12 body language signals only the best salespeople can read

The ability to read body language signals and respond accordingly is an important weapon in a salesperson’s arsenal.

As a salesperson, you should be actively seeking to “hear” your prospect’s body language, as much as you’re listening to the words they’re saying.

On some level, we humans naturally pay attention and react to body language.

When you see someone smile, you know instinctively that they’re happy (or at least indicating positive feelings to you). You know the proper response is most often to smile back.

But great salespeople are experts at paying attention to the full range of their prospect’s body language, from dramatic gestures right down to the smallest “tells,” which they consciously use to shape and change their presentations and conversations with the prospect.

The best part? Reading body language signals is a skill anyone can learn and, with practice, become an expert at. Here are 12 key indicators that you need to pay attention to, as well as some suggestions of appropriate reactions that will help you close the deal.

Eyes

They say eyes are the windows to the soul. Whether that’s true or not, they’re certainly windows into the mind. Your prospect’s eyes can tell you a great deal, especially because pupils are one of the few areas of the body over which we have no control.

Let’s start with something you may have already known without realizing it: What your prospect’s eyes are looking at tells you what they’re thinking about. That means if a prospect is looking at you, they’re thinking about you and what you’re saying.

dilating pupils body language signals

If they’re looking at the product or paperwork you’ve brought in, you may want to ask them if they have any questions about it. If they’re looking at the door, they’re probably thinking about how they wish they could leave right now; you can re-engage them by turning the floor over to them, so they can air their concerns.

Keep in mind that a prospect may not stare, unblinking, at the thing they’re thinking about. Often, a prospect’s eyes will move about the room but will continue to return to the thing they are thinking of.

If a prospect is staring you down (not simply passively watching you), this can indicate a need to control the meeting, as constant staring is considered intimidating in western cultures. Be sure to allow this prospect time to talk, and work through any concerns they have.

Remain calm and relaxed and use a soft-sell approach to ensure the prospect feels in control of their concerns and trusts you. It should be noted that “staring” means that the prospect is making eye contact with you around 80% of the time or more. 60-70% eye contact is the sweet spot.

A client making eye contact 60-70% of the time is indicating not only interest in you but agreement.

Pupil dilation can tell you what a client is thinking with astonishing accuracy, and can be particularly helpful during a contract read-through. In general, pupils widening tell you that a contract is happy or interested with what you are saying or what they are reading. Narrowing pupils mean they have concerns or are even upset.

You can ask about your prospect’s concerns if you see their pupils narrow. Conversely, you can focus more of your pitch on the things that caused their pupils to widen.

Other Facial Cues

From birth, we humans (I’m assuming none of my readers are aliens) rapidly learn to use our faces to communicate with each other. One of the very first things babies learn how to do is smile.

And while there is a whole range of emotions and thoughts we are able to consciously express with our faces, there is quite a lot we unconsciously convey as well.

First, the obvious: Smiling and nodding = always a good thing. If your prospect is doing either or both, you’re in smooth waters. Keep doing what you’re doing.

By contrast, any tension in the face or neck indicates that your prospect is unhappy or nervous. This can manifest itself, for instance, as pursing of the lips, narrowing of the eyes, or crinkling of the nose.

When you see this reaction, ask your client about their concerns or otherwise encourage them to take the floor. You need to hear their problems in order to solve them.

Hands/Arms

Hands are extremely expressive. After all, there are entire languages that solely use hand signals. And much like how our mouths can be used both consciously and unconsciously to say and imply thoughts, hands are capable of a vast amount of communication.

  • cookie monster drumming fingers impatientIf your customer is drumming their fingers, it suggests impatience. In this case, speed your presentation up, or just get right to the point. You’re working with someone who either doesn’t have the time or doesn’t want to take the time to go through all of the little details up front.
  • If your prospect is playing around with things on the table, like paperwork or their pen, this can indicate either boredom or annoyance. To ascertain which it is, you can pay attention to other bodily cues. Either way, you’ll want to react generally the same. Ask your customer a question, allowing them to air their thoughts or re-engage with the conversation.
  • When a customer is resting one arm on their armrest and leaning into it, they’re subconsciously letting you know that they have a desire to leave the meeting. While not a great sign, you can still save the meeting. Again, get your client to do some of the talking here.
  • Pointing and jabbing with fingers tells you that your client is trying to intimidate you. This is a strong hand signal to make, and you can respond, again, by ensuring that you’re constantly addressing your prospect’s concerns and questions.
  • Another important sign to look for is the openness of the client’s posture. Whether standing or sitting, if their shoulders are aligned with yours and their hands are open to you, that means they’re interested and engaged with what you are saying. If their hands are turned away and their body is turned inward or away from you, you’re looking at someone who doesn’t like what you’re saying. The same thing goes if your prospect’s arms are crossed.

Feet

Feet are perhaps a surprising source of body language. However, that’s exactly why they’re so helpful. While many people will seek to control their facial expressions to prevent others from knowing their thoughts, they usually don’t think to control their feet.

You can tell pretty easily that someone is open to your ideas if their feet are pointed towards you—and if they’re pointed away, that person is typically closed off to hearing you out. This holds true when the prospect is standing or sitting. Ask this prospect about their thoughts. Get them talking so you understand why they’re not interested.

Much like hand drumming, jiggly feet or legs indicate that your prospect is most likely bored. Check and see if you’ve been talking for a while, and give your client the chance to take the floor. Bouncing or tapping feet can also indicate that a client feels they have the upper hand in a negotiation—they have literal happy feet!

Ultimately, reading body language signals is not about being a slimy salesperson who knows the right magic tricks to make a quick buck. It’s about being empathetic to your prospect and forming a relationship with them.

In many ways, reading body language is just another facet of being a great listener. And the best salespeople are also the best listeners. Pay attention to your prospect’s body language so that you can have a solid understanding of their needs and solve them, not so that you can sell to them.

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