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Dressing Appropriately to Sell Effectively

Over the past decade, business casual attire has become more commonplace. A large number of companies in the corporate world have changed their dress codes and now allow employees to either dress down for “casual Fridays” or as part of their standard dress code. Many companies see this as an added perk that they can offer their employees. It doesn’t cost anything and it helps boost employee morale. Some industries, like high technology, pioneered the use of business casual although the practice in high tech can sometimes be taken to the extreme.

Business casual can be a very good thing but, for sales professionals, it can also be a big stumbling block.  Simply put, many sales professionals fail in representing a professional image by adapting to the casual business dress of their clients.  Just because an office environment is laid back and employees walk around in shorts and Hawaiian shirts does not give you, as a sales rep, license to do the same.  Granted, if you’ve known a client for years and have a long-standing relationship, you do have some leeway.  However, when visiting a prospect or a new customer who is just getting to know you, always dress the part. 

What does this mean? For women, a professional outfit – a pant suits, nice blouse and skirt or some other type of appropriate business outfit. Think about what would be appropriate for a business meeting with a Fortune 500 CEO. The same goes for men. Wear a nice suit and tie or, at a minimum, a coat and tie. Personally, I prefer suits as they convey a more dressed up and professional image. If you just don’t have fashion sense, ask a family member or a good friend to help out. 

Ultimately, what you don’t want to do is send the wrong message to a prospective client

  • As a sales professional, you are asking a prospective client to make a change. This may involve changing how they do business, they way the manage their employees, the systems they use, the suppliers they utilize, etc. By dressing professionally, you represent an authoritative agent of change – one who should be taken seriously.  You stand out from others in the company
  • By dressing in a professional manner, you reinforce your credibility.  This credibility will apply to the recommendations you make as well as to any subsequent negotiations you may encounter.  It’s hard for a Fortune 500 executive to take seriously a sloppy and shoddily dressed sales “professional”.
  • You and your boss have been talking about your important sales appointment with MegaTelCo.  He’s been riding you about it for weeks.  Today’s the big day and the boss just saw you walk out of the office in a pair of khakis and a polo shirt.  This is the way you make a big first impression?  Well, you just made an impression on your boss!?
  • Clients want to feel important and that you are taking them seriously.  That is exactly the message you will convey to a prospective client by dressing professionally.
  • Have any other meetings planned?  If you dress down to “fit in” at one company, you may not be able to conscientiously set foot in another company’s offices.  Dress up and you can make as many visits as you’d like without worrying about the appropriate attire.

Remember all of these points the next time you are preparing for a meeting with a prospective client.  If you’re not dressing up for your initial meetings, you may be walking away from money on the table.  Even if you think you’re going to feel more comfortable by dressing like your prospect, resist the urge and dress the part of a professional sales person.  It will reflect in your performance.

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