Being sensitive to the body language of prospective customers can be a very useful skill for salespeople if they want to capitalise on selling opportunities. But what signs should they look for? Independent body language expert Robert Phipps (RP) explains how understanding non-verbal communication can help small firms increase their sales
How can a better understanding of body language help me sell?
RP: "Body language plays an important part in every interaction." If you're not observing it, you may have little idea how your customer is receiving your proposal. Whether you're working door to door, in a shop or around a boardroom table, being able to read body language can help you get the best out of a situation.
"It will help you know when to close a deal, for example, when to give more information and when to shut up. If you can improve your own body language and learn how to read your buyers', it will help you make more sales. It'll also tell you when to get out the door."
What key signals should I watch for?
RP: "Look for nods, even if they are only tiny movements, as these are positive signals. You should also look for tiny "no" movements. Unless you pick up on these you might not realise you need to clarify a point.
"Open-hand gestures show someone is talking openly to you. A palm down gesture is when they are being more controlling. You want your client to be telling you things back with an open palm, so they're giving you information.
"You should also look to see if they are drumming their fingers in any way, as this may indicate that they're bored or frustrated. Look at sequences of patterns and gestures though, don't just read one on its own."
How should I modify my own body language?
RP: "The ideal is mirroring - reflecting back the body language of your customer. It gets your client to relax and shows you have empathy, so even if they're objecting to some point you can show that you are trying to reach a solution.
"But don't mirror everything, because the other person will pick it up as 'mickey-taking' mimicry. The easiest thing to mirror is posture, but people also find themselves mirroring breathing and blinking rates."
Can body language tell me when to close a deal?
RP: "Buyers give off buying signals when they have heard enough. They may, for example, lean forwards. If they pick up and fiddle with their pen, it's likely they're saying 'Where's the paperwork?'."
Can I train myself to understand body language?
RP: "It can help just to go out for a cup of coffee and watch the world go by. Pick up on what's going on, and on what you think people are doing right and what they are doing wrong.
"Adopt and adapt the behaviour of the people that you feel most comfortable with. But emulate, don't copy. Incongruence is the worst thing in body language."
Written with expert input from Robert Phipps.