Q. I’m new to sales and to business in general.  I don’t want to make a “manners” or “etiquette” mistake that could cause problems.  Are there any special rules for business etiquette that I should know about?

A. That’s a question that I have rarely heard. But, good question, nonetheless.  As new generations of salespeople come into the profession, the culture changes somewhat, and some of the old rules pass on.  Every now and then, it’s a good idea to refresh some of the basic rules of business etiquette.

Put yourself in their shoes.  How would you want to be treated?

Here are some specific applications:

1. If you don’t have an appointment and you want to intrude on a customer or colleague’s time, ask permission first.  Say, “Is this a good time to talk?” or “May I have a moment of your time?”

2. If you walk into a customer’s office during inclement weather, hang your coat up and put your boots in the designated place instead of wearing them into the office.

3. Be careful about immediately using someone’s first name.  North America is the only culture where this is acceptable.  If your customer has another ethnicity in his/her background, or is older or more established than you, or is more educated, he may view your use of his first name as an insult.

4. If you don’t know how to pronounce a person’s name, ask them to pronounce it for you.  This shows respect for the other person.

5. When you enter another person’s workspace, stand until he/she sits down. Never be the first person to sit down.

6. Ask permission to put your materials on the customer’s desk or table.  Don’t just assume that you may do so.

7. If you are going to go over the allotted time, ask the customer’s permission to continue.  Estimate how much more time you expect to need, and ask for permission.

8. Be courteous to everyone, from the person washing the windows on the office entryway to the CEO.

9. If you are going to take the customers’ time, be sure that you have something that you believe they will consider of value to discuss with them.  Be mindful and respectful of the customer’s time.


11. If you must take a cell phone call and are within close proximity to anyone else, move to a more secluded area to have your conversation.  Irresponsible cell phone users are some of the most irritating and rude people around.  Don’t be one.

12. If you must have a cell phone conversation within close proximity of other people, speak softly.  You don’t have to shout.  See the above.

13. Never discuss the details of a sales call with a colleague when you are within the customer’s building.  You never know who the other people in the waiting room or on the elevator really are who can hear your conversation.

That’s a good list to get started.  Good luck.