The Power of the First Impression


September 2017—

The first fleeting seconds a salesperson and customer meet can make or break a sale.
Here’s how to make that encounter memorable.

First impressions are lasting impressions, especially when selling furniture. I don’t need to tell you there is plenty of competition out there, and it’s imperative that you get off on the right foot. A sale is often made or lost in the first seven seconds.

That’s right: In the time it took you to read that first paragraph, the fate of your sale could already have been decided. That’s because you must make the “trust sale” before you can make the furniture sale.

Many customers walk into a furniture store looking for the salespeople first. They want to identify them, and size up any possible threat. I believe there are three types of customers: 1) Customers who know they are going to buy; 2) Customers who know they are not going to buy; 3) Customers who are not sure if they are going to buy.

Anyone can sell to the for-sure buyers, they will even ask for your help. They will demand service. They may call out, “Can I get some help over here?”
The not-sure customers may try to avoid you. Ironically, they need your help the most.

I like to think of your furniture store’s customers in percentages. As a rule, 20 percent of your customers will buy regardless of what you say or do. (Wouldn’t it be nice if that were 100 percent?) Another 20 percent of your store’s shoppers won’t buy regardless of what you say or do.

The remaining 60 percent will buy or not buy depending on what you and your sales staff say and do. Your goal is to sell to the 60 percent.

Remember those precious first seven seconds we talked about earlier? You influence each customer’s first impression by:

How you look. Your looks are a combination of your dress and grooming. The basic rules of dress are: Don’t overdress or dress below your position. Dressing is part of your first impression. Grooming is as important as dress. Store owners and salespeople should pay careful attention to grooming. Grooming includes smelling fresh, looking neat and being clean. Attention to clothes, hygiene, fingernails, shoes and hair is essential. First impressions are lasting impressions.

How you act. When approaching customers, stand upright, look them in the eye, and smile before speaking. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets or behind your back. Keep them comfortably at your side. A well-dressed, well-groomed salesperson standing in the doorway with folded arms will keep customers out of the store. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Customers see you before you see them.

What you say. To make the best first impression, look professional, act alert and enthusiastic, and say the right words. A sharp-looking, poised salesperson can ruin everything with the wrong first words. Your first 10 words are more important than your next 10,000. If those first 10 words threaten or turn off your customers, they will not hear anything else. Take advantage of your only chance to make a great first impression.

So how would I approach a customer? There are six keys to a sincere greeting.

Eye contact. Eye contact should be eye-to-eye, not eye-to-face or eye-to-body. Every individual is different; look every customer in the eye. People trust someone who can look them in the eye. When you make eye-to-eye contact, you’ll remember the people you greet and recognize them the next time you see them.

Never give customers that “stretched lip smile” that people give strangers. Smiling people are more approachable. Many customers have a question on their mind, but never ask it. When they meet a smiling salesperson, one who looks them in the eye, they’re more likely to ask it.

Speak up.
The pro-active person talks first. You get lucky when your customer is pro-active. As you make eye contact and smile, simply say, “Hello.”
Shut up. The hardest thing to teach some salespeople is to shut up. Many salespeople think they must talk to appear smart. Remember the adage, “It’s better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Also remember your customers are judging you. Anything you say after your greeting may detract from it. “Hello” is a greeting; “Hello, may I help you?” is a threatening question that’s used too much. The equally common response is: “No, thank you. I’m just looking.”

Another well-used opener is: “Hi, how are you today?” The usual response is: “Fine.” The less you give the customer to judge you by in this initial greeting, the better. Never ask a question that could give you an answer you don’t want to hear. Less is more. Just say, “Hello,” then shut up. It’s that easy.

Observe. Study your customer’s response to your greeting. You will greet two types of customers: 1) Those who want to talk to you, and 2) Those who don’t want to talk to you. Sensitive salespeople recognize who’s who. Don’t be turned off by those who don’t want to talk. They’re just as good a customer as those who want to chat you up. Sensitive salespeople continue talking to the open-minded customers, and give space to the closed-minded or suspicious ones. Your customer’s response to your “hello” may be subtle. Observe it. The customer who wants to talk to you will act differently from the one who doesn’t. Be sensitive. Shut up and observe. Your customer’s response to what you say is more important than what you say.

Mirror. When you observe your customers’ reactions to your greeting, act as they do. If they smile back at you and return your greeting, continue smiling and say, “Welcome.” If they give you the stretched lip smile, ignore you, or attempt to escape, make it easy for them to do so. When they move away from you, step back and disengage, but remain mentally connected. Continue to observe and mirror.

When customers are ready for your help, their body language will change. They will look for you. The sensitive salesperson recognizes this subtle change, re-engages, and moves ahead. Insensitive salespeople prejudge their customer’s cool response as a lack of interest. They go on to another task, and miss the subtle signal to re-engage.

About the Author

Ron Martin
Ron Martin is the author of ”Furniture Store Selling Made Easy." His books can be ordered at