Will Rogers is credited with a saying that has been given as advice to salespeople for decades. It's also been used in marketing pitches for everything from clothing to automobiles to personal hygiene products: "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

During a recent conversation with a group of bank managers, one of them paraphrased that line, suggesting that your first impression on a customer is a do-or-die situation. He was quite certain that if you blow it, your prospects for doing business with that person are doomed.

I agreed with him that there is little argument that the first impression we make on a person is extremely important. I then joked with him that I believe the first impression we make on someone is only the most important one if we've only made that one impression. When he smiled, I told him, "The most important impression you've made on a person is the last one you made."

People aren't machines. We don't methodically assess past interactions with a person or place of business and calculate an average satisfaction score. The most "heavily weighted" impression by far will be the last one made.

When you ask folks, most will admit that they have misjudged certain people based on initial impressions. It's not uncommon for some of our better friends to be people whom we may not have hit it off with immediately.

Then again, most of us can think of individuals who made great first impressions on us and then later proved to be less than advertised.

I like to discuss this subject with folks in various sales positions within banks to drive home two important points.

The first is that we shouldn't allow ourselves to get lazy with existing customer relationships. Customers' impressions of us are not static. They are constantly improving or weakening.

Unfortunately, folks have a tendency to begin to take long-term relationships for granted. While we're dedicating large amounts of our time and energy to courting new bank customers and dealing with our more demanding ones, we can unintentionally neglect existing, solid relationships.

We assume that these folks know we appreciate them and their business and that we're happy to be a resource for them, even if we don't show it as we may have in the past. And unbeknownst to us, their impressions of us begin to deteriorate.

Conversely, the opposite can be true as well. I like to ask folks to think of their least-positive customer interaction or sales call during the previous month. I suggest to them that even the most cringe-worthy of recent impressions can likely be (at least somewhat) salvaged the next time you interact with that person.

But there is a natural tendency to avoid people with whom we've recently had a less-than-positive experience. Alas, this allows the last and most influential impression in that customer's mind to be a negative one.

We can let that impression linger, or we can set out to make a "new" last impression.

Consider that most folks' default answer to changing how or where they conduct their banking is going to be, "no." That's just human nature. So we often find ourselves in situations where our last interaction involved a person rejecting our suggestion or request.

I've long recommended in seminars that the next interaction you have with a person after he has told you "no" gives him a clear picture of who you really are.

If your demeanor drastically changes the next time you interact with that person, he can be forgiven if he assumes that your initial friendliness was conditional.

But when you remain upbeat and engaging the next time you see him, the impression made is a positive and powerful one. And regardless of whether or not he immediately reconsiders your proposal, you'll be held in higher regard if and when he does.

Take a few minutes this week to discuss with your team what kind of last impressions you are making on existing and potential customers. How are your existing bank customers being thanked for their business? How are potential customers thanked for their time and consideration?

Did the content of the last e-mail, postcard or phone call they received from you position you as a salesman or as a useful resource?

You may never get a second chance to make a first impression. But the chance to make even more important last impressions are available every day.

Make sure yours are positive ones.

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