1. The Right Impression


This is part 1 of a 5 part series on the role of Impression Management in how to best present yourself to the outside world.

Business is built upon trust.  Very few people will even consider doing business with entities they don't trust.  "A staggering 92% of millennials reported that trust plays a factor in who influences them online."   If you are in a leadership or customer-facing role and your personal brand does not convey trust then it's time to rethink your strategy.  How do you demonstrate trust?  The old proverb "a picture paints a thousand words." still holds true.

"What we learn only through the ears makes less impression upon our minds than what is presented to the trustworthy eye." - Horace

In 1960 the presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was watched by eighty million people.  In those days the only mediums were listening via radio or watching via television.  After the debate a survey of users of both platforms revealed that those who had listened to the radio firmly believed that Mr. Nixon had won the debate.  Those watching on television had a stronger impression formed by both what they heard AND by what they saw.  The difference being that Richard Nixon sweating profusely, while John Kennedy appeared calm and confident.  In their opinion Mr. Kennedy had won the debate.

In fact it has been studied that we can determine trust with just a 100 millisecond exposure to an unfamiliar face.  Alexander Todorov of Princeton University, an expert on this topic, said, "We investigated the minimal conditions under which people make such inferences... we manipulated the exposure time of unfamiliar faces. Judgments made after a 100-ms exposure correlated highly with judgments made in the absence of time constraints, suggesting that this exposure time was sufficient for participants to form an impression."  

This proves that we are very good at quickly forming impressions of people.  How does that hold up specifically when applied to business people in customer facing roles?  I did my own, unscientific research study.

I searched Linkedin and compared the portraits/headshots of people with the word "Sales" in their title at two companies.  Those two companies are currently at opposite ends of the success spectrum in the IT industry.  I wanted to see how their sales people compared in adoption rates of portrait photos, and their use of professional photographers in generating those portraits. 

SAP is a very successful software developer headquartered in Waldorf, Germany.  They have often been ranked at the top of the scale in terms of pay to their employees in customer facing roles, as shown in this study:


SAP's stock price was at $10.28 in 2002 and on the last day of December 2015 it stood at $79.10.  SAP is a company that has demonstrated it's ability to thrive in an industry that has experienced significant turmoil in the past few years. 

Simply based on their willingness to pay their customer-facing employees a premium they can hire some of the best customer-facing individuals in their industry.  At the other end of the spectrum is a company also in high technology that has gone through significant turmoil of it's own, including substantial attrition in recent years.  This second company, who will be referred to as Company B, are a household name, headquartered outside of California, but still in the lower forty eight.

I searched Linkedin for 'People' using the same format of search for both organizations.  In SAP's case it was "SAP Sales".  Then I looked at the first one hundred results for each company.  How did the numbers shake out?   Here are my findings:

SAP - Total with a professional portrait = 65%

Company B - Total with a professional portrait = 38%

SAP - Total with no portrait photo = 7%

Company B - Total with no portrait photo = 14%

Now, I'm not saying that the fortunes of one company over another are dictated by whether their sales people have a professional portrait; absolutely not. The goal was to determine how customer-facing individuals at these two companies rank against each other in terms of their adoption rates of portrait/headshots and within that, their use of professional photographers to take those portraits.  What I am suggesting is that customer-facing individuals at more successful organizations understand, at a higher rate, the value that a professional portrait/headshot can bring to impression management.