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While interactions via computers have increased dramatically, initial contacts with prospects usually still require face-to-face meetings. Successful advisors are aware of the importance of first impressions. Without a good first impression, advisors risk failing before they even discuss the merit of their services.
How long do you think it takes others to form an impression of you?
How about a tenth of a second? That’s the conclusion of a study by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, published in Psychological Science. Undergraduate students from Princeton University were shown pictures of male and female actors and were asked to give an opinion about various traits. Exposure time as short as one-tenth of a second was enough for the participants to form an opinion.
This wouldn’t be startling if the only trait being evaluated was attractiveness. It wasn’t. The participants also formed views about trustworthiness, likeability and competence.
One of the easiest ways to improve the first impression you make is to dress appropriately and well.
Do I prefer wine or beer?
I gave a lecture years ago to 200 trial lawyers in New York City. It was an intelligent – if somewhat jaded – audience. Naturally, the lawyers were concerned about the impression they made on juries.
After I introduced myself, I said, “Before I start, I want to ask you some questions about myself.” I called for a show of hands: “Do I vacation at an expensive resort in the South of France? Or do I prefer more basic accommodations like Club Med? Do I prefer wine? Or beer? Am I affectionate with my children? Or distant and aloof?”
Almost everyone in the audience had an opinion. The majority of the attendees thought I preferred the expensive resort and wine and that I was aloof with my children. They were wrong, but that’s beside the point. Just by looking at me at the podium and hearing me introduce myself, they had formed definite impressions. We all do this all the time.
Attractive people have an edge
There are many factors that affect first impressions. Unfortunately, some of them are not totally within our control. For example, if you are a man or woman fortunate enough to be viewed as attractive, you have an edge. According to an article in The New York Times, attractive people earn more, marry higher-earning spouses and even get better mortgage terms!
A comprehensive study looked at whether salespeople making presentations to physicians were more successful if they were attractive. The authors found that perceived physical attractiveness had a meaningful, positive impact on sales. The effect became smaller as the salespeople developed longer-term relationships with clients. The study also found that attractive people were perceived to be better communicators, more likeable, greater in expertise and more trustworthy than their less-attractive colleagues.
There is evidence that attractive people are perceived to be more competent and intelligent than less attractive people. This power of attractiveness is so compelling that people also believed more beautiful people are even better at tasks like piloting planes!
What can we do about it?
The good news is, we can maximize the likelihood of being perceived as attractive, intelligent and trustworthy. While there are a number of factors that influence the perception of attractiveness, one stands out. Fortunately, it’s the easiest one to control: the clothes we wear.
According to one study, women wearing skirt suits were perceived to be more confident than women wearing pant suits. Men were rated more positively on traits relating to confidence, success, trustworthiness and flexibility if they wore custom suits rather than off-the-rack models. The authors of the study concluded: “People are judged on their overall head-to-toe appearance. The fundamental role that dress style plays in creating a positive first impression cannot be underestimated.”
Another study looked at the impact of an applicant’s attire during a job interview. Participants were asked to read a description of a fictitious job applicant, including qualifications and clothing. The attire of the “applicant” was described as either business casual, off-the-rack suit or custom suit. Casual attire caused participants to rate the applicant as being less competent. Participants were more likely to say they would offer upper-level management positions to applicants dressed in more formal attire.
I'm not suggesting that advisors run out and order expensive, custom-made suits. However, I am often amazed at the obvious lack of attention that male advisors pay to what they are wearing when making a presentation to a new prospect or even speaking before a large group. It’s not that difficult to dress in a way that will enhance the possibility of making a positive first impression. You would certainly meet the minimal standard by wearing well-made, well-fitting, dark suits with white or blue shirts and ties along with well-shined, dark dress shoes.
If you are male and clueless (like I am), I suggest you make an appointment with a personal shopper at any of the major department stores and tell them you are interested in high-end business attire from head-to-toe.
Not all women are experts in appropriate business attire, either. If you feel insecure about your ability to make correct choices, using a personal shopper at a high-end store would work for you as well.
For both men and women, I recommend buying the finest and most appropriate clothes you can afford. As investment advisors, you appreciate the value of a sound investment. The research indicates that investing in business attire will have a disproportionately high return.
Dan Solin is the director of investor advocacy for the BAM Alliance and a wealth advisor with Buckingham. He is a New York Times best-selling author of the Smartest series of books. His latest book, The Smartest Sales Book You'll Ever Read, has just been published. He consults with corporations and advisory firms on ways to improve their sales.
Read more articles by Dan Solin