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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

How to Engage a Lead in the First 20 Seconds


Twenty seconds may not sound like much time at all, but consider this: a hummingbird beats its wings at an average of 53 times per seconds. This means that a 20-second period is just enough time for a hummingbird to beat its wings an incredible 1,060 times.

It’s also enough time for a new lead to decide whether they’re going to listen to you or not. First impressions in business can be ruthless. This is understandable, as no decision-maker has the time to waste on an unwanted sales call, read a spam email, or even organize a meeting with someone they don’t trust.

We call this the critical window of opportunity. The first 20 seconds of meeting a new lead is your one chance to make a lasting, positive impression, so what do you do?


I love Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote about preparation: "By failing to prepare, then you are preparing to fail’." It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and cuts straight to the point.

If you want to engage a lead immediately, then make you’ve prepared to do so. Research them, research their company and their competitors, find out what their issues or plans are, any projects the company is working on, or if there are any upcoming legislation changes that will affect them. You’re looking for anything you can use as a hook in that first 20 seconds of conversation. Pro tip: LinkedIn is a great place to start your search.

Writing a call track can certainly help too, especially for those making cold calls. It’s something we recommend and teach, but it must be carefully tailored. The worry with a call track is that you can end up sounding like a monotone robot, the exact opposite of what you want to do. A script should only really ever act as a guide filled with the key ingredients to entice the prospect and to navigate through the pitfalls of the first 10-20 seconds, from which you form an engaging, two-way conversation.

Make Them Laugh

Have you ever seen that popular Youtube video of the man selling a household cleaner door-to-door? By using humour, he’s able to elicit a positive emotional response from a potential customer, thus keeping them at the door and eventually converting them into a sale.

Making a person laugh immediately sets them at ease. It also helps to strike up rapport and encourages a friendly response. We’re not suggesting you deliver a comedy routine akin to the door-to-door salesman, but if you’re comfortable with humor, then we certainly recommend trying to lighten up the conversation a touch.

Think About Body Language

Regardless of whether you are in front of the prospect or on the phone, body language is important. There is ample evidence to suggest that people can sense if a person is smiling from their vocal intonation during a phone conversation. To this end, Nestle actually placed mirrors on the desks of their customer service staff so that they could check if they were smiling on a call.

In person, you want to ooze confidence straight off the bat, so relax your shoulders, straighten your posture, smile, look them in the eyes, and give a firm handshake. If you get your body language right, you’re already off to a great start.

Next Steps

It’s likely that by the time you’ve introduced yourself, have broken the ice with a joke, and have used your hook, all whilst exuding great, positive body language, that the hummingbird will have beat its wings for the 1,060th time and those first 20 seconds will be up. So where do you go from here?

We suggest asking the right types of questions. By doing so, it is possible to learn about the specific "buying mode" of the prospect in a very short space of time. This can often give you all the key information you’ll need to turn that prospect into a client.

Questions also have the added advantage of making the prospect think about what you’re saying and formulating an answer. If it’s just one person speaking, it’s very easy for the other party to switch off. Questions ensure each person in the conversation has to focus and engage.

Final Thoughts

The first 20 seconds of a conversation or meeting with a new prospect are undoubtedly the most important. There is often no second chance, so getting it right first time is vital.

We believe the tips outlined in this article give you the best chance of engaging a lead straightaway, and we’ve had good success from following them in our experiences. I'd love to hear from others though, is there anything you do to engage a lead straightaway? 

Anthony Maddalena is the Managing Director of Powercall Global, an international training course provider specialising in telemarketing, negotiation and communication skills.

Sales Accelerator

Topics: Lead Nurturing