First Impressions for Physician Liaisons

By: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA | kbarlow@barlowmccarthy.com

Right wrong or otherwise, we all make snap judgments when we meet new people. Last week I needed help from an airline gate agent and here’s what happened:

I approached the counter ready to beg, cajole and flaunt my frequent flyer status as I wanted to get home on an earlier flight. As I approached the counter, the gate agent looked up immediately, smiled and asked how she could help in a warm and engaging way. She listened fully to my request and then said, “Let’s see what we can do to make that happen.” The interaction was all of three minutes and yet, it left me feeling positive, I know her name and the airline earned an extra point for customer service.  While it’s not always that way for me with the airlines, this was a wonderful first impression. We only get one chance to make a first impression so it’s worth a step back to consider starting our interactions in a positive way.

Do the Basics Well Every Time

  • Appearance: I appreciate that being comfortable matters when the days are long, but personal appearance, dress, hair, and amount of stuff you are carrying speaks volumes. Dress just a little better than the audience you are meeting and make sure the cut, style and fit are right. We want the doctor we are calling on to trust us, so the first impression must set the state for us as a trusted advisor. (Note: I am not just talking to ladies here, men this is important for you too!)
  • Friendly-forward: A genuine, warm smile takes so little effort and makes such a difference – it’s a mood changer. The smile, accompanied by a friendly expression and an extended hand when a hand shake is available.
  • Engaging confidence: Demonstrate that you are the person others like to be around. A calm and confident demeanor that says, “Your doctor will want to spend a few minutes with me.” If you’re too permissive, today’s gatekeepers will dominate. Overly confident or cocky, and the whole practice will show you the door. So, what is just right? It starts with good eye contact, a message that is well developed, and an assumptive tone that makes the recipient want to engage in conversation.

Use Your Intuition

Read the situation and make good decisions based on what you see and hear. There are times when you enter a practice and the signs of distraction are everywhere. Your job is to create a relationship that can engage the physician in your planned agenda. Can that happen? If there are already signs of disruption before you even connect with the doctor, then call it out and ask to return at a time that will be better for the practice.

Likewise, if the doctor appears to be distracted, call it out right away. Refuse to bulldoze your way through just because you “got in.”

A quick read of the prospect will also give you a sense of their interest in social connections. Some prospects like to start a conversation with topics like people in common or the weather or your observation of their kids in the photos. Find an easy line to “test” whether this is of interest, but use your intuition and don’t spend too long here and if they don’t seem to react, let it go.

Prepare Even When You are Seasoned

Great connections rarely just happen. A strong first impression is generally the result of good planning that includes, when you will do the visit, where you will start, what you will want to learn from each person you meet, your fallback plan if the gatekeeper has a different agenda and of course your goals for the meeting.  Make sure your preparation is about what you want to learn, not just what you want to tell them! Find a good opening approach that lets them know you’ve prepared to learn from them.

While first impressions won’t seal the deal, in today’s competitive environment, you may not get a second chance to gain access to decision makers or to have a good dialogue. You only get one chance to make a first impression. This week, think about how you are perceived and fine-tune that approach.

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