How you dress when you walk through the door of a sales meeting is one of the first things a prospect notices about you. It shapes their perception of you and, ultimately, it shapes their opinion of the product or service that you're selling.
However, most salesmen are not confident that they're getting the details right with the way in which they present themselves.
Honestly, whoever said that it's what's on the inside that counts was probably being too optimistic about humankind. However, don't get me wrong: It's not that dressing really well is going to automatically close deals for you, but if you dress wrong, you can lose a deal right out of the gate.
In this blog, I'm going to show you how you can dress for success for every meeting without breaking the bank and how to nonverbally increase your credibility with your prospect.
The Importance of First Impressions
A study carried out by Harvard University found that it takes just 7 seconds to generate a first impression. It also found that 45% of that first impression is made based on how you sound. The remaining 55% is based on your appearance - how you look, how you carry yourself and how you're dressed.
Like it or not, once people form an opinion of you in those first seven seconds, they rarely change it. That's why, as a salesperson, it's important to pay close attention to the way you dress. It can make the difference between winning and losing a deal.
The good news is that you can control to a large extent how people perceive you in this way.
The first step in creating a great first impression is to dress for success for EVERY meeting.
Tips For a Perfect Look
First, you need to know where to buy your nice clothes from.
There are a bunch of designer brands, but you don't need to buy them to look good. For a sales job, some good stores to buy shirts, slacks and other business casual clothes at a reasonable price are Banana Republic, Everlane, Zara, J.Crew and Nordstrom Rack.
1. The Shirt
When selecting the color of your shirt, try to stick with solids. White, blue, pastels or staples always look elegant.
Always watch out for muffin-toppings, since nothing looks more unprofessional than a poorly tucked in shirt.
If you have a thin waist, broad shoulders, long arms or the opposite of any of these things, you should get any shirt that you buy tailored. The places to do that are generally the same places you would take your dry cleaning to do.
Finally, always ensure that your collar is crisp - a floppy color is not a good look. There are very cheap magnetic strips that'll do the trick, and there are also metal collar stays that you can put into the collar to keep it crisp.
2. The Tie
This item isn't mandatory for many field sales jobs. It depends on the industry you work on and where you are in the world. I would always recommend it for more formal, executive-level meetings almost across the board. Remember that you can always take it off if you feel too formal.
A tie has to be the right length. My dad always told me that the tip of the tie must come to the middle of your belt buckle when you stand up straight.
The color of your tie has to go well with the shirt and the suit that you're wearing. Again, you should avoid flashy colors or prints because they can take away from the credibility of your message.
3. The Suit
Regarding the suit, my advice is to own only a few suits that really fit you well rather than a bunch of cheap suits that fit you badly.
In terms of color, navy blue or black are always great options. However, in the Summer you can wear lighter colors, like gray or light khaki.
The most important thing about the suit is that it fits you well. Everybody's body is a little different and tailoring is always the best way to get a great fit. This is often a bit expensive, but but today there are a lot of tailors that can take your measurements and have you choose the fabrics, and then they'll manufacture the suit in a lower cost area.
Some great stores for affordable tailored suits are Indochino, Black Lapel, Alton Lane and Blank Label.
To keep your suit always perfect, you can have a hanger in your car to hang up your suit while you drive so it keeps looking nice and crisp. Don't just toss it into the backseat as it will end up full of wrinkles.
You should stay away from bright suits or any loud prints or colors. Stick to conservative with your suits, so you don't dilute your message and/or look like a clown.
4. The Accessories
You need a nice pair of leather shoes - I like wingtips, personally. You also need a nice belt that has to match the color of the shoes. At the same time, the color of both the belt and the shoes must match the suit. A good rule of thumb is that black shoes go well with almost any color, and brown shoes go well with any color except for black.
The only piece of jewelry - other than a wedding ring - that you should wear is a nice watch. But remember: Nice does not necessarily mean expensive. You can get a great-looking affordable watch from companies like Fossil, Seiko. Hugo Boss or Timex.
However, keep in mind that if you have a $5,000 watch in your wrist, people may assume they should jam you harder in the price. People notice this kind of things.
5. Other Aspects to Pay Attention To
However, it's not only about clothes. Pay attention to your hair and your nails too. This goes without saying, but your nails should be short and your hair needs to be neat and well groomed.
Go to a professional hair salon at least once or twice to get advice from a professional on what styles and styling products will work for you. Once you have that knowledge, you can go back to Supercuts if you want.
I would steer clear of funky haircuts because they can be distracting. Remember that you're not a peacock trying to attract attention at a bar, you're trying to get a person to do business with you.
If you've grown a beard, always keep it groomed and use beard oil and a brush to minimize flyaways and keep it from looking scruffy.
How To Nonverbally Increase Your Credibility With Your Prospects
Now that we've talked about how to set the table, let's talk about how to eat. How do you decide what to wear for your sales meetings? Should you wear a suit, a tux, a sport coat and slacks maybe?
Actually, there's no perfect answer for how all salespeople should dress, because the answer depends on how your prospect dresses. You want to match your prospect. This means that you should dress at the level of the highest status person in the room, who is often the decision-maker.
For example, in Badger Maps, we sell to field sales teams, so usually the VP of Sales or the Director of Sales Operations will be the highest level people in the room. I already know that in a medical device company, the VP of Sales is dressed business casual, and maybe wearing a sport coat, so I'll dress like that for that meeting.
In addition, when you get to the actual meeting, you can always make subtle adjustments on-the-fly. For example, if you're wearing a sport coat or a suit, but your prospect is not, as you sit down for the meeting you can remove the jacket.
In cases when you're unsure about how to dress, always err on the side of being overdressed, as opposed to underdressed.
Another important point is to know your audience. If you sell a cool brand of wine to restaurants, flair may totally be fine and helpful, but if you sell servers, your prospects won’t be super hip. So in this case, flair is not going to be appropriate.
When you're invited to an event by a customer or prospect, you can always ask about the dress code. If you improvise or try to guess, you can end up feeling out of place.
In a pinch: A sport coat, slacks, and a simple white shirt is a versatile look that works for almost any occasion.
Things To Avoid
Finally, let's cover some things to avoid when dressing for success.
There are some things that are - or should be - obvious to you, like avoid wearing sandals, flip-flops, caps, shorts, T-shirts and hoodies. I'll add short sleeve colored shirts too. They’re just not elegant.
However, there are some other aspects that are frequently overlooked, but can also make you look really messy.
First, make sure that your clothes don't have wrinkles or stains. You can always use a stain remover and keep it in your car for unexpected spills.
Also, invest in learning how to care for the nice clothes that you buy. You can save a lot of money this way. Remember to wash in cold water and use permanent press.
Don’t forget to take your take your nice suits to a dry cleaner and have them cleaned professionally.
You should keep labels and logos to a minimum. The only brand you want your prospect to see or hear during your meeting is your own brand.
It’s also important not to overdo cologne. Just one or two squirts of a fresh citrusy cologne on your neck are enough for a pleasant smell.
Just remember: A messy look will make your whole sales pitch come off unorganized and, as a salesperson, you're the face of your company to your prospect. They're going to form their opinion of your company and make their buying decision partially based on how you're dressed.
If you have enjoyed this article, check out this blog on how to dress for success in sales with tons of useful tips on this same topic.