When we look around us, the dirty word of prejudice is everywhere. The problem is that it is even more rampant than most of us believe it is. It is simple to see the obvious list of what most of us view as prejudicial behaviors: race, creed, gender, etc. Add to that dislikes against those who are disabled and the new term of ageism where we don’t like people due to their specific age.

And, we all have prejudices that are much more subtle. We don’t like a person for their speech, their mannerisms, their name, and many more. We make instant decisions on whether we like someone or not. At one time the common wisdom said you made a decision in the first minute. Then it was shortened to “you have an opportunity to make a great impression in 30 seconds”. Now with today’s instantaneous attitude, I recently heard 7 seconds or less.

Wow. Have we become so judgmental that if you don’t impress me in 7 seconds you are done? I hate to say it but yes. I see it with watching TV in a group. Whoever has control of the channel changer is clicking so fast to find something, that you miss out on some really good stuff because the show doesn’t instantly impress us.

Unfortunately, that is also happening in sales. You have to make a positive impression immediately. I get the “how do I do that?” question all the time from sales professionals looking for the magic bullet of what to say or do to impress their potential prospect.

We cannot overcome the obvious prejudices that people may have based on the more obvious things. You cannot change certain things like race, age, etc. They are what they are and if someone is going to close the door to you due to anything like that, then do you really want them as a client?

However, the more subtle prejudices can be overcome by not being so overt about them. I am not sure we can impress a prospective client but we can avoid “un-impressing” them.

• Dress appropriately at all times. Professional is better than not. What you wear to the clubs isn’t always the best way to success.
• Avoid language that is too casual. Don’t swear. Be grammatically appropriate.

• Don’t be too flashy or too much the other way. Unless you’re selling to the affluent, pulling up in a Maserati and wearing a Rolex is maybe not a good idea. By the same token, driving up in a “family heirloom junker” is the same.
• Hide your tattoos in the sales workplace. Your mother may like them but that client may not.
• Make sure your hair style and/or facial hair is well kept. Looking like you just got out of bed doesn’t tell the client you are ready to help them whenever they need you.
• Be prepared. Always have business cards on you. Have a pen and something to write on.
• Turn your cell phone off (or at least the ringer). And especially if you have custom ringtones. Having the Darth Vader entrance theme go off may not give the best first impression when you first walk into a client’s boardroom.

In other words, people are going to find enough reasons not to like you. Don’t add fuel to the fire by appearing less than capable to those you are selling to. This is not a matter of “it’s my right and choice to be how I want to be”. It is a matter of do you want success. Enough doors will be closed to you. Don’t seal them yourself.

Bill Leesman / Director / PEO Canada