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Does Sex Really Sell? An Entrepreneur's Guide to Flirting With Success.

It's always worth the effort to put your best foot forward, so long as what you present is authentically you.

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Sex sells.

lambada | Getty Images

At least that's a phrase advertisers have been proclaiming for well over a century.

Going back to 1871, companies have used sex to sell their products. Pearl Tobacco featured a naked maiden on the package cover, while W. Duke & Sons placed sexually provocative trading cards of popular actresses in packages of Duke's Cigarettes in 1885. Since then, sex has been used to sell everything from cars, clothing, fast food, cell phones and household items like hair dye.

Does sex really sell?

Some argue that sex does, in fact, sell because we possess an "old brain." This means that we're really only concerned about survival, which in turn, means that we're focused on three things: food, danger and sex. So, whenever we're exposed to a sexual message, that "old brain" is activated and we respond to that message.

However, a study conducted by the American Psychological Association has found this long-believed notion that sex, as well as violence, sells isn't not necessarily true. Researchers discovered that memory was compromised when brands and ads sex embedded sex and violence in programs. Ads that contained sexual content were less favorable than neutral advertisements. And, the buying intentions of customers decreased when sex and violence were included in ads.

Related: The CEO of Carl's Jr. Doesn't Care If You're Offended by the Chain's Sexy Ads

To be fair, I can see the arguments for both. On the one hand, there's a reason why publications like Maxim are popular among men. At the same time, well educated customers know when they're being manipulated. A scantily-clad spokesperson for an accounting company wouldn't make sense, would it?

In other words, there's a fine line here when it comes to sex. While sexual imagery may appeal to a portion of your audience, it ultimately has to connect with the products and services that you're selling. If not, you can expect to alienate a significant portion of your audience and risk well-deserved backlash when crossing the line of being inappropriate.

Successful entrepreneurs use sex to sell their business.

When I talk about using sex to sell, I'm not talking about those scantily-clad models taking photos with your product or pushing your products. I'm talking about adapting flirting techniques you might try when meeting someone of the opposite sex for the first time so that you're attractive to customers, employees and prospective investors.

People want to feel special: This is just something that we all enjoy. Whether if it's a genuine compliment, a gift out-of-the-blue or remembering a small detail like the shoes someone wore last week, making others feel special is simple, effective and rewarding.

For entrepreneur's this means showing gratitude to their team and customers by sending them thank you notes, birthday cards, freebies and discounts. It's taking your co-founder out to dinner because it's the least you could do for all of their hard work and sacrifices. It's asking your customers what you can do to make their lives better. It's responding to a complaint, negative reviews, or inquiry promptly and owning up to your mistakes.

Less talking, more listening: The days of yelling at customers are over. Instead, you have to hear to what customers really want. It's your responsibility to have conversations with your clients so that you know what they want, where they shop, how they feel and what problems you can solve them.

When you stop and listen to customers, whether if it's taking with them in person while waiting for a flight or emailing surveys, you can fulfill their desires and build a long-lasting relationship. When your customers are satisfied, they're more likely to refer you to others.

Related: Market to Empowered Women: It's Ethical -- And It's Good for Business

Be bold: Entrepreneurship, like dating, is all about seizing the moment and taking risks. The longer you wait to ask someone out, the more likely that someone will beat you to the punch. As a business owner, the longer you expect to connect with customers or get your product/service out to market, the more likely your competitors will be ahead of you.

Go out on a limb, put yourself out there. Don't be afraid of rejection. Like any new relationship, there will be obstacles and mistakes, but you need those experiences to make you better and stronger. If you don't take that risk you can be certain someone else will.

The Peacock effect: In nature, there's something called the "signaling theory." For example, a male peacock will display his vibrant fan of covert feathers in a ritual to attract a female with whom to mate. For humans, we stand-out by the clothes that we wear. We need to dress to impress.

Neil Patel, the founder of Crazy Egg and Hello Bar, says that after he invested two thousand dollars in making himself over he "noticed that people were more willing to talk to me when I went to conferences. I also noticed that during my business meetings, people took me more seriously."

When he started talking to potential customers, "they naturally assumed that I was successful and my services were costly because I was better dressed." When he "started dressing to impress, successful business owners began to flock to me when I attended networking events, and people listened when I spoke in business meetings."

Step-up your wardrobe game but you can also stand-out from the competition by offering top-notch customer service, quality products/services and the packaging that your goods arrive in. Do you think that Tiffany & Co. would have been so successful if they never used that now-iconic robins egg blue box?

Related: Why You Still Have to Dress for Success

Timing is everything: When it comes to dating, timing is everything. Even if you took a chance and made the first move, the other person may not reciprocate because the timing wasn't right. Maybe they just got out of a five-year relationship or are currently looking for a new job. It doesn't mean that they're not interested. Again, it's just not the right time.

Entrepreneurs also struggle with timing. They could have an idea that's too far ahead of its time, and the technology or demographics aren't there just yet. The economy may be slow, or funding isn't available. That doesn't mean you should give up. It means looking for the right signs on when to launch, being flexible enough to adapt, and finding alternative sources of funding.

Give them space: Flirting is a process. Again, someone may be reluctant to go out on a date with you because they just had a bad break-up. Maybe they just want to take things slowly. Regardless, you need to give the other person some breathing room.

I'll say the same thing as an entrepreneur. If you send your customers 15 emails a day, they're going to unsubscribe from your newsletter. If you call a prospective investor every day, they're going to get annoyed and fund another startup.

Reach out to customers and investors but give them space to breathe.

Related: What's the Secret to Startup Success? Timing.

Be yourself: Finally, don't try to be someone else. Put your best foot forward but be yourself. Just imagine if you went on a date with someone who claimed to enjoy camping and seemed adventurous, but found out that couldn't stand the outdoors and were more reserved than you initially. Even worse, what if they fabricated what they did for a living?

Customers can see through the facade. They demand authenticity and honesty. So stop pretending you're Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg. Just be yourself, even if that means exposing your weaknesses. It only shows that you're a person with flaws just like everyone else, and that's someone that people will relate to and respect.

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