CCA 3.5 Lesson 5: Appearance or surface language

We have discussed several items that must be considered in developing a persuasive package of yourself. The area of appearance is of great importance. When you meet a person for the first time, the first thing that is noticed is your appearance: your clothes and grooming habits.  If you do not have a good appearance, you can lose the opportunity to further your interaction with the other person even before you open your mouth. When I say appearance, I refer to a person’s grooming, dress, and physical makeup. We can improve our appearance by concentrating on good grooming habits and learn some basic guidelines on dress. We all know basic grooming rules like clean fingernails, clean hair, pressed clothes, and a clean body. I want to concentrate on developing positive surface language, which is the combination of grooming and dress. Surface language can play a major role in your ability to formulate a positive first impression. Today, there are some unwritten rules as to how a person should dress. We need to be aware of what is accepted because what we wear will immediately establish our credibility and likeness. Ego Von Furstenberg says in his book The Power Look, “In the business world, discrimination by appearance is a fact of life.” Let’s look at what some authorities say about dress so that we will not be hindered in getting the jobs and meeting the people we want in life.

Dress .The key word for your dress is appropriate. It is possible to overdress and to underdress.  Your dress can be too stylish, too far out of style, too formal or informal. Especially in the selling profession, a well-managed appearance will communicate positive feelings and establish credibility. Some sales professionals are told to dress as if they are a success–in essence “fake it till you make it.” Be sure you have good taste and good sense when it comes to what you wear. There are five general guidelines that can be used in assisting sales professionals in their dress preparation. These five guidelines are desired image by the firm or industry, products or services sold, type of customer served, physical characteristics and body makeup, and unwritten dress rules by dress authorities.

Desired image by the firm or industry: The first thing a sales professional should do is to look at the competition, the industry, and the desired look of the seller’s company. If you are in a very professional, businesslike atmosphere, selling data-processing equipment or computers, the unwritten dress code in the industry is at least a shirt and tie; more appropriate would be a sports coat or suit. IBM had a company dress code for years stating that their sales professionals must wear a white shirt, blue sports coat, and a tie. Surveys that have been done with IBM’s competition and customers state that the white shirt is an asset to IBM’s sales professionals, and the white shirt gives them moral superiority over their competition. IBM wants their sales professionals to maintain this image. Even IBM’s competition believes that they should adopt the white shirt if they are to successfully compete with IBM. Other industries like the automotive, agricultural and discount retailing industries allow people to dress more casually. Once again, take a look at your competition and industry and be sure to dress so that you fit in and don’t look out of place.

Five Dress Guidelines

Desired image.

Product or service sold.

Type of customer.

Body make-up.

Dress rules and guidelines.

Note: The key to remember is to dress appropriately.

Products and services sold: If your products are very expensive and complex, your dress should be more on a formal basis, (suit and tie) than informal. Sales professionals in retail clothing sales usually wear a shirt and tie. A salesclerk in an automotive parts store can get by with a clean, colored shirt and no tie. Many sales professionals in industrial sales who sell cleaning supplies have to adjust their dress based on the type of buyers they work with. If they are selling to large organizations, a suit may be more appropriate than a sports coat.

Type of customer served: Much of this area has been covered in the first two topics of industry and type of goods sold. One item that must be mentioned is your customer. If your customer is very shy, reserved, and feels uncomfortable with authoritative figures, you may be wise to “dress down” or be a bit informal. Instead of wearing a suit, wear a sports coat. If your customer is very businesslike, professional, or authoritative, dress in a dark suit so that your desired image is more professional and businesslike.

Physical characteristics and body makeup:  This area is very crucial because you want to dress according to what your body allows. You don’t want to emphasize the negative and you do want to emphasize the positive. Many people dress for failure because they wear clothing that conflicts with items like color or physical build. Husky or overweight people tend to look better in darker colors or stripes because these colors and patterns tend to trim their appearance.  Short people look taller in pin-stripes and tall people look shorter in mild plaids. Large people should be careful wearing dark pin-stripes, as this pattern tends to look more authoritative, especially to people who feel uncomfortable with figures of authority.

■. Avoid high fashion and exaggerated styles of clothing. These constantly changing fashion swings suggest instability, immaturity, and undependability to your client, customer, or prospect.

■ Never wear double-knit suits, sport coats, pants, or shirts. Double-knit material has an unmistakably inexpensive look. Double knit has the tendency to say all the wrong things about you. Wear wool or wool blend fabrics and cotton shirts.

■ Wear dark brown, burgundy, or black shoes for business. Anything else is too flashy and destroys your credibility. In addition, wear over-the-calf socks to avoid showing your legs when you cross them.

■ Wear darker clothing for more serious selling or business situations. The more serious the situation, the more serious the color of the suit. Remember, lighter colors, although friendlier and not intimidating, must be reserved for less serious sales calls or business meetings.■ Make sure all your accessories, such as watches and jewelry, are simple and tasteful. Gaudy, flashy accessories give you the untrustworthy and shifty air of the proverbial “honest John” used-car salesman.