Business Professional versus Business Casual: Who wins the fight in sales?

As I travel the nation presenting my sales and sales management seminars, I am often asked by business owners and Vice Presidents of Sales whether they should allow their sales teams to wear business casual attire, or should they be required to wear traditional professional attire. It is not an easy answer, so I have decided to do some research, and an informal study of my own.
First, the research: In a recent study by Kelton Research, published in a menswear trade publication, statistics found that “well-dressed men” were seen as more professional, smarter and more successful. The study revealed that nearly three out of four men feel underdressed most of the time.
· 91% of those surveyed think dressing well can make a man appear more physically attractive than he actually is.
· 75% believed well-dressed men are more successful at work
· 22% of men think they could earn more money if they learned to dress better
· 63% of the female respondents preferred a man in a suit to a man in a uniform.
Your appearance will impact with bosses, clients, prospects, and co-workers, and in some cases determine your success. Take for example a job interview. If you were going on a job interview you would always want to look your best. Correct? Yet, isn’t every sales call you attend pretty much the same as a job interview. YES! It is the first time the person possibly purchasing your product is meeting you. And, as the old saying goes: “First impressions are lasting impressions.” The person you are meeting with will make immediate judgments about your abilities, your success level, and your confidence within minutes of meeting you, based on your timeliness to the scheduled meeting, and based on your personal appearance. What you wear, and how you present yourself, will show your potential customer whether or not you pay attention to details, and whether or not you truly understand professionalism.
In most cases, a suit and tie would be considered the appropriate attire for a business to business sales appointment, but you also want to make sure you fit in with that particular company’s corporate culture. Determine the type of corporation and type of job title that the person with whom you are meeting follows, and then dress at least one step up.
In order to be dressed “one step up” be sure you adhere to the following guidelines:
Major Fortune 1000 corporations, law firms, insurance agencies, real estate agencies, mortgage brokers, etc.: Since most of their employees will most likely be in a suit and tie, then you should also be in a suit and tie. You never want to look underdressed on a sales call.
Small to Medium businesses, retail stores, etc.: Men should wear a tie and a sport jacket if the company looks like the type where the person you are attempting to sell your product might be in “business casual” attire such as khaki slacks and a golf/polo shirt; women should wear a blazer over a blouse and a pair of dress pants if the company they are meeting with does not feel that a full-on business skirt suit is required.
Blue Collar businesses: If your sales appointment is with a mechanic, or someone who will be dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, you should still be dressed “one step up.” The theory that a sales rep in business attire will intimidate a prospect that is wearing blue collar or business casual attire has been proven to be a myth. It may have worked in the 1990s during the dot com days (that bubble burst, didn’t it?), but more and more studies are proving that even small to medium business owners want to deal with a successful professional when purchasing a product. Don’t fall into this trap. Many sales have been lost by a sales rep who assumed dressing down for a particular client would make that client feel more comfortable and less intimidated.
The proper professional attire might not guarantee that you will get the sale, but improper attire will almost certainly put you at a disadvantage.

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