You only get one chance to make a good first impression and what you wear has a lot to do with the impression you create. In this day and age of excessive casualness, it’s easy to cross the line and lose a sale, all because of what you’re wearing. Here’s an example.
The salesperson was giving a sales presentation to a small group of engineers who were all very casually dressed (no jackets, shirts with open collars and no ties). The salesperson was equally casually dressed.
Everything was going well until the company president, whom the salesperson had never met, joined the meeting. He entered the room wearing a business suit and tie. The visual mismatch between the person giving the sales presentation and the person who would be making the buying decision was as obvious as it was striking. The salesperson found himself at a situational disadvantage.
What do you think the president’s first impression was of the salesperson? Was it, Oh here’s a casual-looking, laid-back guy that I’d like to spend several thousand dollars with? Or was it, How serious is this guy? You be the judge.
Even if the president had joined the meeting wearing casual attire, he might still have looked at the salesperson and thought, How serious is this guy?
How seriously do you want to be taken? If you want to be taken seriously, you better look the part. Dressing appropriately not only affects how seriously some people will take you but it can impact your credibility with the prospect.
How much credibility would you give a financial advisor who showed up driving a rusted-out car and dressed in torn jeans? I’ll admit that’s an extreme picture but the point is that the image you present is the starting point for establishing credibility in your prospect’s mind.
Underdressed or Overdressed
If you’re going to err to one end of the scale or the other, err on the part of overdressing, but obviously not to an extreme. You don’t wear a suit and tie or a dress and high heels if you are going into an industrial environment. On the other hand, don’t wear cargo pants and a polo shirt if you’re calling on senior management. You must dress appropriately.
So what’s appropriate? Well, first off, casual or business casual is becoming more and more acceptable these days. There is a shift back to dressing down rather than dressing up. For instance, it is quite common to ditch the tie, and simply wear a business suit with open neck shirt. But there is certainly a difference between casual and sloppy. Business grunge is simply no longer acceptable for anyone who wants to move forward in the business world.
Salespeople need to be even more aware of their attire than the average bear, but you can still get away with being somewhat casual as long as you’re not more casual than your prospect.
A rule that I learned many years ago seems to apply once again and that is salespeople should dress equal to or slightly above what their prospect is wearing. Another rule is that you should dress like someone to whom your prospect would go to for advice. Either of these rules will keep you out of trouble.
Keep in mind that you can always dress down by removing a tie or jacket but you can’t dress up if your tie and jacket are still hanging up at home.
Dress Rules for Special Occasions
What do you do when you’re invited out to an event by a prospect or client? It’s always wise to ask what the dress code for the event will be. Even then, the various dress codes can be even more confusing than the DaVinci Code. Here are some definitions that may help you through the clothing maze.
Business Dress Categories
Casual: Means polo shirts, blouses, khakis, jeans, and cargo pants.
Smart Casual: Includes slacks, sweaters, and shirts with collars. Jackets and blazers are optional.
Dressy Casual: Implies dress shoes and better quality fabrics than smart casual (wool blends rather than synthetics).
Business Casual: A more tailored look than dressy or smart casual. It can include suits and dresses as well as blazers and slacks. Men do not require ties. In general, business casual for dinner almost always means wear a suit.
General Business Attire: This means suits and ties for the men and dresses for the women. Suits may have different color pants or skirts and jackets. Men require ties.
Corporate Professional: Also known as “power dressing.” Single dark-coloured suits, usually wool or linen. Ties are required for men.
As a salesperson doing business-to-business selling, it’s probably a good idea to treat a jacket and tie like an American Express card and not leave home without them. You may not use them but it’s better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them.
It’s appropriate in some businesses to wear clothes bearing the company logo. Monogrammed shirts and outerwear seem to be the most popular of these. Depending upon your marketplace and the level of the people you normally deal with, this is entirely appropriate. The rule here is to make sure that the garments are clean and fresh.
Look Good, Feel Good
As a professional, it’s always best to dress the part. That way you’re assured to not only give a good first impression but a good second and third one as well. Don’t let a little thing like what you wear get in the way of being the best you can be.
Authored by Brian Jeffrey, co-founder of SalesForce Training, and originally published in the Targets newsletter.
SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional services firm and Salesforce.com training firm based in Toronto, with training centers in Boston and Chicago, helping sales people with all aspects of selling, including dressing the part.
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