04 February 2009

Look the part or go home

I used to be a commercial diver and one day I got decompression sickness, a malady that can hit divers for various reasons. My particular case was quite bad and as a result I couldn’t dive any more. At the time I was working for a very large Japanese shipping company. I was devastated by the fact that my diving career was over. My immediate manager was really committed to ensuring that I retrained and learnt knew skills that would give me a career outside of diving.

I was offered a job in sales and marketing for the company. Whilst I didn’t really want to pursue this option I did, mainly because I wasn’t sure what else to do. Through a twist of fate, I ended up at a big trade show in Sydney, where travel wholesalers came from around the world to buy various Australian based tour products. I was selling Great Barrier Reef Cruises.

Now at the time, I had literally come from working on boats, being longhaired, scruffy and relatively unkempt (as was the norm when spending weeks at sea). I was determined not to change because I didn’t want to become “just another suit”. I made the mental decision that people would have to accept me for who I am.

I turned up for the first day of the trade show in a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and generally looking like I had just fallen out of bed. I went about setting up my booth and sat behind the desk, waiting for people to come and start buying from me. Streams of professional “suits” walked by, most took one look at me and kept walking, noticeably faster I might add.

Well I sat there for the entire day and I sold nothing. Not a single cruise. I became distraught and confronted by what I thought was the truth – that I wasn’t cut out for this job. Then I had an epiphany. If I wanted to sell to these people I had to look the part. What signal was I sending them dressed as I was and being all scruffy in some in my insecure attempt to retain my “individuality?”

Not a good one. This led me to what I call my “Pretty Woman” experience (named after the movie of the same name). The minute the show closed I raced down to the biggest department store that I could find where I searched until I found a friendly looking old man who was dressed impeccably and I told him my story. Most importantly I told him I wanted to become a really successful sales professional and that was all he needed. Next came a flurry of activity that had me trying on suits, having my hair cut, new shoes, a tailor was called in to make adjustments on the spot, a manicure, a new briefcase was purchased and a host of ties and shirts added to the list. It cost me thousands but I surrendered to the experience and I put my life in this hands of this old man.

The transformation was mind blowing, particularly for me. From the minute I arrived at the trade show the following day I started selling and people were receptive. I felt fantastic, I was confident, I was funny, and I looked like a million bucks. I sold about $6 million worth of cruises that day.

I often reflect on this experience. I had made monumental changes to my attitude and my appearance. Both were equally important. Since then, I have been a big advocate of the importance of looking the part in whatever role you are in. Be proud of your appearance, dress accordingly for the market you are selling to (for example don’t wear a suit if you are selling to farmers) and invest in your appearance.

Every day I give thanks for getting decompression sickness because it started the process that has led to me becoming who I am today. This realisation is a topic for another discussion………

One thought on “Look the part or go home”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Andrew – very apt and motivating as well.

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