Our society is obsessed with physical appearance. We’ve grown accustomed to evaluating others on the basis of attractiveness. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly judged on this basis. The more attractive we are, the more likely we are to receive more favorable job performance evaluations than our co-workers. According to Daniel Hamermesh, economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin and author of the novel, “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful,” attractive individuals generate approximately 3-4% higher lifetime income values than their peers with sub-par physical attractiveness. What’s more, the earning gap appears to widen as overall levels of attractiveness increase; a 1991 study of MBA graduates found that for every additional unit of attractiveness (on a five-point scale), women and men earned approximately $2,150 and $2,600 more annually, respectively, than their less attractive counterparts.
Is there any method to the madness? Apparently, there is.
In 2015, Lawrence Garber and Earl Honeycutt of Elon University, along with Michael Dotson of Appalachian State University, spearheaded a groundbreaking survey involving 165 respondents who evaluated female and male realtor photos based on attributes typically associated with sales reps. The researchers found three physical traits that influenced sales reps’ performance in terms of closing deals. The results imply that, to reach their full selling potential, reps might do well to adhere to a specific pampering regime to “look the part.” This regime entails consideration of the following:
Garber and colleagues found that the length of one’s hair influences his/her aptitude for closing deals. For female sales reps, short of medium length hair (no longer than shoulder length) is ideal. The rationale? This more natural appearance conveys a sense of enthusiasm and optimism. In contrast, longer hair and, even more so, hair that has been subject to a lot of styling, evokes connotations of strength, which is not actually perceived highly by prospects.
This news may not be all that well received by females. Ironically, in the dating world, 43% of men prefer long, wavy hair among potential female mates. When making their next trip to the beauty salon, female sales reps may need to prioritize either their dating prowess or their professional prowess.
For male sales reps, medium hair length is ideal as it conveys a sense of trustworthiness and honesty. In contrast, when donned by males, shorter hair conveys strength and creativity, both traits that are perceived less favorably by prospects.
2. Attire color
In terms of attire, the researchers also found that natural colors tended to be perceived more favorably among prospects compared to stronger, bolder colors. Natural, casually looking colors convey a sense of enthusiasm and optimism and creativity, whereas bolder colors (such as black and white) convey a sense of strength, a trait that tends not to be perceived as favorably among potential buyers.
When it comes to natural colors, women may opt to prioritize blue colors as blue is typically associated with trustworthiness and dependability, both of which are deemed admirable sales traits. Red should be avoided as it tends to activate the pituitary gland, increase heart rates, and ultimately lead the prospect to view the rep as more aggressive and damage rapport.
For male sales reps, the researchers found that, like females, conventional colors and patterns are perceived more favorably as these convey a sense of trustworthiness. Simplicity is key; dress suits, bowties, and other less conventional accessories should be reserved for outside-of-business hours as they convey a sense of creativity and strength, both of which aren’t typically perceived optimally in sales conversations.
Finally, the researchers found that age also moves the needle in terms of advancing sales conversations. In particular, for female sales reps, a youthful appearance is preferred as it conveys a sense of enthusiasm and optimism, both of which are favored by prospects of both genders. Male sales reps, on the other hand, can afford to appear older looking. An older appearance tends to convey a greater sense of trustworthiness, which, according to the researchers, is a trait that is more important for male sales reps to possess, compared to their female counterparts. Not surprisingly, female prospects tend to favor male sales reps who are slightly younger than those preferred by male prospects.
Physical appearances undoubtedly play a major factor in sales conversations. In addition to being judged themselves, sales reps should also use physical appearances to their advantage. For sales reps, these appearance cues should be less tied to hair, attire, and age, and more related to facial and other bodily expressions (commonly referred to as micro-expressions).
The most effective sales reps are masters at reading body language. They’re on the lookout for raised eyebrows, wrinkled noses, and creases between eyebrows, all of which tend to indicate confusion. They’re also on the watch for dropped shoulders, downward-facing eyeballs, and frowning, as these tend to indicate low buying aptitude. They’re apt to identify, and immediately latch on to, exposed upper teeth, open smiles, and upwards-turned mouth, as these tend to indicate increased buying intent.
While it might be frustrating to learn that one’s appearance has a bearing on one’s aptitude as a seller, the good news is that, with the exception of age, we have 100% autonomy over our hair and attire choices. In contrast to bone structure or face symmetry, we can cut our hair and select our attire such that we prime ourselves to close more deals. Even in the context of age, we do have some influence over the overall perception of our age.
The average woman spends a staggering $50,000 on her hair over the course of her lifetime. The results highlighted above imply that this investment can lead to valuable ROI when the tactics described are followed. Sales managers can also play a role and may want to advise their sales teams on how to style their hair, dress, and look younger.