What’s the rate of return for investing in your personal business image?

Is there evidence that corporate bottom lines correlate with polished business manners? Does the manner in which an individual presents oneself, both in dress and behaviour, contribute to increased profitability? I’ve built a career on the belief that the answer to these questions is and emphatic “Yes!” However, I thought it would be interesting to pass along insights from several successful financial advisors as well as business owner clients of ours.

In speaking with these people, our interest was in learning how they conduct themselves in business encounters as well as to examine three main propositions:

a) that professionals must always have a polished image;
b) that this image can be used to serve all clients with equal success; and
c) that dress, dining, and social skills can really make a difference.

Hardly a Surprise: Appearances Seem to Matter
One advisor I spoke with, the owner of a mid-sized financial consulting firm, strongly believes that image impacts upon client retention. “I never fail to wear a tie,” he says, believing that his clients and prospects expect a conservative approach and meticulous dress because of how they associate those traits with the investment advice he provides.

Another advisor, who serves physicians exclusively, said that an important piece of the puzzle is to know your audience and act accordingly. At his office headquarters in the city, he is always sure to wear a shirt and tie. He is more formal in his demeanor and avoids backslapping. He has come to believe that this is the image that is expected by both peers and clients when he is working in town. Conversely, when he is away from his office and visiting clients in smaller centres where the environment is casual and clients lead a more relaxed lifestyle, he quickly adapts by loosening up his tie and adopts a more laid back approach.

“In sales, people buy people,” says the VP for an IT company. “You have to act the part and dress well.” He hires people all the time. “In five minutes, I know if I’m interested,” he says. “It’s all about how they present themselves.”

A VP of training/consulting in the area of human resources agrees that image is key when it comes to hiring. “The client’s only knowledge of our company,” she says, “is what my rep is able to present to them.” She adds that people buy from people they like because, when all is said and done, services and products are pretty much the same.

Being aware of client expectations can have cultural implications as well. Some financial institutions have opened branches that cater not only to language preferences of a local demographic but are considerate of social conventions as well. Knowing the sensitivities of food preferences, dining manners and social customs is all part of knowing one’s target market and governing oneself accordingly.

For example, I recently spoke with two financial planners working at a branch office of a large corporation. This office deals almost exclusively with Asian clients. When I asked these advisors if they felt that their ethnicity enhanced their ability to serve clients of a similar Asian background, they replied in the affirmative, adding that not only was their ethnicity an asset but so was the attention they paid to nuances within that demographic. Indeed, when these advisors where were asked how they would feel handing an Asian client to an equally competent Caucasian colleague, they admitted being disturbed and uncomfortable at the prospect, so strongly did they view the issue of cultural sensitivity.

Table Talk
Having successfully survived the first impression 30-second aphorism – the one that reinforces the importance of a firm handshake, warm smile, good eye contact and meticulous grooming – all can be lost through subsequent social mistakes. The dinner table can be a huge testing ground.

“I can’t remember losing a client over an etiquette lapse,” the owner of the mid-sized financial planning firm stated, but he agrees, nevertheless, that taking a client to an upscale restaurant without knowing proper dining etiquette can be a deal breaker. He adds that he can’t talk and think clearly if he’s preoccupied about which glass is his.

He’s not alone. Many are terrified to find 3 forks or 4 glasses in front of them during a meal when a major sale or important business meeting is being completed. In my many conversations with clients, it is the lack of confidence that comes from a lack of knowledge that is most unnerving.

A senior researcher for a major consulting firm serving large corporations and foreign governments told me about one encounter. “The soft sell was the thing. Two nights of formal dining and conversation. They were comfortable, but I was terrified. You just can’t do it if you feel out of place or awkwardness in dress and dining kills confidence,” he concluded.

Working a room, making a presentation, greeting a client, discussing business over a meal – these are each a component of the personal image you cultivate. The simple truth is that the social traditions that have evolved over centuries demand a respect that would be folly to ignore. Your objective is to know your clients as best you can and to behave appropriately in dress, business manner and dining skills at all times.

Table Sense - Did you know that..?
• If you must excuse yourself from the table, your napkin should be left on the chair.
• Dropped silverware should be left on the floor.
• Bread is first broken into bite-sized pieces before is buttered.
• You pass the salt and pepper shakers by placing them on the table in front of the person, not passing them from hand to hand.
• You should pace yourself when eating so that you won't be the first one to finish eating or the last one who has everyone waiting for you to finish!

Author's Bio: 

Diane Craig is a leading image and etiquette expert.
Find out about our Teleseminar The Look of Success http://www.corporateclassinc.com
President – Corporate Class Inc.
First Women of Inspiration Award by Canadian Living Magazine
Analysis of public figures on ET - The National - Canada AM – Globe and Mail