I'm ever amazed by the undignified mien of many sales reps. Out of the hundreds I've met over the years, only about 10 percent have projected an image that inspired buying confidence. Salespeople have shown up late or not at all, looking like they'd slept in their cars or wearing suits even moths would reject. Sales pros in the 10 percent club have been men and women, youngish and more mature, but they've had much in common: All were well-dressed and well-groomed, and had a relaxed and courteous communication style. I trust these people with my clients' money, the biggest compliment I can bestow.
Your sales reps are hired to fly the flag of your brand and champion your business. Their image is your image, and if they blunder, your company suffers. "If a salesperson is poorly groomed or their clothes aren't pressed, the product is cheapened, and the sale is in jeopardy," warns J. Kevin Hand, president and CEO of Hand & Associates, an image enhancement company in Los Angeles. Hand says executives view a positive image as essential for success. "It's the packaging that makes the ultimate difference," he says.
With that in mind, you must consider all that goes into the image of your salespeople-from tattoos and piercings to suits and hairstyles. While you may not personally feel any disdain for nose rings, it's a sure bet many of your clients do. And what about suits? Many executives now spend their careers clad in Dockers instead of Brooks Brothers, so how should your sales force dress? While a suit may no longer be required, it's still better to be overdressed than underdressed-reps can always take jackets off if they find themselves in casual land.
As you lead the charge in dressing up, though, keep in mind the corporate culture of your prospects. "It's not too different from trying to understand tribal customs-you have to know something about the group you're going to spend time with before you get there," advises Patrick Lennahan, director of the career center at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. Be extra cautious when your sales reps encounter what Lennahan calls a "cross-cultural" experience-like when artsy-hippie dude meets corporate muckety-muck. In this instance, it's wise to emulate the look of your client. "A person who wears a pinstripe suit in the wrong place can be just as suspect as the person who wears jeans in another setting," says Lennahan.
If you have any doubt image can make or break your sales efforts, consider some persuasive statistics from a survey published in March 2001 Sales & Marketing Management magazine: Of 651 executives polled, more than 94 percent said a sloppily dressed sales rep had a tougher time making a sale, and 80 percent would avoid hiring any sales rep who was a sloppy dresser.
In the image game, don't underestimate your role. As the boss, the sales force looks at your words and actions as indicators for the proper behavior. "If the top dogs in a company are slobs, then the support staff will be, too," says Don Farrell, 44-year-old founder of Signature Inc., a sales and service training company in Dublin, Ohio. According to Farrell, companies take on the personality of their leaders, so entrepreneurs must be sure to lead by example.
Kimberly L. McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing (www.marketingangel.com), a business communications company in Freeport, Maine.
- Hand & Associates
(310) 447-3575, www.handandassociates.com
- Signature Inc.