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Khali Henderson

Khali Henderson Blog: Too Sexy For Sales?

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Khali HendersonConventional wisdom says that being ridiculously good-looking (as Derek Zoolander would say) is a good thing, particularly if you are in sales. The idea is that prospects will be, at a minimum, more interested in listening to your pitch as they gaze on your handsomeness … provided they don’t get lost in the “twin pools of mystic light” that are your blue-violet eyes.

And therein lies the rub. Is it possible to be too sexy for sales?  Can you distract more than attract?

For one woman, the answer is yes, at least according to her employers, she says. Debrahlee Lorenzana claims in a lawsuit that she was fired from her sales-related job at Citigroup for being too sexy and distracting her male co-workers. The company denies this, saying her dismissal was related to performance. But on the surface, Lorenzana’s case against her employer is damning – she claims she’s had good reviews and been asked to wear clothing that’s more conservative than other women in the office wear.

My immediate reaction is she should not be punished for the weaknesses of her male co-workers — assuming her claims are correct, of course. But I was surprised at how many women had the opposite thought – that Debrahlee should play down her assets as much as possible. Some said they do this themselves.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from this, I found a blogger who is predicting that plastic surgery may become as commonplace as padding your resume to get a job. Penelope Trunk, Brazen Careerist, wrote in 2008: “So my prediction is that soon we will all capitulate to the undeniable evidence that we have more opportunity in life if we are better looking, and it's relatively easy to buy good looks. So we will.”

What’s more shocking about Trunk’s column is that she cites a number of scholarly studies that show good-looking people make more money and make more money for the companies they work for.

So, what are we left with? It’s necessary to be good looking, but a liability to be “hot?”

Maybe, but I think it boils down to respect. If we respect ourselves, we will attract respect. This is not a hard and fast rule, of course. When it’s broken, we need to rely on sound company policies to back us up.

I am reminded of a story told to me by Greg Praske, CEO of ARG Inc., an agency in McLean, Va. When a prospect made sexually aggressive comments to a female salesperson, rather than tell her to ignore it or turn the lead over to a male peer, ARG walked away from the opportunity. “It may cost you that opportunity, but it brings you back plenty in people being willing to work harder for doing it the right way,” Praske said.

I am particularly interested to hear from you about how this dynamic plays out in telecom sales where I would presume a majority of the buyers (IT managers) still are men. Does it matter if you are a good- looking man pitching to a man? If you are a female salesperson, does being attractive help? And, how much of telecom sales is actually face-to-face anymore? We are all Brads and Angies on the phone, after all.


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