'Business casual?' Not if you want to make the sale


The old adage that you only have one chance to make a first impression remains true in business today.

What is equally true is that it is nearly impossible to overcome a negative first impression.

Your appearance -- from how well you dress to how well you care for your vehicle -- will be evaluated from the moment you arrive at your prospect's company and will be judged by every individual with whom you come in contact.

Presenting a positive appearance, then, is crucial to producing a positive first impression. It will not only set the tone for how well you will be received by your prospect but it will determine, in large part, whether you will ultimately make the sale.

Most prospects have had negative experiences with ineffective salespeople.

Therefore, it is likely they will have negative expectations of you before you even walk in the door.

If your physical appearance conveys confidence and professionalism, you can help dispel their preconceptions. Instead, they will be relieved to think, "Here, finally, is a successful, capable salesperson."

When you dress like a professional, people treat you like one.

If you entered your prospect's office wearing sloppy, ill-fitting clothes what might they think? Would your appearance convey that you are successful in your sales career? Would your prospect likely wonder if they could take you or your product seriously?

I travel frequently and although I'm not overjoyed about taking long trips in a suit and tie, I choose to do it. When I am dressed that way people see me as a professional and they treat me as such.

Dressing the part of the professional, then, is key to garnering respect and being taken seriously.

People like to associate with winners.

One secret of establishing yourself as a winner in the eyes of your prospect is to dress as well as the most successful person in your profession.

To do this, invest in the highest quality clothing that you can afford. Work within your budget to acquire pieces that are well-made, classic in design and appropriate to your sales environment.

You want everything you wear to be a reflection of quality and success, so keep abreast of trends in lapel and tie widths as well as skirt lengths.

Last year's suit can still be worn this year but last decade's suit will make you look old-fashioned and out of touch. A professional image is one that reflects both success and this kind of attention to detail.

The "business casual" attire that has become so prevalent in workplaces today seems like a great idea for helping employees and clients feel more relaxed and comfortable.

However, "business casual" can often end up looking a little too casual -- even disheveled.

Therefore, even when meeting with prospects whose corporate culture is casual, err on the side of more professional, conservative dress.

The basics for creating a professional image also involve other aspects of appearance.

A well-groomed, conservative hairstyle is essential to the way you present yourself. Whether you are aware of it or not, clean hands and well-trimmed fingernails say a lot about a person and will be noticed by your prospect.

Always wear clean clothing that is well-pressed and tailored to fit you. Polish your shoes frequently and replace the heels when they begin to show wear.

Keep extras of certain accessories with you that are likely to endure wear and tear or need replacement.

If you are a man, keep a spare tie handy. If you are a woman, carry an extra scarf or pair of nylons in case you get a run. Paying attention to these small details may seem insignificant but others will notice them and they will have an impact on the overall impression you make.

If you frequently drive to your prospect's place of business, consider the appearance of your automobile.

A clean, tidy, well-kept vehicle, regardless of its make, model or year, can be a very important indicator of who you are as a professional -- a person who values your investment enough to properly care for it.

You never know when your prospect might glance out the window just as you pull up. How would it look if you pulled up in a car caked with mud and then spent five minutes digging through stacks of papers and samples piled in disarray looking for your presentation materials? Not only would this destroy the professional image you are trying so hard to create, it also has the potential for embarrassment.

It should go without saying that smoking is never appropriate in most offices and places of business today, but even if your sales call takes place at an outdoor job site or in a restaurant environment, it is never a good idea to smoke on a sales call. If your prospect doesn't smoke, you'll likely offend them. Even if he or she is a smoker, your own smoking will detract from your professional image. Furthermore, it creates a distraction, taking your prospect's mind off the business at hand.

Likewise, don't chew gum during a sales call. Mints and other types of edible breath fresheners are excellent to keep handy and use right before a sales call. The chewing of gum, however covertly, can quickly become an annoying distraction during a sales presentation. You want the focus to be on how well you can serve your customer -- not on the gum you're chewing.

I also suggest that you do not drink coffee or accept other refreshments on a sales call.

This, too, can create the potential for distraction. Suppose you reached for a pen and knocked your coffee over important papers your prospect had laid out. A scenario like this could send your sales call into a downward spiral and should be reason enough to politely decline an offer of coffee or other beverages.

Your attention to the details of your professional appearance will have a huge impact on how well you will be received by your prospects.

By dressing as the successful sales professional you are -- or as you aspire to be -- you will give yourself every possible opportunity to succeed.

Attention to detail, combined with your sincere desire to serve your customer, and your level of expertise will put you ahead of your competition and help you establish yourself as a world-class sales professional.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.