Your Corporate Image -
First Impressions Can Make or Break the Sale!
by Newman P. Mallon
First Published Winter, 1995 Issue of Corporate Image magazine
Second publication in Canadian Barter Review
Maintaining a positive corporate image doesn't necessarily mean you have to rush out and buy a luxury limo, redecorate your office with a marble lobby, and purchase a designer suit or corporate jet.
Your corporate image is how people, particularly potential buyers, perceive you and your company in relation to your product or service and that of other competitors. This can include your office surroundings, your car and your dress, but don't overlook the little things including your company letterhead or brochures and even a cheery "Good Morning" on the phone.
From all of these things, the client will create an impression of your company that can make or break a sale. This impression carries over into a positive or negative perception of your company, and the same assumption will be made about your product or service.
Take a look at how your reception desk or salespeople sound or appear to your customers. If they seem like they've just been through World War II and can't wait to get you out the door so they can get on with a bigger order -- then you probably lost the sale. The first impression is the most important one -- you may never get a second chance at the sale. People will expect the same type of service after the sale as they received on the initial contact and will likely go to your competitors if their first impression is negative.
Studies by Alfred Mehrabian, a professor at the University of California (UCLA), have shown that first impressions are usually made within the first two minutes. He estimates these impressions are based 55% on how you look and act, 38% on the pace, tone and volume of your voice and only 7% on what you actually say. It is the subtle ways in which you portray yourself and your business which make the greatest impact on your clients or potential customers.
Remember, the image you portray can make the difference between making allies or enemies, building business or losing it or getting first-hand customer referrals instead of being bad-mouthed.
The corporate image you want to convey will depend on the type of company and your potential target client. Flashy letterhead, cars and offices make sense for a large legal firm, but are probably not necessary for a one-man general law firm whose clients may not be able to afford or need a specialist for a routine legal matter. In fact, these corporate adornments may scare away the very people the one-man law firm wants to attract by appearing a bit too rich for their blood.
On the other hand, the large law firm must convey an image of professionalism that is above and beyond that of the one-man law firm to create a first impression that will stay with the client even after they've received the bill.
Likewise, a designer suit may not be appropriate for a graphic designer in some settings, simply because people expect them to be a bit funky. Nor would you expect a roofing contractor to arrive at your doorstep in an impeccable suit. The client will likely question the roofer's advice or the reliability of the quote if he looks like he's never held a hammer in his hand and nails in his teeth.
Proper attire, considering the type of business you're in, can produce an air of competence, reliability and authority that people will remember when they make their purchasing decision.
How you "look" is also reflected in all your marketing materials including your letterhead. If your brochure or promotional piece looks professional and tells them succinctly what your product or service is and how the reader can benefit, then a natural assumption on a "first impression" basis is that you are professional and they can expect the same from your product or service.
Whatever the image or service you convey, be sure to carry a consistent look through all of your pieces in terms of type styles, logo placement color, etc. Your pieces should be somewhat different to distinguish one from the other but be easily recognizable as being part of a set that comes from your company. All too often there is a tendency to create something totally different each time. If your promotional pieces look like they're all over the map -- then so do you.
Keep in mind your target audience. If you're selling computers your marketing materials should have a high tech or futuristic type of look. Vibrant colors are appropriate here while they'd look somewhat garish on the letterhead of a chartered accounting firm. Just because you think something looks great doesn't mean your target audience will. Try and step back and put yourself in their shoes considering their age and demographic profile.
Tell your target audience what your product or service is in their own language. Many people get tied up in highly technical terms and assume that because they understand these terms, then their target audience will. If you're marketing to a highly technical market this may be appropriate. Too much simplification will bore or turn off a technically-literate target audience. Likewise, too many technical terms will totally confuse a layperson.
Don't get caught up on the product itself, but emphasize what the product will do for the potential purchaser. Explain the benefits of the product as they relate to the features. Simply explaining that a table is arborite leaves an impression of an inexpensive imitation of wood, however, when you tell them it's attractive, durable and easy-to-clean, it has a whole new appeal.
Emphasize how your product compares to those of your competitors. If your product is more reliable, tell them so and prove it to them with a two-year warranty instead of just one year. Try to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Also be sure you have the resources to follow up on leads from your promotions or you may be throwing your money away. Any type of marketing is just the first step in the sales cycle which should hopefully lead to a close. Many companies have the habit of collecting reader response cards from ads they've placed but never seem to mail anything out or follow-up. Naturally, this does not create a very good first impression. Hire a temp before the lead is cold. It's basic common sense but it's surprising how often it's forgotten in the flurry.
Your salespeople's attitudes can also make a big difference. Clients are usually looking for logical reasons to buy your product or service. If you don't give this to them or they have to drag it out of your salespeople with a long series of questions, then the client will assume you either don't know the product and its competitive advantages, or you're trying to hide something.
What people need is a little help to aid them through the purchasing process. Try to ascertain their budget restrictions, what they will be using the product for and guide them through the decision-making process. If you close in for the sale without some consideration for the client's needs then you'll probably lose the sale.
After sales service is important as well. All too often these days, the customer is greeted by a condescending attitude when something is returned. Listen to the customer and test the product before jumping on them with comments like "You're supposed to press 'start' before you press any other button." Comments like this insult your client's intelligence and infer that you really don't want to help them correct the problem. Plug the thing in before you open your mouth, then walk your customer through it if they don't understand something.
The customer isn't always right but at least give them the benefit of the doubt. Keep in mind that people will probably tell four people if your service is good and 11 people if it's bad.
Before, during and after the sale it's important to convey the right impression. Take a step back and take a look at your organization from the viewpoint of your clients, their needs and perceptions. First impressions are lasting -- often it's the little things you overlook that can make the difference between your company's success and failure.
Copyright © 2011 by Newman Mallon You may download or print a copy of this article for your own personal use, or reviewers may quote brief passages of 25 words or less in a review with credit given to the author. For other permissions or reproduction rights please call Newman Mallon at (416) 285-0911 or e-mail him at Newman@Mallon.com.