Understanding Your Prospect’s Body Language

While checking out a flat-screen TV at a big-box electronics giant recently, I was swaggered up to by a salesperson. He approached me with a puffed-out chest and a loud “Can I help you?” His exuded confidence said, “I’m going to do whatever I have to to put you in a TV today.” But when I started asking questions about the technical specs of the set, the sales guy’s answers were vague; he started stumbling on a bunch of filler words—like, um, you know, so. …As if tracking the zigzag flightpath of a house fly, his eyes looked everywhere but at me. His posture went from high-noon shootout cowboy to slumping down in a Barcalounger during Downton Abbey dad. Clearly my product knowledge outstripped his and he went from confident to uncomfortable pretty dang fast.

The experience reinforced for me the importance of being fluent in body language if you’re in sales. Although we have an innate understanding of basic body language—because each and every day we’re “hearing” and “speaking” it—we tend to ignore it when interacting with prospects. We fail to make use of the information the body provides, paying attention solely to the verbal, even when the verbal directly contradicts the silent screams of the four main body language centers:

  • Eyes
  • Torso/arms
  • Face/facial expressions
  • Legs

In sales, it is vitally important to pay attention to body language and to know it fluently. So let’s make our way around the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs of the body and see what they’re saying.

The Eyes Have It
The eyes give you a view into the prospect’s attention span, sincerity, even trustworthiness. Note if the prospect is making eye contact with you. In terms of building trust and measuring a prospect’s level of engagement, eye contact is key. If you’re video conferencing or Skyping, rather than meeting in person, eye contact may be the only body language available for getting a beat on a prospect, so being well-versed in the subject is essential. For example, if the prospect makes frequent eye contact, they’re interested in what you have to say.

Eye Contact Is Not Just for Prospects Anymore
As a sales rep, it’s equally important for you to make and maintain eye contact. Even a prospect with a rudimentary knowledge of body language will interpret limited to no eye contact as insincerity on your part—and/or they’ll think you’re not interested in the transaction. On a basic human level, it makes people uncomfortable not to be looked at during conversation. Body information in the vicinity of the eyes is also important. A tensed forehead means you could be suffering from the following conditions:

  • Confusion
  • Frustration
  • Surprise

Always make eye contact with your prospect, especially when they’re speaking. They need to know they have your full attention.

The Facial Expression That Launched a Thousand Words
Whether meeting in person or via video conferencing, what you’re looking for is more subtle than the easily understood bubbly smile or blubbering sadness. Are the lips relaxed, for example? When they’re pressed together and pulled inward, they’re saying, “I’m tense,” or “I’m frustrated,” or “I disapprove of what I’m hearing.” Facial twitches indicate disbelief or cynicism. Silent judgement sometimes manifests in the form of flared nostrils: If they’re winging out, your prospect might be wigging out. Wrinkling the nose informs you that the prospect does not support what they see as a stinky deal.

Torso and Arms
Mid-body posture says a lot. If the prospect is open to what you’re saying and interested in hearing your sales pitch, probably they’re leaning toward you. When they’re engaged in the convo and trying to be friendly, they might unconsciously mirror your movements. Macaque monkeys do this as well; so do you! It conveys connection.

Bored, Stiff…
You’ll know your prospect is bored if they display a closed-off posture: hunched shoulders, crossed arms, fidgeting hands. Are they spinning or clicking a pen while you speak? Uh huh. Bored.

A rigid, uncomfortable body posture means anxiety.

Your own posture is of the utmost importance as a sales professional because, whether consciously or unconsciously, it will be read by the prospect. Your slouching shoulders signal weariness and the opposite of confidence. Body language is very literal. Keep your back straight and your chest open, and lean in slightly as you engage with the prospect.

Pretzel Person
And finally, the legs. You ever sit next to a leg fidgeter in a waiting room? You know, the guy whose leg goes up and down really fast over and over till you want to scream “Relax!” That’s a negative body behavior. Leg and arm movement are often one with each other: The arms are crossed, the legs are crossed, and one leg is bouncing on the other to beat the band. Suddenly you’re looking at pretzel person, or … someone who is not open at all.

So know your body English when you go forth and sell. And ask yourself, “Read any good people lately?”