Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Power of The Suit

I used to be one of those guys who really didn't care how he dressed.  I would push the absolute limits of any company I worked for's dress code.  I resented being told what to wear.  Then I went to work for a large management consulting firm.  Their dress code was very specific.  I had  to wear a shirt and tie every day, including Friday.  I had to wear a suit to any meeting with a client.  It was then that I learned the power of the suit.

We at the Firm, would go to a client meeting, many times with other competing firms in attendance.  The other firms would typically be wearing the same thing as the client.  Knit Polo shirts and khaki pants.  Many times the other firm would wear matching shirts.  We would be in our suits.
We would present our ideas, they would present theirs.  Sometimes our ideas were better, sometimes their ideas were better.  Almost every time, regardless if we had the better idea or not, or if the client had a long term relationship with one of the other firms, the client sided with us.

This really interested me, especially after we won some business off of a proposal that was so obviously inferior to the other firm's proposal that I almost told the client that they were making a big mistake.  So I asked an executive that I had been working with what he thought was up.  He told me something quite profound.  He told me that no matter what ideas the other firms bring to the table, we would carry more credibility than they would simply because we LOOKED like we should be listened to.

He said that when we walk in to the room, we look like the more successful, and therefore better firm, because of the way we are dressed.  He said that the other firms look like the check out guys at Best Buy.  We look like serious business professionals.   Therefore when we presented our ideas, even if they were substandard ideas, our proposals carry more weight.

But, I objected, don't business people make decisions, with potentially millions of dollars at stake, using reason and facts and figures?
That's bullshit, he said.  People make decisions with their hearts, then use reason to back up their decision.  Getting them to make that decision in your favor means going out of your way to look like someone that they can trust, then talking to them in the way that they like.  Why do you think I had you do this proposal over Kick Ass Sales Guy?
I thought that you needed a tech guy to answer any tech questions.
Were there any tech details discussed or even mentioned that we needed you to explain?
Then why take you over Kick Ass Sales Guy? The other firms had their kick ass sales team there, why not us?
I guess I don't really know.
Because that client hates sales guys almost as much as you do.  In fact I have heard him use the term "Sales Weasel" before, just like you.  That client likes tech guys.  He likes guys that get to the point, and are all about providing a solution.  If I would have brought Kick Ass Sales Guy, or if you would have shown up not in a suit, we likely would have lost that business.
That absolutely shocked me.  Not because of his rather cynical take on human nature, but the fact that he was absolutely right.

I have taken this advice and moved it forward.
I always wear a suit on the first day of a new job.  I always wear a suit to any type of presentation.  I make sure that my suits are property tailored to fit me.  I make sure that my tie is of yellow or red, and that the knot is perfect for the occasion.   I take care to make sure that the tie has a proper and natural looking dimple, or no dimple at all.  My shirts are pressed, and of high quality.  All of this is to cultivate an image of someone you can trust.  Someone who "looks" confident.  Someone you can rely on.  This is all from the power of the suit.
And it works.

Think about it for a moment.  Picture two people exactly the same in every way.  Experience, ability, everything.  Put one in a poorly fitted wrinkled shirt and a tie that is poorly knotted.  His pants are of low quality and they are wrinkled and ill fitting.  His shoes are a cheap slip on that are badly scuffed.  He looks like he perhaps slept in the clothes.

The other one put in to a perfectly fitting, high quality suit.  His shirt is high quality and pressed.  His tie is tasteful, red and navy striped and is tied with a Windsor knot.  The dimple is centered and symmetrical with the knot.  His shoes are of good quality and shined.  He looks like a million bucks.

Both of these guys are up for a job that will pay six figures a year and potentially make the company millions in return.  Who do you hire?  The guy in the nice suit, every time.  In fact I have seen this very scenario play out when I was doing hiring for the firm.  The ones dressed correctly, always got preferential treatment.

I no longer look at my dress to the office as something that is simply required of me.  I take pains to make sure that I now dress just a little bit better than anyone in the office.  I take a little flack from the other IT guys, but when it comes time to present ideas and have decisions made, my ideas are adopted, more often than not.  It isn't because my ideas are better.  It is because my dress amplifies my confidence, and amplifies my credibility.  Therefore, my ideas speak louder than the others.

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