Why body language matters in sales and social meetings

Why body language matters in sales and social meetings

20 June 2022

Human beings will always have an emotional response to something that is 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:

  • Words
  • Tone of voice
  • Body language

Roughly 70% of communication is via nonverbal language, but in a world where roughly 70% of our sales conversations are virtual, there are massive differences in how a prospect’s brain is reacting to selling and marketing. For example, a study called the ‘online disinhibition effect’ showed that when we are connecting behind a screen versus in person (with the same person), we are more likely to signal less empathy behind a screen.

With the above in mind, it is paramount that sales bods can read facial expressions and body language effectively to stay ahead of the game. If like me you are a bit of a telly addict, I would suggest binge-watching a series called ‘Lie to Me’ (starring Tim Roth). The focal point of each episode centres around facial expressions, body language, and micro expressions in an attempt to expose the truth behind lies. Whilst watching this series, I couldn’t help but think about how it translates to a sales environment and the benefits of reading negative body language to help guide sales meetings in a positive direction.

So, without further ado let’s look at some of the tell-tale negative signals you could potentially encounter in sales meetings and what you can do to turn the situation around for a more positive outcome.

Crossed arms reminiscent of a scolded 6-year-old

Crossed arms signal distrust, defensiveness or frustration, and this is an easy one to pick up on should you have a fully functioning set of eyeballs. There’s no easy way to sugarcoat this one – if your prospect gives this signal, you’re not on the same page.

At this point, empathy is key! Very much like Craig David in his pomp, you’ll need to do a ‘Re-Rewind’ to the exact point in the conversation where your prospect first crossed their arms, as this should reveal where the distrust or lack of confidence originally came from. It’s a bit like taking two steps back to go one step forward, but if you can nip this distrust in the bud before moving forward, you’ll be strutting out of the meeting in a stronger position.

Rapid head-nodding like an energetic raver

Don’t be fooled by this apparent sign of constant approval – unfortunately, this ‘nodding dog syndrome’ is a sign that you’re talking at your prospect, rather than to them. Alternatively, they’re desperately trying to hurry things along so they can exit quicker than San Marino in a football tournament.

You’ll often find in these situations that your best attempt at gathering information via probing questions will be brushed off. Therefore, the best way to deal with these types of characters is to catch them off guard, simply cut through the BS and get straight to the point just when they are least expecting it.

At this point, they should generally level with you and tell you exactly what they’re thinking. It will probably make or break the meeting, but at least you’ll know where you stand and get to the crux of the matter without wasting unnecessary time and effort.

A raised eyebrow like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson

Raised eyebrows are normally a signal of surprise, worry or questioning – but aren’t necessarily a negative expression. The good news is that if your prospect is flicking up the Rocks trademark people’s eyebrow, this is a sign that they are listening to what you’re saying, and it’s likely they’re just trying to process your offering/spiel. However, it’s also likely that they’re looking for further clarification on what you’ve said, or need to work through some concerns, so make sure you check in at this point.

Avoiding eye contact like a couple on a first date

So, you’re thinking you’ve been on fire throughout the whole meeting, and you’ve totally smashed it…then you notice your prospect isn’t actually looking at you anymore and their eyes keep straying to the fire evacuation notice that is cemented on the wall.

No eye contact is a strong signal that you’re either overwhelming your prospect or they’re hiding the fact that they have just signed a retainer with the punter who was in the room just before you. As soon as you spot this, you need to stop what you’re saying immediately and re-engage them with some searching questions. If needs be, go off-piste faster than Eddie the Eagle to get the meeting back on track, sometimes it doesn’t pay to merely talk shop! By channelling into a prospect’s interests, you will reignite the light in their eyes and regain their attention.

Top 10 things to consider in your approach

  • Enter / commence a meeting with a smile (flash those pearly whites, although you may want to rethink this if you’ve got gnashers like a chessboard)
  • If you can’t say hello, flash your eyebrows to acknowledge that you’ve seen people in the meeting (get your monobrow at the ready)
  • Calm your body and voice (don’t rub or scratch anything, there’s a potential handshake at the end)
  • Sit upright with your head held high (think Royal family Christmas photo – not Jim Royle)
  • Position your hands and palms in an open manner (as if you were greeting a long-lost relative)
  • Align your feet towards the person you want to speak with (easy on the legs akimbo as you don’t want to go full-on Basic Instinct)
  • Turn your head to the side to show an ear (or your best profile if you are a bit of a looker)
  • Maintain good eye contact (although don’t linger for too long as that can be perceived as downright pervy)
  • Gesture naturally to relieve tension (smile and laugh – not wildly). This shows a human side and will beckon others to listen and join you in conversation.
  • Nod to acknowledge/agree with the information coming back from the prospect during the conversation (try not to impersonate Woody Woodpecker on the nodding front)

If you can master the above without overthinking, soon enough you’ll be able to pick up on the more subtle micro-expressions that will give you an edge in any work or social situation. Remember, sales interactions are not one-sided conversations. Your prospects can send just as many negative signals with a touch of the face or a crossing of the arms as you can.

It doesn’t matter how well-rehearsed a pitch is or how well a certain approach worked in the past. Each prospect is unique and may not respond as positively to your verbal and nonverbal communications as previous prospects have.

By reading the signs, you can more effectively adjust your sales strategy at the moment if you detect a hint of disbelief, boredom, or other undesirable responses.

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