I was talking socially yesterday with someone who was a sales prospect in around 1992/93. (I hope he doesn’t mind me recounting the story.)

Over lunch I was told the story of a visit from one of my sales people in 1992/93 with this gentleman, seeking to interest him in our computer system. Our sales person turned up with the remnants of a hamburger on his shirt. This is what the story teller recounted yesterday, how the sales guy looked. He had one comment about the software but that was incidental. It was the burger on the shirt which was “the” story. It was the second time I heard this story from this person in the last six months.

Once I was over being annoyed that something small like food slops from thirteen years ago was worth recalling today, especially in front of other prospects, I realised how first impressions really matter and how some people will hang onto those and forever (almost) judge one’s business by those first impressions.

Sure, this chap should let go of the 13 year old memory and concentrate on what software from my company can do for his business compared to what his current software (chosen 13 years ago) does. But then he’d lose a good anecdote. It is timely that I am reminded about the importance of how we look – especially in this era of casual dress in business.

I am confident that I am not the only person this burger story has been recounted to (twice) and that in itself has a cost of my business. Running the business as if every contact today will be recounted in 13 years is a challenge. It means exceptional service every time. It means focusing as much on the look as substance. It means, too, finding a way to erase these thirteen year old memories so that we and our prospects can move on.

Starting today I’m banning burgers for sales people. In fact, all food during the work day. And drink. No point in taking the risk.

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