Do Looks Matter in Sales? - 11th March 2020

Are attractive people more likely to be successful in sales? We all know the politically correct answer is ‘No’ but what does the evidence show?

I’ve thought about this point many times before and have even included modules on it within training sessions I’ve run over the years. It came back to the forefront of my mind when, after looking at the photos of all our podcast guests, I received an email request for a meeting from yet another salesperson at LinkedIn.

Whilst I’m not suggesting that all our podcast guests look like Hollywood superstars, I’d say they’re all nice-looking people. This isn’t just pure bone structure (well, not all cases) but a friendly face, nice smile and warm gestures with positive body language. I then received that LinkedIn message and, just like every previous salesperson from LinkedIn, the person’s profile contained a photo of a very attractive lady who could have been a Hollywood superstar, I suspect!

That is not coincidence – it’s a plan.

Now, of course, I’m not suggesting for one moment that just being attractive makes you successful in sales or in life. In sales, the service or product you sell needs to match the needs identified; the way in which you sell it should illustrate to the customer that the solution offered will help them achieve what they want; and the value represented needs to be reflected in the price. I’m not disputing any of those points; I’m just questioning whether a good salesperson who’s attractive will beat a good salesperson who’s not, all other things being equal. I suspect the answer is yes, however shallow that may seem.

You see, the essence of this argument about looks is captured in 2 names, I think: Mark McCormack and Robert Cialdini.

Mark McCormack was the CEO of International Management Group (IMG), one of the world’s biggest celebrity management companies before any of us really knew what celebrity management was (they started with golfers and moved onto tennis, fashion and film stars). Talking of how to do business well, McCormack said:

“All things being equal, people will do business with those they like; all things being unequal, people will still do business with those they like.”

Whilst his words were based on anecdotal experience, they were the words of a man who enjoyed huge success in his field of expertise. I suspect his words are true because, as I think we’d all agree, we buy from those we trust and we are more likely to trust someone we like. It’s very rare we trust someone we don’t like. All other caveats apply re service vs need etc but we’ll still buy from those we like and trust whenever possible.

Moving on from anecdote to evidence takes us back to our second name: Dr Robert Cialdini. Cialdini is a psychologist and his international bestseller – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – is the best book written on persuasion in the last 20 years. Most books written since then on the same subject are largely based on Cialdini’s theories around the 6 Weapons of Influence. These are 6 methods of communication that we humans have developed over centuries to persuade those around us. One of those 6 weapons is likeability – a quality broken down by social scientists into 5 factors:

  1. Regular contact and cooperation – we like those with whom we have regular contact and with whom we co-operate
  2. Association – we like those we associate with positive things (a great holiday, a fun day out)
  3. Similarity – we like people who are similar to us (upbringing, philosophy, interests)
  4. Compliments – we like people who pay us compliments (even if the compliments are untrue!)
  5. And, of course….. Attractiveness – we like those people we find attractive

As you’d expect from a psychologist, Cialdini gives plenty of evidence (from his own research and from other respected people in his field) to back this up: US politicians who’ve been more successful due to looks; senior executives who’ve won jobs when they were not the best candidate (other than in their looks). If you’re interested in this idea – or you simply don’t believe it – I highly recommend you buy Cialdini’s book and read about it yourself. It amazed me when I read it several years ago.

If we accept that good looks help, what can you do with this information? Well, maybe not very much. I didn’t say I’d have an overarching point! I’m just asking the question of whether you agree that good looks help in sales. However, I believe we can all help ourselves, not by changing our bone structure, but ensuring we look the best we can: that people see us and experience a warm, friendly, approachable face not a cold, intimidating and untrustworthy one. This helps people warm to us, whether that’s in a sales meeting, a job interview or a social interaction away from work.

Bearing this point about looks in mind, I fancy some people on LinkedIn should revisit their profile photos and change them from an attempt to be a moody fashion model to an honest, open smile to which we’re all more likely to warm. I reckon there are some salespeople at LinkedIn who can show you how it’s done!