A first impression is the only lasting impression a customer has of your company.

No matter where I go in this country, I have discovered that successful business people thoroughly understand sales. Salespeople, sales training, sales management, successful sales techniques - they understand it all.

They know you need to have a good grasp of the sales activities in your company to succeed, to meet and surpass your goals. They speak a common language when it comes to the sales function of their businesses; let me call it "sales lingo." The concepts are universal from business to business and location to location. If you understand the sales lingo, you will be able to turn a "no" from your potential customers into a "yes." That kind of power can change your business, and probably make your life more enjoyable at the same time.

For decades we have accepted as fact that the customer hesitates because you have not given them enough reasons to agree to buy the service and repair work we sell. More reasons, more sales.

Specifically, we seek ways to handle customer objections. Supposedly, the more clever or compelling the response to the customer's objection, the better.

Accordingly, much time has been spent identifying the "hot buttons" that will rapidly persuade customers to do business with us. Once they are identified, our people are trained to apply them to the maximum extent possible. "They say that ... you say this."

Great system. We - all of us - felt it worked. And it did help produce sales compared to the results produced by the untrained person attempting to sell our services. So long as we kept ahead of the customer and had prepared responses, we would, we thought, prevail in every sales situation. We were convinced there was no better approach.

But now there is more. We can do better.

First Is Lasting

Recently, after an extended discussion with an overwhelmingly successful businessman, I discovered there is more to the sales process than meeting objections or presenting positive benefits.

As we strolled along the beautiful beaches of the Hawaiian coastline, the businessman and I shared our ideas and narrowed the reasons for a salesperson's success - and don't ever forget that your technicians are, in fact, salespeople.

My goal this month is to increase the emphasis to you and your technicians on the first moment of contact with the customer.

Think about it. You don't often have chunks of time or blocks of 10, 15 or 30 minutes to convince the customer to buy your services; you have only an instant to start the process. Your success often is determined in a matter of seconds after "Hello."

So the energy and enthusiasm, confidence and competency conveyed by the initial greeting offers unrecognized power to make or break the sale. We must convey this important message to our people - all our people, from the call takers (customer service representatives) to technicians and support people. Naturally, we train them to be courteous and follow a plan or script, but we need to increase the emphasis on their initial greetings. That first moment is irreplaceable.

Of all the success tips and secrets of business success I have shared with you over the years, this one is one of the most powerful: Recognize that the impact of the first impression dominates the customer's decision to buy from your company.

Let's see how we can implement this powerful influence on customers in our day-to-day business practices and turn a customer's "no" into a "yes."

Begins With Hello

Since the initial contact your customers have with your business is on the telephone, we have to adopt an attitude that the type of hello they receive will make a significant difference in their decision to buy. That means training.

If our customer service representatives (CSRs) are not properly trained to exude confidence and a friendly, helpful attitude, the customer will sense it. CSRs need to be trained to combine energy, friendliness and motivation when they address a caller's questions. Without all of those, we are missing our first attempt to convince the potential customer to hire our company to perform the needed service work.

I must admit that some people are difficult to train to demonstrate energy and friendliness. That limitation we must overcome in the hiring process; if we choose people who don't impress us with their energy, how are they going to come across to our potential customers?

Next comes support and motivation. People don't usually transmit positive energy unless they are motivated. That's our job. Business owners and managers have to motivate them to perform at their best.

Last month I suggested many motivational techniques. Remember, it doesn't cost much to compliment employees and recognize them (publicly) when they excel. Without that input, even talented employees will drop their energy levels - and your customers will detect it.

CSRs and technicians speak to customers every day, all day long. What are you doing to keep their energy levels up by positively motivating them?

Let me share some specific illustrations of what I mean by high energy. The initial greeting can be stated in so many ways. However, that simple word hello can be communicated with a tone that conveys "friendly," or with a less-than-positive tone that says, "OK, I'm here, now what?"

Do you know that the majority of communications people have, the messages they receive, is from nonverbal actions. The words themselves only contribute about a quarter of the total message people interpret from us. The tone of voice, the gestures, the look a person has on his face all contribute as much or more about what the person is saying as the words do.

Since more of the message to the customer is from our employees' actions and tone of voice, we need to focus on training people in those skills as much as following scripted words or procedures.

For example, even the appearance of the technician can dramatically influence the customer's decision to use our company for his service work. If the technician stands casually hunched over and avoids looking at the customer as he speaks, that will also influence the customer. If he speaks indistinctly and without clarity and confidence, that turns the customer away - even if he follows the words of a scripted greeting.

Technical Skill

I still encounter businesses that believe superior technical skill will induce customers to repeatedly call their businesses. Of course, it doesn't hurt, but technical skills alone are not enough to effectively compete today. Interpersonal skills have made the difference in companies leading the market. Now those skills are more important than ever. Your technicians need to be trained and competent in performing the service work they do every day, but that is understood as a minimum qualification by discerning customers today.

Our goals in acquiring business success are changing. We no longer can make standard presentations from CSRs and technicians and then train them to deal with the customers' objections, the "no's" that they receive. By that time we have lost a competitive advantage. It's seconds, not minutes, in today's marketplace that can make the difference between securing the business and losing it. Energy is the key.

Take a close look at your business. See where you can insert the proper enthusiasm and energy. The language of sales forces us to keep up with these skills. Learn it, use it and profit from it.