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