Body Language and the Sales Process: What Else Is Being Said To The Prospect Without Even Knowing?

We make sweeping judgements and inferences from body language. – Amy Cuddy, Psychologist

Nonverbal expression. The term simply refers to communication without words, but in sales, the meaning can indicate much, much more. In a New York Times article by Jonathan Mahler, the writer was unusually tasked with decoding one of the Presidential debates – while watching with no sound. The fascinating piece left me with many questions on what this may uncover for a sales professional, with the main one being – “Is what you say to a prospect more or less important than what is also being communicated through body language?” No matter your personal opinion on the value of nonverbal communication or body language, I would encourage you to open up to this concept if you’re not experiencing the success in front of a prospect or client that you are striving for. It’s another tool you can leverage as you move prospects through your sales cycle.

My inquiry into body language led me to one of my top sales executives for some additional insight on the topic and how it might play out in the field. Known for his charm and ability to provide initial value in front of prospects, he is familiar with the specific topic, surrounding fields such as neurolinguistic programming (NLP), and very qualified to speak on them. When asked how much nonverbal communication plays into his personal sales strategy and ability to influence the prospect, he replied, “Big time.” He explained, “I am always conscious of my personal body language and pick up very easily on negative communication in others.”

Mr. Mahler, in his Times debate piece, highlights this exact intent on expression in the precise assessment of one candidate “… they seemed determined to make sure that their body language and facial expressions didn’t communicate frustration or irritation … and equally determined to appear to be having fun.” This is insightful for anyone who may feel they are prepared for their sales calls, conduct sound discoveries in the field, and add value but cannot seem to move prospects forward. Perhaps it is not a lack of need or bad timing for the prospect, but instead, the communication and subsequent analysis that is the real problem.

I continued to probe for a better understanding of how this dynamic affects the sales cycle and ability to move prospects forward. Continuing on the immediate value of body language, the executive explained, “This awareness makes a huge difference. People have egos and they need to be catered to.” As I wondered how he handled specific cues that the prospect is getting irritated, and similarly,  if the prospect can read his frustration, let’s take a look at some practical insight centered on body language and learn how to proactively prepare and position yourself to influence nonverbal expression at different key points of the sales cycle:

  1. Observe and Instinctively React …. Quickly –Listening carefully and observing the prospect’s body language is the first step to prevent yourself from being over anxious and cutting off the prospect in favor of your own personal agenda. As the old adage goes, we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Before we can implement any specific tip, our radar must be attuned to what the prospect is conveying.
  2. Adapt and Acclimate – As our generous executive puts it, “the window for establishing rapport is not as wide as one may think”. When faced with cues of closed off body language from a prospect – crossed arms, shrunken posture, unwelcome expression – you can counter with warm body language – leaning forward, showing the palms of the hands, and ending statements with a smile – to engage the prospect and leverage a critical first impression.
  3. Mirror – In addition to acclimation and flexibility, if it’s not broken, don’t aim to fix it. Experts have suggested that mirroring a prospect’s body language can have positive long term value in leading to a close. If you’re getting a strong connection and buying signals, look for subtle things – the way the prospect is leaning, crossing of the legs, vocal intonation, or matching a smile – to mirror and create familiarity.
  4. Don’t Forget Eye Contact – Lastly, maximum eye contact reinforces interest. As Forbes magazine notes, “when we like or agree with someone we automatically increase the amount of time we look into his or her eyes.” This is a great way to engage the prospect throughout the meeting and coupled with the mirror technique, can show you if they are gaining interest as you move along.

As we welcome 2017, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on this specific nuance of sales. The prospects you almost closed, or the few that went inactive after bringing them onboard, should be reference for what was effective and what was not. Reviewing this in conjunction with your current pipeline can create the clarity and context needed to leverage areas like this, that you may not be paying attention to at the moment. What would it feel like for you to know your opening up the year with not only renewed focus and momentum, but also a better sense of nonverbal awareness as you qualify and open prospects?  What would it do for your confidence to know you’re making a better first impression every time you qualify one of these new prospects? I look forward to your progress and hearing some of your wins with this!


Further Reading and Insight:

Mahler Piece

Amy Cuddy video


Forbes Article on Body Language and Sales




Introducing Context & The Reptilian Brain

“Neuroscientists have discovered over the years that our instinctual self has a greater impact on our final decision than the rational us, or even the emotional us.” – Patrick Renvoise

As humans, we rarely know what we truly want. In fact famed behavioral economist Dan Ariely has deemed even our most reasoned decisions as driven by emotion or influenced by outside forces. So in sales, this insight, that our instinctual brain is better at determining what we want over our rational or emotional brain, can lead us to closing more business versus the dreaded and familiar, “…I’ll think about it” when leveraged the right way. However, rooted in dense backgrounds such as behavioral economics and neuromarketing, how can we simplify this knowledge and apply it to our own world? With our biggest competition in sales being no decision, or status quo, sales reps need to now, more than ever, that introducing context into the equation early on can make them stand out and move the sale forward effectively.

Before we look directly at context, let’s lay the foundation with what leading neuromarketer Patrick Renvoise refers to as, “awakening the reptilian brain“. The process, a combination of speaking to self interest and leveraging human’s respondent nature to contrast and visuals, can organically lead the prospect from cold and uninterested, to warm and ready to move forward. While easy to confuse with manipulation at first glance, this is far from manipulating the truth to appeal to the prospect, and instead, speaks to a more urgent need. As the inclination for status quo on the side of the prospect is too heavy of a force to depend on a stock PowerPoint, you, the salesperson, will have to move the prospect through the sales cycle and into becoming an active client. Why not use everything at your disposal to make the task easier?

Context – Sales context aligns the right solution with the right business challenge the prospect is facing. According to strategist Tim Riesterer, context creates a “clear, compelling sense that they won’t be able to hit their objectives by staying where they are that will prick the old brain’s survival instincts and cause it to start looking for an alternative to the status quo.” Some key questions to use that will create context are:

What was your biggest challenge last year?

What issues are at the utmost priority at the moment, and what’s the biggest roadblock standing in the way?

What steps are you taking to alleviate this problem?

What has happened in the past when you miss your target?

What does that mean for your boss and customers to fall short in this area?

Have your competitors been able to solve this problem?

Would your top 5 customers agree with your assessment, or have you put them in a position to need to shop around?

This line of questioning creates an opportunity for you to attain the prospects point of view enabling you to attack pain points that matter to them most. I will continue to explore more on the reptilian brain, as well as other neuromarketing concepts to stand out among others targeting the same leads. Please analyze your pipeline and recent sales correspondence to see where this can fit into your process. Perhaps adding one context driven question into your discovery can frame the conversation the right way for you to finally create a sense of urgency on the side of the prospect. Let me know if this resonates with you or if you already leveraging context with prospects and how you do it! Good luck in the field and have a productive week!

Aston Fleming


Further Insight: