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Looking Like You Mean Business

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People still judge a book by its cover, and we judge other people by what we see on the outside. For salespeople, it's vital to take this into account before you meet with potential customers. In a social situation you can show your trustworthiness over a long period of time, so if someone is put off by their first impressions you have a chance to change his mind. In a sales situation you'll meet with a given prospect only once or twice, so projecting the right appearance from the start is crucial – there's almost never a second chance.

The goal is not necessarily to look as attractive as possible, although you will want to shoot for a pleasing “look.” If your appearance is attractive but not businesslike, you can end up making entirely the wrong impression for a salesperson. The idea is to gain your prospects' trust by conveying the idea that you are giving them good advice when you suggest they buy your products. To that end, a businesslike appearance will get you farther than a superficially attractive one.

In a business situation, trustworthiness is based on several factors. People are inclined to trust businesspeople who are ethical, organized, knowledgeable, and reliable. These are the qualities most salespeople should strive to show in their overall appearance. The precise importance of each of these qualities will vary depending on your particular customer base. Selling to farmers and selling to bankers requires entirely different approaches to building your professional image.

Most customers will respond best to standard business attire. A basic suit, or a minimum of a tailored shirt and good-quality pants (for men) or a classic blouse and good pants or a skirt of moderate length (for women) is a good place to start. Clothes should be clean, free of stains and not wrinkled. Cologne or perfume is best used in moderation or skipped altogether, as many people suffer from allergies to these scents.

Your body language also matters a great deal in sales situations. Simple things like sitting up straight, making regular but not excessive eye contact and shaking hands firmly can make a huge difference in how others perceive you. Ideally, you want to convey an impression of confidence and competence without coming across as being arrogant or overly assertive.

Attention to the details of appearance extends beyond your own body. If prospects and/or customers meet you at your place of business, then you'll need to prepare your office to convey the same professional message. Your desk should be fairly clear with a few personal touches, such as photographs. Avoid excessive displays of your personal interests and hobbies, as these can detract from the overall impression. A framed certificate for first place in the golf tournament is fine, but covering your work space with golfing memorabilia is a problem unless you're selling golf clubs.

You may be a somewhat disorganized person, but you don't want to shove that fact in your prospects' faces. Keep any stacks of paperwork and other clutter discreetly out of sight. Better yet, train yourself to deal with tasks as they arise and then put them away in the appropriate places. Be sure to provide a chair for visitors at a comfortable conversational distance from your own chair. And have a supply of basic items such as pens, paper and business cards available at all times.

Your car should also reflect a professional appearance, as prospects may easily end up seeing it during the course of business – for example, a prospect might walk you to your car after a meeting. Keep your car squeaky-clean and tidy outside and in, and tend to any dents or dings as promptly as possible.

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