Interpreting Nonverbal Buying and Warning Signals

November 21, 2011

Whether a short or long sales cycle, most sales professionals are always eager to arrive at the commitment stage as their ultimate goal is to close a sale.  The primary key to ascertaining if the prospect has reached this pivotal point is the ability to interpreting buying signals: both nonverbal and verbal.

Not surprisingly, it’s more challenging to interpret the nonverbal cues.  Prospects who are not open in their verbal communication style reveal a lot by their physical actions.

Sales professionals must become adept at looking for shifts in customer’s bodies and expressions so that they know when to pause their sales pitch and ask for feedback that may be critical in moving the sale forward.

Common nonverbal buying signals most sales professionals encounter include:

  • Relaxing- especially if prospect’s hands are open
  • Leaning towards the sales professional
  • Assuming a pleasant expression
  • Showing agreement by nodding forward
  • Stepping back to admire the product
  • Re-examining a product sample with delight
  • Picking up the proposal or purchase order for a second or third review

Warning signals are typically anything a customer says or does that indicates he/she has lost rapport, trust or interest.  Just as buying signals indicate a favorable response toward our solution, warning signals typically indicate that the prospect does not believe that the solution being presented will meet his or her needs.

Common nonverbal warning signals include:

  • Frowning
  • Portraying a tense posture
  • Keeping distance from visuals
  • Not being attentive or responsive
  • Folding arms
  • Looking at a clock or watch
  • Picking up unrelated papers or files
  • Becoming less friendly or attentive

Both nonverbal buying and warning signals can be misinterpreted.  When sales professionals encounter them it is critical to ask questions to determine if the interpretation is valid.  No matter what, warning signals warrant an immediate pause in the presentation to uncover the reasons for hesitation by probing the prospect.

New research shows that a prospect’s hesitation could be the result of decision fatigue.  New York Times author John Tierney and social psychologist Roy Baumeister recently co-authored a book titled “Willpower: The Greatest Human Strength,” which looks at how willpower and decision-making are interconnected.  In it, they conclude that willpower really is a form of energy in the brain. Like the rest of our body’s muscles, it can be strengthened and fatigued with use.

The exhaustion is not the same as ordinary physical fatigue.  Instead, one becomes low on mental energy or willpower as decisions are made throughout the day.  Each decision becomes more difficult for the brain to process so it searches for shortcuts.  Either the prospect becomes hasty by acting impulsively instead of expending the energy he/she normally would when evaluating a decision’s consequences, or he/she simply does nothing.  At times the fear of agonizing over decisions causes people to avoid making a decision altogether.   Again, it is critical to ask questions in order to ascertain the source of the prospect’s hesitation and move the sale forward.

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