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Q. What are your views on dress? Does it matter?

Copyright MMXIII, by Dave Kahle

A. Sure it matters. Everything that you say and do matters. Dress can be a powerful part of your persona. On one hand, how you dress can facilitate your objectives and make you more effective, and on the other, inappropriate dress can present an obstacle to your interaction with customers.

Let's get some basics out of the way.

1. Your dress should never be provocative or suggestive.

2. Your dress should never be outlandish or foolish.

Now, let's get down to the strategic use of dress. Here is the next rule:

3. Dress like your customers, only a little better.

Your dress should convey to the customer that you are like him/her, not different from them. There was a time when men wearing a suit and tie, and women a skirted suit was the expected mode of dress. However, if you are calling on maintenance supervisors, foremen, or uniformed personnel, for example, that suit and tie separated you from your customer, making you seem aloof and unapproachable.

So, how does your customer dress?

One of my clients sold supplies to farmers. Dressing in flannel shirts, blue jeans and boots was OK, because that was how the farmers dressed. Note the second part of the rule, "a little better." That's where your positioning as a successful, competent person comes in. You should, within the context of the customer's world, look successful, competent and confident. So, if you are going to wear jeans and flannel shirts, they should be good quality jeans, (a good brand name), clean and pressed. Your flannel shirt should be a better than average brand, clean and pressed.

If are calling on management level people, it gets a little more challenging. In today's world, some companies adhere to a coat and tie discipline, where others prescribe "business casual" for their employees. Honestly, I keep notes in my customer files as to what the mode of dress is in that organization. I keep it simple by using two categories: C&T (coat & tie), and BC (business casual). When I'm making one of my rare live sales calls, I check the file the day before so that I know how to dress.

One of the sales people in one of my classes shared his approach with me. He explained that he always wore grey dress slacks, a light blue button down collar shirt, a tie and a navy blazer. That way, he could dress up or down, depending on the situation. With the tie and blazer, he felt comfortable calling on coat and tie executives. If the call required a conversation with a front line supervisor, he'd remove the tie, and leave the blazer in the car. A nice approach. I'm sure there is a similar outfit that can be spontaneously dressed up or down for the women as well.

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4. Once you have incorporated the previous three rules, if you want to take this issue to the level of the masters, and then incorporate the final rule: Dress in a way that expresses your own unique style and persona.

I've come across sales people who always wear lapel pins, for example. I vividly recall one sales person who wore the loudest tie I ever saw. When I asked him about it, he indicated that he found these very loud ties to be a conversation starter and a unique emblem of his. People remembered him for it.

In the last couple of years, I've come, more or less by accident, to develop a "style" of my own. Whenever I speak, I always wear a silk or cotton mock turtle neck shirt with a sport coat or blazer. Even though I routinely speak at conferences and conventions to audiences in the hundreds, I seldom wear a tie. That combination is now my style. I arrived at it by chance. Since I travel so much, like all frequent travelers, I try to fit everything in a carry-on. The silk shirts can be rolled in a ball and stuffed into the tiniest corners of a carry-on, without showing wrinkles or taking up nearly as much space as a starched shirt. After a while, I've standardized on them.

Hope this helps.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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