Body Language Offers Sales Cues

This past year has challenged our businesses with some significant obstacles. We are still living through tough economic conditions, and our lawmakers are still divided about how to right the ship.

We’ve been challenged by Mother Nature. We’ve collectively shared in the sorrow of human tragedy by random acts of violence. But as Americans, we have come together and, as in years of tough times of the past, we have persevered. Hopefully we can grow and learn from these challenges as we look forward to a more positive 2013.

I, too, have tried to grow and learn from my experiences and apply that to my sales approaches moving forward. We’ve worked harder this past year to increase sales as compared to prior years, and we are looking at new tools to help, including the need to better understand our clients – not just what they say, but what they don’t tell us verbally.


There seems to be an increase in competition, and that competition seems to be lowering its pricing to secure the work.

On top of that, clients’ budgets are lower (but not their expectations). Consumers seem to take more time deciding when and what to buy, and they are obtaining more comparative estimates. Buying cycles have elongated as clients seem to suffer from “analysis paralysis.” So we spend more time working with them as they decide how they would like to proceed.

What’s also frustrating is working with prospects for some time and getting positive buying signals, only to hear suddenly they are going in a different direction – or just never hearing from them again. I’ve spent some time reviewing my sales approach to better understand why we failed to close those few projects we were positive we were going to get.

Looking back, I’ve realized maybe I wasn’t asking the right questions, asking the questions at the right time or effectively understanding what clients were really saying.

Some clients are forthright and will tell you straight up why they have not chosen to work with you. Others are not so honest. Some people have difficulty verbalizing the word “no.” When asked to make a decision, they may feel pressure to respond and use lies or half truths to postpone or disengage from the sale. They may verbalize “yes,” but other subtle indications may be saying “no.”

Recognizing certain microgestures can help you begin to tell the difference between clients’ words and their body language so you can inquire further about their concerns, help rectify the issue(s) at hand and increase your odds of closing the sale.


When telling a lie, most people begin to feel uncomfortable, which shows in certain subtle movements. With a little understanding of body language cues, you can greatly increase your ability to accurately determine the truth, improving your effectiveness in the sales process.

The definition of body language is “the gesture, movements and mannerisms by which a person or animal communicates with others.” This could be gestures, postures, facial expressions and/or other non-verbal communications that are evident during various physical, mental or emotional states.

There are four basic body parts and their movements that can be attributed to deceptive behavior: eyes, nose, mouth and hands. When a person is doubtful or is possibly telling a lie, they will touch their hands to their mouths or throats. Often they may cover their mouth with one finger as if to filter what they say. Another hand gesture would be touching or rubbing one of their eyes or in or behind one of their ears during a response.

If you notice your client indicating nonverbal communication with one or more of these gestures while you or someone else is speaking, they may doubt the truthfulness of what is being said. If you encounter these gestures while presenting, gently probe further with open-ended questions to determine the issue and to encourage your client to voice the concern.

Watching your clients’ eye movements is another way to help detect possible deceptions. When sitting in front of a person and looking directly at them from your viewpoint, a typical right-handed person will look up and to the left when asked about something they are to imagine, or when they are thinking of something in the future (the opposite for left-handed people). They will typically look up and to the right when asked about an image from the past. When asked about an auditory sound they may not have heard, typically they will look left. When asked about a sound or conversation from the past, they will typically look right.

If you presented your price and came back a few moments later and asked how the pricing sounded to the client and they looked left, they might not be truthful in their response. In this case, you might want to further question them to determine if there is an actual perceived issue with your price.

If a person is asked a question about recalling a feeling, smell or taste, they will typically look down and to the left. When someone is having internal conversations with themselves, they will typically look down and to the right. Other microgestures in the nose and mouth areas – such as wrinkling one’s nose (not while smiling) or curling one’s mouth – could also be signs of distrust or dishonestly.

Another gesture would be the fake smile. Typically, when we genuinely smile, the muscles of our entire face work. Our foreheads push down and our cheeks and jaw move up. Our eyes become smaller and wrinkle at the sides. A smile given by someone who is just being polite would only move the muscles directly on the sides of the mouth.

Remember during your sales presentations that you are not the only one who might be noticing body language. While you are evaluating what your clients might really be saying, they might be observing and reacting to your gestures at that same time, so be careful what you say – with your body as well as your words!

While there is no 100% foolproof method for gauging a prospect’s honesty, body language cues are one more tool salespeople can use to help understand a client’s interest level – and potential sales objections or concerns. They could help open the door to further questioning and dialogue that will help you continue to be successful in the selling process.

Bryan Reiss, CMKBD, is an award-winning designer who is President of the Mount Pleasant, SC-based Distinctive Design. Reiss, a 15-year veteran of the kitchen and bath industry, is an active member of the Carolina Chapter of the NKBA who specializes in sales innovations and business stabilization.