Thanks to the telephone and Internet, it’s become quite easy to rely on the written and spoken word in sales.
As the digital age evolves, however, faceless interactions no longer have to be the norm. With the introduction and steady rise of video software, salespeople can chat face-to-face with prospects just as they would in person.
Which means now is as good a time as any to revisit the art of body language in sales.
Whether you are in the field meeting contacts in person, or chatting live with them over video calls, it’s important to become more aware of, comfortable with, and confident in managing your nonverbal body cues.
Verbal vs. nonverbal communication: what the science says
There is some argument about how accurate the research on verbal vs. nonverbal communication done by Albert Mehrabian is. Even if the original ratio is off, recent studies suggest that people’s emotional responses are influenced much more by nonverbal communication than verbal.
In essence, the theory goes like this:
A person has an emotional response to something another person said to them.
Love. Hate. Trust. Cynicism. Admiration. Exasperation. Whatever emotion they feel can be traced back to how they interpreted three types of communication with that person:
- Tone of voice
- Body language
According to Mehrabian’s studies, nonverbal communication is more greatly weighted than verbal communication. This means the breakdown above actually ends up looking like this:
A reflection of how trusting people are of specific modes of communication
For instance, sales rep Clara tells prospective client Luis:
“We have the fastest customer support responses in the industry.”
Luis is excited about the idea of having a dedicated support team at the ready, but isn’t sure Clara really believes or cares about what she’s saying. That’s because, while she stated the above:
- Her eyes darted over to her phone a couple times.
- Her tone of voice was flat, as if she were reading the statement from a script.
Because her body language and tone of voice were inconsistent with her words, Luis isn’t likely to trust this. Even if it was what he wanted to hear.
Body language techniques to use in your next sales meeting
When you book face-to-face meetings with potential customers or clients, you’re likely focused on what you’re going to say.
But as you can see from the research above, body language plays a big part in the sales conversation, too.
Let’s look at some body language techniques you can use (and watch for) to boost your sales numbers.
1. Open up
Customers want to buy from brands that are open and honest about what they’re selling. Although the words used to sell a brand can make certain promises and guarantees, the body won’t lie.
When meeting prospects face-to-face, you need to be comfortable and confident in your own skin. That’s the first thing. That means standing straighter and sitting taller.
This, in turn, will also allow you to breathe more easily and reduce any tension that might rest in your body as you slouch.
To convey openness and honesty, your body needs to be physically open as well. This means being mindful to prevent gestures like arms crossing over the body or hands tucked into pockets.
Chris Lema is an excellent example of someone whose body language communicates a sense of openness:
His palms face upwards, his arms are opened away from his chest, and he walks around the room, tall and confident, during his presentations.
2. Calm your body and voice
Another way you may be giving away the fact that you’re feeling less than confident is with a nervous body and voice.
Getting jitters during a first-time pitch isn’t a big deal. However, as a seasoned pro, you need to keep your body in check:
- Don’t rub or scratch anything — face, neck, hands.
- Don’t mess with your hair.
- Don’t bounce on your feet.
- Don’t fidget in your seat or with whatever is in front of you.
Instead, take time to breathe and reset.
If the prospect offers you a glass of water (for in-person meetings) or you have one on your desk (for video chats), use that as an excuse to stop for a moment.
Just don’t leave them hanging in silence. Instead, let them carry the discussion for a minute by asking a thoughtful question.
This helps you catch your breath and slow down any out-of-control ramblings you may have fallen into. This also gives the prospect a chance to digest what you said and encourages them to engage.
3. Align your feet
Think about the last time you were on a date or out with a friend or colleague, and you noticed that their body was pivoted away from yours. How did that make you feel?
When your body is not facing the person you are there to interact with, it invites distraction — from objects around the room, other people, or your thoughts.
It also indicates to the other person that you’re positioning yourself for an easy exit.
The easiest trick for maintaining proper alignment with prospects during meetings is to face your feet towards them. This keeps your body from turning or twisting away, or putting up an invisible divide between the two of you.
Here’s an example of how Susan Cain did this in a talk show interview:
Notice how her body is angled towards the host? And her body leans in? These are both signs of active engagement on her part.
On the flip side, she uses her hands while speaking. This kind of animated talking is helpful in keeping the listener (your prospect) engaged in the conversation, too.
4. Use your eyes
Your eyes are a powerful tool when communicating with others. Just be careful.
Too little eye contact and too much of a focus on other things around you can create a disconnect early in the conversation. Whereas too-intense eye contact can be intimidating.
When done well, your eyes can convey a lot about how you feel about the words you’re saying at the moment as well as how you feel about the prospect before you.
A flash of the eyebrows upon first seeing a prospect provides a feeling of familiarity and warmness—even if this is your first time meeting them.
Also, if the prospect requires validation that you’re present and ready to start a relationship with them, eye contact at the right moments and for the right amount of time will help.
This doesn’t mean you can’t look at your notepad as you jot down your sales notes or at the presentation as you give it. There’s nothing wrong with diverting your eyes if your focus needs to be elsewhere for a moment.
5. Smile and laugh
Psychology Today reports that there are five kinds of smiles. The only one your reps should be using in a face-to-face meeting? The Duchenne smile, which is defined as:
“The narrowed, happy eyes that leave wrinkles, or ‘crow’s feet.’”
A genuine smile at the right moments helps release tension—tension you both may feel at meeting someone new, tension your face may hold as you deliver your pitch, or tension they may feel as you bring up topics that are less than comfortable to discuss.
And if something funny should come up, don’t hold back a laugh. Just because you’re here under a professional capacity doesn’t mean you can’t find the humor in something someone said or did.
Note how relaxed and genuinely happy Alexa von Tobel appears to be during this interview:
With a wave of her hand and a warm smile, she’s setting the right tone for this exchange.
She’s also doing a bang up job of mirroring the body language of the person she’s speaking too — which is never a bad idea when meeting someone new. By doing this, she says, “I can speak your language, too!”
6. Gesture naturally
Remember that old Seinfeld episode where Elaine was unnerved by the coworker who walked without swaying her arms?
That’s the kind of thing you need to avoid when talking face-to-face with prospects. Luckily, this is one of the easiest body language techniques to master in sales.
If you are able to use the above techniques, the ease and confidence to be yourself and to literally move within the conversation should just happen naturally.
If not, watch videos of some of your favorite speakers or entrepreneurs. Each one of them has a unique way in which they gesture — and you can see why it helps them keep their audiences so well engaged.
Gary Vaynerchuk is a good example. His gestures always seem to beckon to others to listen and join him in the journey.
It also helps that his voice doesn’t waver and he speaks to his audience (or to the camera) the way you imagine he would with friends or colleagues.
One last reminder about body language in sales...
Are you prepared to walk into a meeting or step in front of a camera and use body language techniques that sell? Further, do you know how to read nonverbal body cues of your prospects?
Sales is not a one-sided conversation. Your prospects can send just as many negative signals with a touch of the face or a crossing of the arms as you can.
As you become more confident in your body and with your words, keep an eye on what prospects are doing during meetings.
It doesn’t matter how well-rehearsed a pitch is or how well a certain approach worked with others before. Each prospect is unique and may not respond as positively to your verbal and nonverbal communications as previous prospects had.
By reading the signs, you can more effectively adjust your sales strategy in the moment if you detect a hint of disbelief, boredom, or other undesirable responses from the prospect.