Think of your typical tradespeople. It’s highly likely that he/she’ll drive a white van of some sort. Yes, it’s a practical vehicle, but being white, their logo and contact details will be prominent, and when parked in your street, you know instantly that they’re working in one of your neighbours’ houses. Sort of an advertisement without being an advertisement.
Sales reps typically drive Audis or BMWs. The reason is likely two-fold; these cars are speedy and great for motorway driving, and sales reps often cover a lot of miles as they go from appointment to appointment. Secondly, these cars also portray success, as they’re not cheap to buy, which can suggest to potential customers that the sales rep in question earns a lot in commission – they could surmise that this is because the company’s products are as good as the rep says they are, and he gets plenty of repeat customers as well as new sales as a result.
What would you think if you’d arranged a meeting with someone and they turned up in an old, battered Fiesta? Would it influence your impression of them?
The thing is, even if you think it wouldn’t, we can’t help but make judgements about people. The first rule in business is about making a good first impression, and surely the car you drive to meetings should count in this. However, such assumptions are not always correct - many rich people, particularly those who have made their money from scratch, don’t always care about projecting a certain image. They don’t need to. They have more than enough money to buy any car they want. So, whilst some will take this as an opportunity to have the newest, biggest, flashiest car around, others will simply choose what they like the look of, which is the most comfortable, or they may opt for a certain make and model of car because it evokes memories of one they previously owned.
Not many of us in business have the luxury of not caring what other people think about us and our company. The majority of us try to project a certain image, i.e. the very best version of ourselves and the business we run. We don’t want to appear broke, inept or a failure, which is why a number of businesspeople choose to lease an attractive, new car, to give the opposite impression.
It may be shallow to assume something of a car’s driver, but it’s human nature. If someone is likely to have a negative view of you before you even speak to them, because they’ve judged you on the car you’ve rocked up in, it will surely be harder work to then get them onside once you’re pitching. If they’re instantly wowed because you’ve pulled up in a brand-new Beamer, for example, the ensuing meeting may go much more smoothly.
Should we, therefore, make our lives easier and skin ourselves for a ‘nice’ car when we’re in business? Or is it just a case of keeping up with the Joneses in Entrepreneurland? Is the extra money worth it, or is it a waste when an average-looking car can still look smart and also get you from A to B in the same length of time?
Positioning yourself within your industry and against your competitors is necessary. Spending money you simply don’t have is not. For most people, as long as your car looks smart enough, it doesn’t matter too much what make and model it is. If you’re conscious that you’ll be judged on its age, even if it still has a decent exterior, consider getting a private number-plate. Creating an image often involves smoke and mirrors.
I don’t know if there’s a moral here. Would you want the kind of client who would work with you solely because you drive a Mercedes? Or would you rather have the kind that wouldn’t care if you came to meetings in a jalopy, as long as you deliver the work you say you will?
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