24 Feb

When it comes to business, impressions count!  If you want people to believe in your products or services, you have to put some thought into dressing well in order to project the image that you want. Once you have established a relationship you can ease up a bit, but you should always look professional and remember that you are an ambassador for your company on each and every sales call.

Work dress has become very casual compared to what it once was. While many companies still write a dress code that outlines the limits of what to wear at work, there are also animated discussions in human resources offices about what is appropriate to wear to work, and how employees may push the envelope. Visible tattoos, piercings, and individual or eclectic styles of dress can be encouraged in some workplaces, but many companies are still struggling with how to respond to these issues.

In making sales presentations, it’s always important to dress well. Plan what you will wear so that it is in line with your customers’ expectations. Remember that you can never go wrong if you dress well. Sales people often wear some kind of company clothing, which is also appropriate (such as an embossed logo on a polo shirt, dress shirt, or jacket, for example) as long as the items follow the guidelines we are providing here.

We’ve seen salespeople who show up in wrinkled clothes, with poorly tied ties, dirty shoes, and clothes peppered with cat or dog hair. While our clothes don’t say everything about us, what kind of reaction do potential customers have to someone who presents in this way?

People used to be very committed to tailoring their clothes to fit and hemming trousers, skirts, and dresses. Unfortunately, very few people even know how to repair a lost button these days, and it can actually be challenging to find a tailor in some communities. Just remember that having clothes that fit well make you more attractive to your clients. If you speak with seasoned sales people who dress well, they probably do know where you can find a good tailor. Altering your clothes may not cost as much as you think, and it really can make a tremendous difference in how you are perceived by your clients.

Dressing to Impress

  • Always choose clothes that are clean and in good repair.
  • Learn how to iron so that your clothes look presentable.
  • Make sure your hems are sharp and in the right place. Trousers must never drag on the ground, and skirts should not higher than the top of the knee.
  • Using staples or double sided tape does not mean that you have hemmed your clothes properly. Think about building a wardrobe that helps you look classy and competent, and that will help you to complete your own hemming or find someone who can.
  • Shoes should be clean and polished. Even casual shoes can stand a good brushing and coat of polish. If your shoes look like they need fixing, get them fixed. We’re repeatedly shocked at the number of people who go on sales presentations with dirty shoes.
  • Women do not need to wear pantyhose in hot weather, but be careful: if legs are exposed or your toes are peeping out of dress shoes, they need to look good.
  • Men and women should never, ever wear clothes that are better suited to the beach (such as Bermuda style shorts, flip flops, or rubber-bottomed shoes). The only exception might be if you are selling a new line of beach wear, and even that would be pushing the envelope.
  • For women, forget about showing cleavage or wearing tight or revealing clothing. Think elegant when it comes to your sales career.
  • Fingernails aren’t clothing you put on, but they do bear mentioning here. Fingernails can send all kinds of messages, and dirty nails are never, ever appropriate. We’re not saying that you need to get professional manicures. (In fact, you should be careful of acrylic nails which, while popular, harbor all kinds of bacteria and can cause permanent damage to your nail bed.) You can learn to keep your own nails clean and presentable.

Managing Scent

  • Fragrance is something we have to be hyper aware of. Lots of people have sensitivity to chemicals and fragrances. Many workplaces will post signs and have policies that limit the use of scent. As a sales person and visitor to other workplaces, be aware of this and keep your own use of fragrance to a minimum. Select products that keep the scent in the immediate vicinity or your own body, rather than choosing those that float or hang in a room. Be aware that if you are visiting hospitals or other health providers, scented products are often banned.
  • If you live and work in areas that are exposed to high heat and humidity, you are going to sweat. There is nothing pleasant about smelling someone else’s sweat (just try travelling on crowded busses or trains if you don’t believe us!), and there are a few things that you can do to help control your own body odor. First, use underarm deodorant daily and carry an extra stick that can be reapplied in high heat. Secondly, keep your clothes (particularly dry clean only blazers, jackets, or sweaters, which can trap perspiration odors) clean. You can also carry a small, portable product like a spray fabric refresher to help, but again be aware of wafting fragrance that might be an annoyance to your customers.
  • Today we are fortunate to have access to inexpensive, washable, great fabrics that can lead to a professional wardrobe. Some of those fabrics are even super treated with chemicals and specially finished hems so that they are easy to iron and resist stains. Take advantage of these materials if you can!
  • The smell of smoke stinks. If you are a smoker, you may not be able to smell the effect that your cigarette has, but know that the rest of us DO smell it. If you are smoking outside and come indoors, the smoke smell wafts off you and into the room without fail. Resist the urge to have a cigarette directly before you enter a meeting, and save it until afterward. Smelling smoke trailing off of someone will leave a lasting impression on your clients that will not be eradicated by that great outfit you are wearing.
  • Bad breath is also something that you need to be very aware of. Coffee, smoking, and food all have an impact on what your breath smells like. We have access to portable, waterless tooth brushing and breath freshening products that you can carry in your car or briefcase, as well as effective breath mints. Avoid chewing gum; it doesn’t send a professional impression.

Creating a Professional Package

  • Notebooks, briefcases, and the pens you use are, by extension, part of your attire (for our purposes here). Are you one of those salespeople who looks impeccable, and then pulls out a tattered, well beaten note book where you record notes with a 49-cent pen? Is your briefcase an old backpack that you’ve proudly hung onto since college? Is your briefcase as clean as your shoes? Remember that you are presenting yourself as an entire package.
  • Give some thought to your vehicle as you prepare for sales presentations. Your car doesn’t have to be brand new or expensive, but it does say things about you. It’s important that it is clean and looks in good repair. We’ve been in great sales presentations and then left the building only to be followed out by a client who wants to ask a few more questions or perhaps just see us out nicely. If the back seat of your car is full of empty coffee cups or food wrappers, what does that say about you?

Tip: If you are not sure whether your clothes are reasonable, ask someone whom you see as a mentor or your manager.

If you are interested in this topic and learning more about presenting yourself professionally, take a look at our training course Dynamite Sales Presentations.