Selling Power Blog

News & Insights for B2B Sales Leaders

January 3, 2018

How to Read Your Customer: The Body Language of Yes and No

By Jim McCormick, Co-Author, Body Language Sales Secrets

Body type, culture, and context all affect a customer’s body language. Even so, it is possible to make some general observations about what constitutes the body language of yes or no.

Regardless of what type of sales strategy you are pursuing – relationship, solution, expertise, ROI, or fear selling – knowing when to move forward and when to ease up and postpone the “ask” is key to your success.

Open body language is actions and facial expressions that are invitational; they show a desire to connect – and suggest that trust is present. The body language of happiness and many other positive mental states and emotions will contain movements suggesting openness.

Closed body language projects the desire to shield and separate; it neither inspires trust nor suggests receptivity to building it. The body language of disgust, contempt, or other negative mental states and emotions will contain closed movements.

Examples of open body language are:

  • A smile with the eyes engaged.
  • Open palms and arms comfortably away from the body rather than shielding it.
  • Head nods and attentive eye contact that encourage continued conversation.
  • Little or no fidgeting.
  • No attempt to put objects, like a desk or laptop computer, between the two of you. There is a good comfort level between you – a sense of easy interaction that makes barriers unnecessary.

Examples of closed body language are the opposite:

  • A fake smile. Only the mouth and muscles around it are moving.
  • Clenched hands or hands that suggest pushing the other person away. Arm movements could be either close to the body or aggressive. Flailing or whipping movements can be ways of repelling another person. Legs can also be part of closed body language. Some people will cross their legs because it feels like a protective position; others do it out of habit or comfort.
  • Head shakes and avoidance of eye contact discourage continued conversation.
  • Fidgeting – which suggests some degree of nervousness is present – gives a sense that a trusting connection is absent, at least at the moment.
  • The need for barriers – increasing the size of one’s personal real estate and reinforcing shielding from another person – typifies closed body language.

Listening and watching for changes in vocal expression is another way of determining how relaxed or strained – positive or negative – a person is. You need to pay attention to how something is said, not just what is being said.

Pitch, tone, pace, volume, and hoarseness/stridency are among the characteristics of a voice. In some cases, they can change from moment to moment, reflecting some momentary shift in emotion. For example, you ask the customer a question that may cause a little discomfort; right away, you’ll probably hear a change in the person’s voice.

Pitch helps convey the intensity of the communication, express a question, or convey uncertainty or even deception. Someone who is excited and happy might suddenly have a higher pitched voice than before. If you’re at the end of your sales presentation and hear that change in pitch just before the “ask,” you might have reason to think, “I nailed it!” – especially if it’s accompanied by open body language.

Tone is a characteristic of voice that goes a long way toward conveying meaning. Much of what we learned about tone we may have learned from our parents when we were kids. Mom asks the child to do something he has no interest in doing and the child says, “Yes, Mommy” in a way that provokes, “Don’t you use that tone of voice with me, young man!” Tone and pitch work in tandem to convey sarcasm – to clue you in that someone is telling a joke, to leak repressed anger, and much more.

Pace is the speaking rate someone has adopted in a particular conversation. A sudden change often indicates stress. On a business call recently, I heard the client quicken the pace of his speech. I looked at my computer and noticed that it was three minutes to 11. Even though we hadn’t established an end-time for the call, I asked him, “Do you have another appointment at 11?” The client said, “Yes!” He seemed surprised – and delighted – that I had somehow sensed he needed to wrap up our call.

Volume is another vocal quality that conveys intensity. An ardent denial of an accusation would probably be said more loudly than other parts of the conversation. Of course, some people might drop to a whisper in expressing a denial as if they are embarrassed at their attempt at a cover-up. Watch the person’s body language; it if goes from open to closed, that may reinforce your suspicion.

Stridency or hoarseness, when they are not normal for the person, can suggest stress. When the vocal cords tighten up and/or the throat becomes dry, the voice takes on a different sound. It can get very raspy but, for some people, that coarseness is part of their normal speech. Look for other signs of stress, like an increase in blink rate. If the throat is drying out, then the eyes are drying out, too, and the person will automatically blink more often.

Throughout a sales interaction, it’s vital to recognize what actions your customers adopt in response to stress. If you can keep customers at ease, you boost your chances of being on the path to yes!

Headshot of Jim McCormick

Today’s guest post is by Jim McCormick, co-author of Body Language Sales Secrets.