First impressions are always important, but they’re probably never more important than the moment when a sales professional sits down with a potential new customer for the first time. And thanks to technology, some of those first impressions may be half-formed long before the meeting even starts.

According to DemandGen, a research firm that analyzes customer behaviour across a variety of sectors, 77 per cent of buyers prefer to do their own research rather than talk to salespeople at a company first. That’s probably no surprise, but a recent report from the Corporate Executive Board said that in the business-to-business (B2B) sector, their background research actually brings them 57 per cent of the way to a buying decision.

In other words, potential customers study not only a particular company but an array of competitors and the market as a whole. If their minds are nearly made up, the job of sales professionals may be partly about reinforcing the positive things they already think about a company and clearing up any misconceptions about the company’s weaknesses. That means being at least as prepared as customers prior to the initial sales conversion. Here’s how to get started:

Keep The Story Between Sales and Marketing Consistent

Sometimes those raising brand awareness and generating demand are disconnected — or at odds — with those selling products and services. Beyond the cultural challenges this causes, it also affects performance. One way to stimulate a more collaborative environment is offering both sales and marketing departments tools that provide a common set of data to build upon. In fact, Forrester Research says companies whose sales and marketing departments use marketing automation technology to better align themselves generate 50-80 per cent of the sales forecast pipeline. Customers get suspicious when an organization feels disjointed. The last thing a sales professional should want is to be surprised by something a possible client learned via a marketing campaign.

Offer A Journey Beyond Today’s Pain Points

As a recent article in the Globe and Mail argued, sales professionals may need to think beyond short-term customer satisfaction if they want to boost customer retention. “A seller who understands her buyer’s objectives, who engages and leads them to explore alternative views will easily connect (with them),” the article said. This is where the value of CRM becomes most obvious. By offering a holistic look at the opportunities, challenges and potential solutions for a potential customer, sales professionals can walk into a meeting with a prospect armed with specific—and longer-term—ideas.

Create The Emotional Connection Early

Customers are human beings, and as much a sales professional might look at how to achieve more “share of wallet,” Profit magazine suggests they think about how to get a “share of heart.” That means listening, learning, responding and following up with customers to demonstrate you care. This doesn’t have to begin with that first meeting. Technology is now letting organizations create communities with customers (and their partners and own employees) to communicate and brainstorm about important issues. There may be nothing that replaces the value of an in-person conversation, but cloud-based tools can complement those interactions in a way that builds trust and loyalty.

For more actionable advice you can use, download Salesforce’s free eBook: The Future of Sales: Insights from 14 Thought Leaders

The future of sales. Insights from 14 thought leaders. Get the ebook.