of my prospective client.

Mr. Car Dealer was a very nice older gentleman. And we had what I thought was a nice, long chat. Whenever I brought up investing, however, he would change the subject. Something wasn't quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Still, I thought it was a pretty good meeting. As I walked to my car, I began calculating the commissions on various products I was going to try to sell to Mr. Car Dealer in the coming weeks. When I opened the car door, I happened to look down at the snappy little tie I was wearing. What I saw was so horrific, it is still burned into my brain a quarter of a century later.

There's no delicate way to describe what I saw and if you're easily grossed out, you should stop reading now. As my lower jaw hit the ground, I found myself face-to-tie with a (gasp!) booger. Smack dab in the middle of my red power tie, was an equally powerful booger staring right back at me. Right then I knew Mr. Car Dealer was never ever going to do business with me. After all, would you ever give your money to a man with a booger on his tie? I know I wouldn't.

Once the shock wore off, I couldn't help but laugh at myself. Mr. Car Dealer's reaction to me now made all the sense in the world. I quietly subtracted any potential commissions I might have earned from this nice man from my future earnings calculations.

Of course, over the next few years, I ran into this guy all over town. Whenever I saw him (or a Chevy), I could hear my dad in my head: "You only get one chance to make a first impression." No matter what I did, I knew that to Mr. Car Dealer, I would always be "the kid with the booger on his tie."

Hopefully you've all learned a valuable lesson from my embarrassment and humiliation. In the future, if you find yourself in the middle of a sneezing attack on the way to visit someone you're meeting for the first time, slam on the brakes, turn around, and go home. Believe me, it's better to be remembered as the guy who missed a meeting than the guy with a booger on his tie.

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Once a mildly amusing comedian and a recruiter for a top independent broker-dealer, Bill Miller now works as an industry wholesaler; reach him at writingbill@mac.com.

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