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Creating the Right Impression: 22 Dos and Don'ts

Don't ruin your chances with your client or prospect by ignoring the small things.

By John Graham

It's easy to accumulate bad habits, and they can have a negative impact on you and your business. When you're out or on another line, callers probably hear the message "I'm unable to take your call, but please leave a message, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." It seems innocuous, but it sends callers the message that you respond at your convenience. Seemingly harmless habits create an impression of how you operate and your level of concern for customers and business associates.

Here are 22 business dos and don'ts that influence how you are perceived.

  1. Don't make sales calls from a cell phone. It gives the impression that you're pressed for time, the sound quality is often poor and there's the possibility of a dropped call.

  2. Acknowledge emails promptly. Business etiquette requires prompt acknowledgement of an email. If you're delayed, send a simple explanation.

  3. Don't email information in bits and pieces. Collect and organize information before sending it by email. A series of emails, each with one or two items of information, is difficult to piece together properly and is annoying.

  4. Don't expect others to remind you when something is due. How well you manage yourself determines your value to the overall enterprise.

  5. Require meeting participants to put cell phones, PDAs and other devices in the center of the table. For a productive meeting, disruptive and impolite interruptions should be eliminated.

  6. Ask people if you should call their landline or cell phone. Let the person you're calling make that decision, so you have the best possible conditions for discussing business.

  7. Don't let what others are doing influence your marketing. Just because others do it doesn't mean it's effective.

  8. Don't make decisions based on anecdotal evidence. While such "evidence" may help narrow a search, it must be confirmed before you rely on it. Acting otherwise can be costly.

  9. Don't confuse Googling with research. Stacks of paper from a Google search are just pieces of unevaluated stuff. If someone hands you such a stack, hand it back.

  10. Don't chase the wrong prospects. Too many advisors waste time racing after unqualified leads, hoping for a miracle. Rarely does this bring business. Qualify prospects against the profile of your best customers before going after them.

  11. Remember to fax. Stop thinking every email you send will be opened, read and acted on promptly. A fax message can receive more attention because it's hard copy. Include possible action steps so the recipient can respond—by fax.

  12. Use advertising, direct mail and PR to drive visitors to your website. If you want your website to play a key role in your business, devote substantial time and money to promoting it. Include a link to your website in letters and emails.

  13. Take a risk to attract attention. Taco Bell's "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" World Series promotion was daring and incredibly successful. Although the total estimated cost was only about $770,000, based on about 1 million takers, the publicity generated by the promotion was the real steal.

  14. Share your expertise. A company's greatest asset is its accumulated knowledge and experience, and it's the way customers measure competence. Don't ignore it. Broadcast what you know to customers and prospects.

  15. Never start a conversation, sales pitch, email or letter with "we." It's easy to focus on the things we know best. Sometimes it's sports or family and always it's what we do or sell. If we really valued our customers, we would focus every conversation or letter on them and their needs.

  16. Don't brag about delivering quality customer service unless you're ready to deliver it the way each customer wants it. There's only one measure of quality customer service and that's accommodating each customer's needs. What one customer values, another may find irrelevant.

  17. Never use a testimonial unless it's real in every way. Forget about T.K. of Miami. Anything less than complete identification will be viewed as fictitious and will reflect poorly on your business.

  18. Free offers are terrific but don't hold customers hostage. No one wants to respond to a free offer for an article, newsletter or other information and be denied access until he's answered 20 questions or talked to a representative. Deception is destructive.

  19. Do tell stories. Stories can increase involvement and stimulate imagination.

  20. Drop the jargon. Jargon puts people off by making them feel like outsiders. If you think using jargon shows you can speak someone's language, think again. Understanding another person's issues is far more effective.

  21. Avoid small talk. If building rapport is the goal, figure out what's important to that particular person and talk about it. It shows you're serious and don't waste time.

  22. Always ask: What does the customer need to accomplish? Figuring out the answer is the best way to make sure the solution is correct.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm and author of The New Magnet Marketing and Break the Rules Selling. Contact him at 617-328-0069 or


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