It has been said that the opening is more important than the closing. Be enthusiastic, but don’t overdo it to the degree that you may seem phony or unnatural. But don’t be an expressionless “dead pan” either. Often it is the small chit-chat at the beginning of the conversation that opens the door to rapport.

Being natural is like a razor’s edge that requires intuitive human skill so that you don’t appear arrogant, complacent or pushy. Your initial exposure may be the most important aspect of the entire relationship that unfolds between you and the prospect. Greeting your customer is the beginning of a momentum towards a friendship, trusting and closing. Surveys show that people make their strongest impression of you in the first five seconds. In greeting, you are making your first impression, and fair or not, it often sticks the hardest.

We all act in life and you are about to go on stage. Act like it! An actor or an actress cannot bring negative emotions to the stage to play the part of someone who is cheerful, polite and courteous. In order to feel the part, find a way to empathize with your customer. Put yourself in her position. Ask yourself: do you want to meet you? If not, correct your attitude. Your success vitally depends on it.

Customers often fear sales people. Why? Because they know you want something from them. A commitment, their time, their money, even a change on their part—and people fear change. Prospects may also have uneasiness based on past experiences with salespeople, which is rarely good. Simply put: They are afraid you are going to lie to them, afraid about what others have told them or just fear of the unknown.

Do you want to know something important? When you can truly develop empathy for the person you are about to meet, it is nearly impossible to be impolite, discourteous or display a poor attitude. A good first impression is practically guaranteed. The average customer only shops two or three stores, so you have already received a huge commitment and compliment when she walks through your doors. Advertising research has proven that it has cost your company a small fortune each time a customer enters your store. Your initial greeting creates a lasting impression and sets the tone as to where she eventually buys. Customers buy relationships and trust as much as they buy product. Realize that something important is happening at the moment of first contact.

When you initially meet someone, you can’t help but form a first impression. Automatically, you gather impressions that presume what the person is really like. Many customers believe they can “size up” a salesperson in only the first seven minutes. So, in the beginning, a relationship starts and it’s either, to some extent, positive or negative. Regardless, a great deal of all else you say or do is filtered and colored by your customer’s initial perception of how you welcome them.

When you can truly develop empathy for the person you are about to meet, it is nearly impossible to be impolite, discourteous or display a poor attitude.

Importantly, never begin your approach with a question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response. As a defensive posture, most customers withhold information because they know without it, you can’t sell them. Customers do not want to be sold; they want to buy and experience the pleasure of fulfilling the dream of a beautiful home. Approach your customer like a real person. Be authentic and believable. “May I help you,” “Finding everything ok?” or even “Hi, what may I do for you today,” and other yes or no greetings, are impersonal, and therefore, are lackluster beginnings for creating a good first impression or taking charge of the sale and building relationships.

Please understand this: when we greet a customer, we are beginning a friendship! When friends come to your house, do you greet them with “May I help you?” Whenever I hear this often-used greeting, I know another sale is probably lost. The customer typically responds as a defense, “No, I’m just looking.” Bear in mind, your customer is your guest so treat her with the same transparent and enthusiastic manner you treat new friends at your home and importantly, smile, it’s contagious. Generally speaking, customers expect a few moments of pleasantries to feel comfortable.

Rarely does a customer say to me, “I’m just looking.” In my much earlier selling years it happened on a regular basis. Back then, I used “May I help you” – a lot. Unbelievable now! You cannot establish rapport with a greeting that elicits “oh, I’m just looking.” If something doesn’t work most of the time, it makes sense to try something different. My greeting detours the “just looking” because I am on common ground when she greets back with a “thanks.” Getting on common ground with your customer is simply warming up, or establishing rapport. It’s getting to know your customer and her concerns; it’s about making a real friend. As Abraham Lincoln said, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

So, guess what? I have an approach that works for me. Generally, this particular approach begins just barely within speaking range with a simple “Good morning” (or whatever time period is appropriate). Not immediately, but about 12 to 15 feet from the customer, I stop walking briefly, and then comes the next stage of the greeting: “Welcome to Custom Floorcovering!” Then, as I approach normal speaking range, I am greeted almost without fail, when the timing is done correctly, with “thank you,” from the customer. Other times, I just get a big smile.

Instead of “I’m just looking,” the customer nearly always greets back with a “thank you.” However, for this to work, again, the timing is essential: “Good afternoon—Welcome to Custom Floorcovering” with just one single quick statement, and the desired response never happens. Time it just right and they will greet you back. For example: “Good day”…“Welcome to Custom” … “Thanks” is the customer’s natural response.

Don’t rush to the customer, initially keep a comfort zone of about five feet. Consciously slow down your pace. Remember, many customers are afraid of you. “Hi!” and “Welcome to Custom Floorcovering” creates a natural icebreaker.” Frequently, customers think you are going to try to sell them something, and after I disarm them, I usually do!