If a new prospect’s first impression of your company was a positive interaction with your best employee, what are the chances that prospect would become a customer?

If a new prospect’s first impression of your company was an informal introduction to you (the business owner) in a casual social setting, what are the chances that prospect would become a customer?

First impressions are important.

My guess is that these two examples would probably lead to the conversion of this prospect to a customer. We want to do business with people we know and trust. In a face-to-face interaction we have an opportunity to teach prospects what we can do for them and tell them stories about how we’ve solved similar challenges.

We teach. We tell stories.

This teaching and telling of stories sells our services because it allows the prospect to get to know us as trusted and competent solution providers. Conversely when we try and do the hard sell we often get rejected because we’re not teaching or telling stories we’re interrupting and immediately asking for something. If you give first, in the form of listening, asking clarifying questions to gain understanding, and then teaching the prospect how they might solve their challenges based on your experience, you are giving first without asking.

You know better than to push a hard sale on someone you just met in a casual setting; that would be obnoxious social behavior. You would ask clarifying questions about their challenges and then teach them about potential solutions. You would have a conversation with them through the telling of stories.

If a new prospect’s first impression of your company was a Google search to try and find print and marketing service providers in your local area, what are the chances that prospect would become a customer?

If a new prospect’s first impression of your company is your current website, what are the chances that prospect would become a customer?

First impressions are important.

Like it or not, comfortable with it or not, more and more of prospect’s first impressions of you are going to be online. When I ask these last two questions of printers, their answer typically starts with “uh oh” because they know they’ve neglected their website and they know they haven’t invested in the search engine optimization (SEO) required to improve their organic search results.

First impressions online are the same as first impressions in a face-to-face meeting. You know how to “converse” with a prospect when you meet them on the golf course or at a local charity function. You listen, you ask clarifying questions, you tell stories, and you teach. Moving online doesn’t change any of this, we are still communicating with the same humans; we’re just using technology to facilitate it. Listen, teach, and tell stories.

Your online presence needs to be as good as your offline presence. Think about your online presence through the perspective of “first impressions” by a new prospect. When they try to find you, can they? When they do find you, does your website start the process of helping them get to know you as a trusted and competent solution provider? Can they read “stories” about the kinds of challenges you’ve solved for other customers? Does your website teach them anything about how they can do their business better?

Where do you start?

You aren’t going to “fix” your online presence overnight. This is a project that will be ongoing. Focus on what’s most important about your online presence.

1. Website Technology: your website has to be in your control, meaning that non-technical people on your team can make content changes to it. Do not custom build a website or be reliant on an outside provider to make changes. Your website cannot be static.

2. Search Engine Optimization: the most important thing about your website is how it helps you get found online via search. Search engine optimization or SEO is the optimization of your online presence so you perform well in Google search. This is absolutely vital to your online success. Don’t think you don’t need to be found online just because your primary go-to-market is a direct sales team to businesses. Everyone needs to be found online.

3. Telling Stories: Too many printers’ websites are all about the printer; equipment list, a complicated thesis on how to submit files to them, press releases about new equipment, etc. Would you ever tell a prospect you meet in a social setting your equipment list? Tell stories online just like you tell stories in a face-to-face interaction. The stories that are relevant to customers are about customer challenges and how you solved them. This is best done through a blog because you can publish easily. If you tell stories and optimize that content for SEO, you have tapped into one of the most important factors Google uses to rank search results; fresh content (every blog post is a new page on your website for Google to index), and SEO optimized content (uses the keywords and phrases you believe prospects will type into Google). You are essentially building up your real estate holdings online.

Your online presence is becoming more and more important. Neglect it at your own risk. A sales representative told me he had a great lead at a growing local company. In preparation for the face-to-face meeting, the lead said he couldn’t find the printer’s website, he couldn’t find the sales representative on LinkedIn, and he didn’t see anything on Twitter. His attitude at the start of the meeting was greatly influenced by the fact that this printer gave him no way of “getting to know who they are” in preparation for the meeting.

You have stories, tell them online. First impressions are important. Know me, like me, trust me and then pay me – the modern sales cycle starts online, you have to invest in your online presence.