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As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

A potential customer contacting you for the first time doesn’t have any past experience with you to lean on, so everything counts.

Think of a lead as a customer that is yours to lose; a minor display of unprofessionalism, even a slow response to an email, can give a bad impression and cost you a new business relationship.

According to research conducted by Inside Sales, 50% of buyers choose the vendor that responded to their inquiries first. If you do the simple act of responding quickly, you can convey a message of professionalism and respect, and have a good chance of getting the deal.

Research says that if you can respond within 5 minutes, your chances of converting an inbound lead are very high. There is a steep drop around the 30-minute mark, after which you are almost 100 times less likely to make a sale.

The potential customer associates a slow response with larger, less personable corporations. Small businesses, on the other hand, can use personality, nimbleness and agility to their advantage.

As a small business, stringent bureaucracy does not hamper you; you can wow your prospects by getting back to them insanely fast. You can also go one step further by making the first interaction as personal as possible.

Here are a few things you can do to make your first impressions awesome and improve conversion rates.

1. Get as much information about referrals as you can.

When you get a lead through a referral, make sure to get as much information as you can from the referrer before starting a conversation. Send an email, make a phone call—any background about the lead will help you build the relationship quickly.

2. Do your homework on the lead to quickly build trust.

Go to their website, find them on LinkedIn, see if they have any other Internet presence (Pinterest, Twitter, specialty forums). A great way to quickly build a relationship is to show the lead that you understand them (without being creepy).

3. Respond as quickly as possible to inbound leads and try to setup a meeting as soon as you can.

A face-to-face conversation can increase your chances of success by many times, since it rapidly builds the personal connection with the lead.

4. Show genuine curiosity in the lead’s problems.

Be empathetic and ask them open-ended questions. If the lead inquires about your strategy, give them a reply with no second guesses. Analyze what they had said up until that point and use their own words graciously when explaining the solution.

5. Professional and friendly handling of unpleasant questions is another method for building trust.

These questions are often related to pricing, duration of project, etc. Manage and prepare for them before the conversation since a bad answer can turn your lead cold.

6. Choose a phone call over an email when contacting an outbound lead.

Be respectful of your lead’s time by explaining your value prop in a few sentences. Try to answer two core questions about yourself: the what? and the why?

7. Outbound leads that are not hunting for your particular solution are more difficult to convert.

Don’t make your outbound campaigns a pure numbers game. Set criteria and measure the chances of conversion based on that criterion. Make use of a rudimentary lead scoring system.

In addition to the above, according to a study by

  • The two worst times for cold calling are 11:00am and 2:00pm.
  • The best times to call are between 8:00am – 10:00am or between 4:00pm – 5:00pm.
  • Thursday and Wednesday are considered to be the best days for prospecting. Tuesday was found to be the worst.

Sales is like most things in life—the more you practice, the more you will know about what works and what doesn’t. The first contact you have with your lead can either make or break a deal.

Prepare, practice and personalize your sales pitch, so that the next time you see a new subscriber on your Mailchimp list, you know for sure that you have found a new customer.