Salespeople inherently go to many meetings where they meet people for the first time. It's key to prepare ahead of each meeting and plan the core of the meeting but one thing that makes a huge difference and most of us give little thought to is our small talk during those initial moments.

A paper by the Harvard Study of Communications said that it only takes 7 seconds for you to make a first impression. Think about how much you can say in 7 seconds. Your choice of opening gambit is crucial. 

So ditch the "how are you?" bland, inaneness and avoid regurgitating something in the news - sports, weather etc unless you know the prospect and you genuinely have an interest in those topics. Korn Ferry CEO, Gary Burnison suggests: look around their office for inspiration; be in the moment. That coupled with researching them ahead of the meeting will mean you have something relevant to lead with. 

Research proves that five minutes of chit-chat, with the caveats above, before a negotiation increases the amount of value that's created in the negotiation.

Another point highlighted in the Harvard Study of Communications research is being high energy and enthusiastic at the initial point of meeting. This doesn't mean dominant but genuinely pleased to meet them. 

Amy Cuddy, a Social Psychologist from Harvard says that when we meet we are mainly evaluating people based on two traits, Trust and Competence and of the two Trust is more important. What we are actually considering is how warm and trustworthy the person is, or “What are this person's intentions toward me?” And we're also asking ourselves, “How strong and competent is this person?” That's really about whether or not they're capable of enacting their intentions. And Amy says that the best way of generating trust is by simply asking them a question.

Beyond that initial 7 seconds the Harvard Business School research highlights that the more questions you ask the more likeable you are. That counts both in the initial exchanges of small talk and then during the core of the meeting. And meaningful follow-up questions leave a particularly positive impression, presumably because they prove you are genuinely listening rather than trotting out pre-prepared questions you use in every meeting. 

One last thing from the Harvard Study of Communications research: Not only does it only take seven seconds to make a first impression, they also found that on average, it takes meeting that same person seven more times to change that first impression that you made on them. 

We don't often get offered eight meetings with our prospects. Do you?