Why did you not win that £10,000 contract? Were your costings poor, was your methodology wrong, do your staff not have the right experience, did the client see that small stain on the carpet by the front door?
It is fundamental that the first line of this post be smart, snappy, interesting, the list can go on and on. The first line holds such importance because how you feel about this blog post at this stage will influence the way in which you perceive the rest. The reason for this is explained by chaos theory which understands that minuscule changes in inputs can have enormous consequences on the ultimate outcome, i.e. the dirty entrance lost you the contract. Typically this theory is applied to mathematics but it can have massive effects on marketing as well. The cleanliness of the front door to your office could result in you winning that job or not. The first sentence in a report could result in you getting repeat business or not. It’s not new to anybody reading this that the first impression you make in any relationship is massively important but few realise just how important first impressions are. To highlight how they can make a difference to overall outcome I’m going to ask you to imagine two very similar scenarios but with very different conclusions.
You are the research manager of a large blue chip company and you have just received a message from Keith Norcross, a freelance researcher.
Scenario 1 – Keith emails you outlining who he is and what services he does. In his email there is a grammar mistake and he signs off with ‘Keith’ ‘Keith sounds a bit unprofessional but he is well qualified, I’ll meet with him anyway’. Keith comes to your office and shakes your hand with a strong grip, ‘his grip is too tight, it feels as overbearing. Keith takes the lead as you walk to the meeting room, ‘he seems a bit overconfident’. In your meeting you discuss the work that Keith has done in the past and how he can help you with your research needs. Keith mispronounces the name of a client and then laughs about it, ‘imbecilic, you just can’t do that in business!’ In your post meeting notes you write “over-confident know-it-all, not for us”.
Scenario 2 – Keith emails you outlining who he is and what services he does. He ends his email with ‘Keith Norcross’ ‘Mr Norcross sounds well qualified, I’ll meet him’. He comes to your office, you shake hands, his grip is strong, ‘nice strong grip, he seems like someone I could trust’. Mr Norcross takes the lead as you walk to the boardroom, ‘he has a lot of confidence, I feel confident that he could do a good job’ In your meeting you discuss the work that Mr Norcross has done in the past and how he can help you with your research needs. Mr Norcross mispronounces the name of a client and laughs about it, ‘it’s an easy mistake to make and he handled it well, actually I found it pretty funny too’ In your post meeting notes you write “steady, confident, polite, call Keith Norcross tomorrow to arrange project”.
The reason that first impressions can have such a big influence on subsequent interactions is due to a phenomenon known as confirmatory bias, whereby people tend to favour information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. One selectively gathers, or gives undue weight to, evidence that supports one’s position while neglecting to gather, or discounting, evidence that would tell against it. When a given situation can be interpreted in a number of ways, such as in the example above, we chose to interpret it in the way that best confirms our belief. The primacy effect is particularly strong in the example above where an opinion was formed early in the process and then subsequently acquired information was evaluated in a way that is partial to that opinion. In the first scenario the initial contact was slightly negative, not negative enough for Keith to be outright rejected but negative enough for all later interactions to be biased towards seeing Keith in a negative light.
What can we learn from this? We cannot control how our clients first come into contact with us so it is up to us to always be proactive in our communications with possible clients. Look smart at conferences, keep the website up to date, clean the carpet even. If we make the first impression we can have greater control over the way that we are perceived by clients from beginning to end. If we don’t make the first impression someone else will and we may not like the long-term outcome.