First impressions mean a lot in this business.

A while back, I read about the last Oldsmobile to roll off the assembly line. It's kind of sad and it got me thinking about the old days when I spent a lot of my time selling.

Many of you may think of me as the Operations Guy or the Staffing Guy, but the reason I got good at those areas was because they were interfering with the success of my sales. Don't get me wrong; I really like operations, staffing, planning and more, but what I really love is selling - the right way.

After my clients work with me awhile, they become excellent at being prepared and taking control of their businesses in a systematic and repeatable way. Then, the fun begins because we're free to concentrate on fixing the selling process. To me, selling is just another part of operations. We need a written system that we train on over and over so anyone can do it consistently.

I was taught sales primarily by my dad and I still consider him to have been the best salesman I've ever known. He spoke in a low voice and had a permanent smile on his face. What Dad did best was to ask good questions and listen to the answers patiently.

He never attended any sales courses. Everything he knew about sales was based on his belief that he should not prejudge people, and that his purpose was to be a problem solver. If he did that well enough, the sales would take care of themselves. He believed if you needed to have a good closing line, you did a lousy job of explaining what you do that's special and why it's in the customer's best interest to sign on the dotted line.

Making Judgments

Although he didn't prejudge the customer, he knew they prejudged him. He wore a nice suit but nothing too fancy. He drove what he called “the right kind of car.” From careful study of customers, he found out that they judged a salesperson by things like the car they drove. The customers looked at his car and began to make all kinds of assumptions.

The salesman who arrived in a late model Cadillac must be high-priced. The customer might feel they're going to be ripped off. If the salesman arrived in a dented up and rusty old car, the customer assumed the salesman can't be too successful. And they concluded that the way he takes care of his car is how he's going to take care of their home. As people, wouldn't you agree that, for better or worse, we love to make snap judgments based on very little evidence?

With practice and careful observation, he gained a lot of knowledge about people. Dad selected what he felt would be the right car that he and his salespeople would drive. He settled on well-maintained, late-model Oldsmobiles that were always kept clean. He wanted people to look at the car and think to themselves, “They seem like they're down-to-earth and dependable people.”

When I travel to see clients these days, I usually need to rent a car. The type of car I rent is typically a compact. It's big enough for me and I don't drag around too much luggage. It's practical just like me and it won't burden them with an extra expense had I rented a big fancy car.

A couple of my long-term clients kid me about the cars I rent. One client told me that I look like the clowns who pile out of a small car at a circus. He says that, but don't you think he appreciates that I'm not wasting his money? I know I would.

And customers are judging your techs way before they reach the door. If the trucks are dented, rusting out, have a cracked windshield, the dashboard is cluttered and there's no professional-looking logos on your plain vanilla, white van, they're judging you as being unprofessional, at best; at worst, just like all the rest.

Do you think you've made them clearly see what separates you from the rest?

Little things like where you park your truck when visiting customers says a lot. Is it in front of their home so they can easily identify you as being from the company? Did you pull into the driveway without asking permission? Because if you did, they think you're inconsiderate. Why? They're figuring they'll have to clean up the mess you'll be leaving behind in their driveway, or they'll have to ask you to move so they can use their driveway.

Once your tech reaches the door, what's his appearance saying? Is he dressed in a clean and neat uniform, looking well-groomed? Or does he look like he slept in his clothes, rolled around in dirt and grime all day, and he's sporting a three-day growth? You can bet they take one look at your tech and they're judging his professionalism. Dirty uniforms and sporting a three-day growth is asking your customer to think, “That guy's a slob and he'll be just as much a slob in my home.”

Knowing how we all prejudge requires you to take another look at how your customers are prejudging you. This starts with how you answer the phone and the way you keep your appointments. Be sensitive to whether you're letting them know you're interested in solving their problems. Are you letting them know how you'll be protecting their home? Everything we do has to be designed to dismantle their preconceived notions about us.

Do this and you will be worth more money.