Stuffed folders (Photo: Thinkstock) (Photo: Thinkstock)

Sales gurus have talked about the value of first impressions for decades — stand up straight, make eye contact, smile, give a firm handshake — but we have heard this advice for so long that we no longer take it as seriously as we should.

First impressions matter, but the industry has evolved. Modern sales is about much more than a handshake because a prospect’s first impression of you can happen in one of several different places.

(Related: To Close More Sales, Open This)

Before a prospect for life insurance, annuities, disability insurance or other products or services meets you in person, they might visit your website or explore your social media or call your office. A poor first impression on any of these fronts can degrade your credibility and spook the prospect.

Though giving advice today on first impressions may seem cliché, it is perhaps more important than ever. Customer choice is at an all-time high. Prospects can easily click to the next search result and collect a stack of proposals before making a decision. In this ultra-competitive landscape, advisors cannot afford to botch the first impression.

The classic wisdom of looking and behaving at your best still applies, but we have to extend that philosophy into every possible first-touch moment.

Here are the opportunities I routinely see when I get my own first impressions of advisors:

1. Be consistent.

From your website to your LinkedIn profile, anything related to your business should feel like it is a part of the same ecosystem. If the logo on your business card is different from the one on your website, for example, that can signal a lack of attention to detail and create confusion for prospects.

2. Polish your impressions.

Have professionals develop and proof your materials. If you are presenting yourself as an elite advisor, your first impressions should match. Make the investment in a professional proofreader and a professional designer so that the experience of visiting your site or reading your brochure reflects the quality of the work you will ultimately deliver.

3. Remember that your people count too.

How your office assistants or business partners talk to prospects can be a source of first impressions, so talk with them about how the business should behave on the phone, in email, and in-person at events. This advice applies to you as well, of course.

4. Update your office.

The impression that your physical presence gives prospects (and clients, too) can say a great deal about who you are and the quality of your work. Cleanliness and friendly staff go a long way, but the best businesses go beyond the basics to provide an even better, carefully crafted experience. Small touches like validating parking and offering refreshments can make your place of business memorable for prospects.

The game of first impressions has evolved, but the opportunity to leverage a positive impact into a sale is still very real. Even if your first impression occurs digitally or remotely, it matters, so stay diligent and work to differentiate yourself from your competitor who may still be hoping that their firm handshake — and that handshake alone — wins the day.

— Read 6 Ways to Capture the Rewards Hiding in the Unknownon ThinkAdvisor.


MarKay Long (Photo: PT)MarKay Long, national director of sales for The PT Services Group, manages the development of customized campaigns for financial and insurance producers to meet with business owners and key decision-makers. She began her career with American Express Financial Advisors.