Expensive Taste: Sales Slacker or Sales Superstar?

Devon-McDonald by

Close your eyes and picture a salesperson. They’re wearing an obscenely expensive suit, a Rolex, and — as they go to shake your hand — stuff their BMW key fob into their designer purse or bag.

Now, make a snap judgment: does that person’s expensive taste signal that they’re a sales slacker or a sales superstar to you?

Last year, I had two conversations with two different sales executives that yielded conflicting opinions. One VP of Sales told me that during an interview with a sales candidate, he always looks at what that person is wearing and carrying. If they’re adorned in Prada and fine Italian leather, this executive believes it’s a good sign. The candidate is probably money hungry and will do whatever it takes to maintain their lavish lifestyle.

A conversation with a sales manager from a different company, however, provided an altogether opposite perspective. He recalled one of his new sales hires walking in to the office on her first day with an oversized Louis Vuitton shoulder bag. It was an expensive purchase, so that must mean she was a sales superstar, right? Not according to this manager. He thought it was a poor choice on her part, indicating that she was spoiled, rich, and didn’t need to work hard because she obviously came from money.

Talk about coming from two very opposite ends of the spectrum.

As a former recruiter, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t take a person’s appearance and overall presentation into consideration when I met them. After all, if that candidate was interviewing for a client facing role, they should be nicely groomed, presentable, and well-put together. But those are all things that I would observe and recognize. I never thought that their designer labels somehow related directly to — and were indications of — their ability to succeed.

Truthfully, that expensive taste is only relevant if the salesperson can back it up with smarts, skill, and desire. In fact, author and Entrepreneur.com contributor Barry Farber argues that truly great salespeople excel at doing a few fundamental things (hint: none of them involve the ability to pick out an expensive handbag). According to Farber, they include:

  • Building relationships: The best in the business aren’t simply smooth talkers that hog the spotlight. They are excellent listeners that can uncover their customers’ pain points. Some great salespeople are high energy and very bubbly. Others are more subdued. But they all share the same quality: an ability to connect and build trust with prospects and customers. The key is to be comfortable in your own skin. Customers will like you for who you are, not for who you’re trying to be.
  • Dealing with objections, obstacles, and change: A Louis Vuitton bag can’t convince your customer that they need your product. Great salespeople view objections or obstacles as another challenge to think critically and develop a solution. There’s no trick to the trade. The best salespeople are tenacious and unbothered by change, viewing it as an opportunity rather than a headache.
  • Maintaining an outstanding attitude: This is where a lot of sales and hiring managers trip up. Expensive taste and personal style can be confused for having the right (or wrong) attitude. Neither is true. Having a great attitude means maintaining an appropriate level of confidence at all times, refusing to let objections stop them, and continuing to pursue when most salespeople have given up.

It’s really that simple. On sales teams everywhere, you will face wealthy and poorer workers that possess all of the traits listed above. On the flip side, you’ll also find rich and less well-off salespeople that are lazy, fake, and ineffective. Regardless of their style, the latter group of individuals probably won’t add a lot of value to your expansion stage business’ growth.

Need more proof? Inc. Magazine surveyed executives from a variety of industries, asking them: What makes a great salesperson? The answers were pretty consistent. Some said knowledge and passion for the product, others said the ability to listen to the customers’ needs and deliver what they promise. None, as you’ll notice, mentioned physical or material qualities.

Everyone is driven by something, whether it’s money, prestige, pressure, or a natural sense of competition. In some cases, perhaps all of the above will apply. But one thing is certain. It’s never a safe bet to assume a salesperson will or won’t be successful based on the designer labels they’re wearing.