Executive Careers Blog

You've Got 30 Seconds to Win the Business


Real estate agent #1 hates the red tiles in our foyer. She tells us that right away.

(My wife and I are staying in Boston, but attempting to sell our house—for the second time.  We're interviewing agents.)

"These tiles—they're the first thing you see," she says.  She looks very unhappy.

Everyone knows the power of first impressions.  I used to train salespeople on this challenge.

When you walk into someone's office for a sales call or a job interview, how do you start strong?

Generally, it's not by insulting the other person's flooring.  Sincere compliments work better.  You might comment on the building, or the view, or simply thank them for accommodating your schedule.

Agent #2, within minutes of arriving, says she's obligated to read a disclosure form, as if informing us of our Miranda rights.

My wife, meanwhile, is leading the way upstairs.  But this agent doesn't budge.  She seems glued to the red tiles.  I used to like those tiles.

So she reads the form, but sounds scripted and inflexible.

Do you ever sound that way?

Adapt to the other person.  If the other person talks fast, speed up; if they like small talk, chit-chat; if they seem no-nonsense, follow suit.

Agents #3 & 4, a couple, show up on our doorstep, uninvited.

I'm not the sort of person who lets strangers into my house, unless it's at gunpoint.

But this couple is well-dressed and well-mannered—armed only with a unique selling proposition:  "We've got some innovative and aggressive ways to market your house."

That's exactly what we're looking for.  And knocking on our door—which no other agent has done, even though it's public knowledge that our first listing expired—demonstrates boldness.

Can you demonstrate what you're selling? 

For example, if you say you're innovative, prepare some examples and testimonials of your creativity and, just as important, act that way.  Walk in as if you're already on the job.

Well, I'd like to report that we hired the plucky couple, but we didn't.  Turns out, they were long on flair but short on experience.

Also, their company name, "Depart Realty," focused on the seller's concern (leaving), not the buyer's (arriving).  Their yard sign, "DEPART!" implied, "Get Me Out of Here!"

And if a buyer came to the house, that's what she'd see.  Even before the tiles.

Tip:  In high-stakes meetings, sometimes all you get is a few seconds.  Send a powerful message, immediately.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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