Beard or No Beard: Does Facial Hair Affect Sales Success? [Video]
There’s still a significant number of sales managers that are very much against facial hair for salespeople. Even though your boss is no longer allowed to tell you, “Go home and shave”, as a salesperson or a sales manager, you need to pay attention to the importance of both perception and impression and how much that can impact the behaviour of both customers and prospective customers. Let’s get it out there: I’m actually really biased on this topic. You see, historically I was not a fan of facial hair for salespeople. Naturally, I went searching for articles and research to support my long-held belief that salespeople need to be clean-shaven, but my research has challenged my long-held beliefs around the need to be clean-shaven for two key reasons that are pretty hard to ignore.
First, when you review the research supporting the removal of all facial hair in more detail, the research is pretty questionable and the links to success in sales are very tenuous. Second, the qualities that are attributed to facial hair could arguably be positive for salespeople. Let’s see what the research is saying.
Arguments for facial hair in sales
Like any good ex-lawyer, I’ve always liked to look for the counter-argument. I went searching for research that supports the beard. In 2014, a study in the Journal of Marketing Communications found that when endorsing products, men with well-manicured beards were perceived to be more experienced and more trustworthy. Other research cited on Phd.org suggests that those with beards are perceived as more powerful, more respected, older and of a higher status. Arguably, all of these perceived qualities could be beneficial to a salesperson in many selling situations. Finally, a study conducted by the Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society in 2015, and reported in Huffington Post, indicated that men with beards are perceived to be more attractive, healthier and more masculine and are even perceived to have better parenting skills than their well-shaven competitors.
Now as hard as this is for an old-school salesman to admit, there is strong evidence that the beard is good for sales but before we throw away the shaver, let’s consider the arguments against facial hair in sales.
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Arguments against facial hair in sales
Let’s start with Reed and Blunk’s 1990 study, which considered the influence of facial hair on impression formation. Its key finding was that clean-shaven men were consistently perceived as more socially and physically attractive, had a better personality, being more competent and more likely to remain composed in difficult situations. Those are obviously really crucial qualities to project for those of us in sales. That finding was supported by more recent research in 2003 by De Souza, Baiao and Otta. That research suggested that people even preferred to be managed by a clean-shaven manager over a bearded manager. Now that finding seems a little bit sexist but that’s a topic for a different blog. However, both of these pieces of research related to hiring job applicants for sales jobs rather than buying from a salesperson.
Now another study in 2004 from researchers at Montclair State University in New Jersey, asked 371 people to sketch the face of a criminal offender. Eighty-two percent of the sketches contained some form of facial hair and in a world that’s becoming less and less trusting of anybody trying to sell something, the last thing you want to do is to promote the impression that you’re a criminal. In January 2013, the Journal of Behavioral Ecology, two researchers Barnaby Dixson of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and Paul Vasey of the University of West Virginia, Alberta, Canada, released a study on reactions to men’s beards. In their research, they found that men with beards were viewed as more threatening by both males and females and surely that’s not a quality that any salesperson would want to project.
Then there’s the Fortune 100 argument which notes that 98% of Fortune 100 leaders are clean-shaven and that correlation is a little too hard to ignore. But look you know, I’ve got a feeling this argument’s no longer as relevant because so much of the Fortune 100 is now owned by 30-year-old entrepreneurs with super cool facial hair and sneakers. That’s the evidence against having facial hair.
To Shave or Not to Shave?
Should you be growing a beard or should you be clean-shaven? I think the research is very clear on the answer and that is there is no clear answer to whether beards are good or bad for sales. For my part, I’m still a believer that all salespeople need to be consciously deliberate of the way they groom themselves and I’m also a believer that the way we prepare ourselves for work each morning is a really important mental primer for success. I personally find shaving as part of my morning ritual and a great reminder that I’m committed to turning up for a great day of selling. To be clear, there’s no science to prove that that extra five minutes spent on shaving is going to help me outsell my hipster competitors. I’ve got to admit the world’s a really different place to one that I started working and selling 30 years ago.
I would love to hear your thoughts about having a beard or no beard, so leave a comment below or reach out via my social channels. Make sure you also check out our free sales training videos on the ROI Sales Methodology here.