Ask people to describe the typical car salesman, and chances are they’ll tell you he wears the latest designer suit whether that means a Ralph Lauren or Brooks Brothers. They’ll tell you he wears Italian loafers and a white-on-white dress shirt. In other words, they’ll tell you that the typical car salesman is wearing maybe $1,000 on his back and on his feet. And that is the way they think of it—expensive. Then they start to think, “This guy is going to make too much money off of me”.
I make a lot of money, and I have for years. And I like good clothes, and I wear them whenever I can. But one place I do not wear my best clothes is to work. Don’t get me wrong. I dress neat and clean. Nothing cheap. But I don’t look like I need to hustle you to pay my tailor. I believe a salesman should look as much as possible like the people to whom he sells. I sold Chevrolets, not Mercedes. Millions of people buy Chevrolets every year, and in my area they are mostly working people. They work in the factories and offices and work hard for their money. They are not generally your richest people in the top brackets. So if they walk in and are met by a guy with clothes that look expensive, they get even more scared than they were before.
We are not talking about poor people. A poor man doesn’t buy a new car. But a lot of them have to borrow most of the money from the bank, finance company, or their credit union. They are good credit risks, but they are not high rollers. And that’s how I want them to see me. That’s how I want to look to them, like a guy who is in their bracket and who understands their economics. When they see me for the first time, they relax a little. I never wear clothes that will antagonize my customers and make them feel uneasy.
When a customer comes into my office, he finds a neat businesslike place that doesn’t rub him the wrong way. I know some guys who decorate their offices with religious pictures and all other stuff that people consider controversial. If your aunt brought you a blessed picture of the Pope from Rome, that’s a real keepsake. But hang it at home. I put up sales awards and certificates so people will know they are dealing with a top salesman. After all, they think, if this fellow sells so many cars, he must be giving good deals. And that’s what I want them to think because it’s true.
The way I look at it, I am an actor playing a part. I want the stage to be just right for the show I am going to put on, and I want my costume to be exactly right too. What I said about how I dress applies to my kind of customers. I am not saying that you should dress that way if your neighborhood, your customers, and the practices and rules in your area are different. A top salesman is a first rate actor. He plays the part and convinces his audience—the customer—that he is what he is playing. If your customers are flashy dressers, then you ought to look like them.
I know my customers and I know what they expect. The thing that matters most is that you know your customers, if not by name at least by style and type. Then you too will be able to disarm them and win the war. If those first moments of contact with you help them to relax a little, to overcome their fear, and they begin to feel obligated to you for taking up your time, you have already started to win. Get them from the start and they’ll stay with you!