No doubt you’re curious about Body Language, who isn’t? And as salespeople we have to be more than curious, we have to learn about it as one of our range of sales techniques, understand its workings in the sales situation, and apply this knowledge practically.

The benefits of Body Language awareness in the sales process are threefold:

It will save you time if you can read the signs and see through the hidden agendas.

It will reduce your uncertainty about what’s really going on thereby increasing the predictability of the outcome, getting to the next stage of the sales journey.

As with all sales techniques, it will give you a feeling of mastery and control because you understand exactly what’s occurring in a particular meeting.

How many chances do you get to create a first impression?

One of the most important, if not THE most important step in the sales cycle is the first face-to-face meeting with the customer.

The non-verbal aspects of this initial interaction outweigh the verbal by a factor of over a gazillion.

At the beginning of your relationship with the customer you are also at the start line of the process of building Rapport.

Rapport is the feeling that ‘We’re on the same wavelength, we have a connection, we’re in tune with each other, we see eye to eye.’

In general people like people who are like themselves, but in corporate life the odds are against you meeting your business soulmate, so you will have to work at Rapport, just like any of your other sales techniques.

The Three Seconds That Make Or Break Your First Meeting

Research suggests that 90% of the impression we form of someone is made in the first 90 seconds of meeting them. And that the first 3 seconds are the most critical. Clearly in selling we need to get this right first time.

The Three Vs

When you meet someone for the first time in business in that 3 seconds they will be assessing you against the three Vs:

Visual  Your appearance, including how you’re dressed and groomed, and your body language, including:

eye contact

facial expression



Vocal  Your tone of voice and speed of speaking.

Verbal  The actual words coming out of your mouth, the content.

The physical process of initial rapport with someone you’re meeting for the first time goes something like this:


Eye-contact (long enough to determine the colour of their eyes)

Eye-brows raise (a signal of openness)

Shake hands

Give your name, get their name, use their name, (REMEMBER THEIR NAME!)

Before we go any further we need to talk about the business handshake, which is after all the only time you’ll have any physical contact with your customer.

Handshakes: What Do They Mean?

8 Common Varieties

The Dead Fish Soft, weak, tentative, nervous – could suggest similar characteristics.

The Knuckle Grinder Domineering, controlling, aggressive, insensitive.

The Glove Overly friendly, insincere, smothering. (Think Bill Clinton…but also common among the clergy).

The Finger-tip Grab Shy, not self-confident, timid.

Then, with varying degrees of subconscious efforts at control:

The Wrist Hold

The Elbow Grasp

The Upper Arm Grip

The Shoulder Hold

Yours should be the Standard Sales Handshake:

Hand vertical

Similar pressure to customer’s

2 to 3 pumps

(Health Warning! Be aware of what’s called Analysis Paralysis, in other words you get so involved in consciously thinking what to do next that you come across as a bit odd. So when practising do it a little at a time.)

What Your Body Language Is Saying

Non-verbal signals are hard to fake, as well as hard to control. Researchers differ on the percentage of communication which body language makes up but they all agree that in a given scenario if there is a mismatch between what someone is saying, and how they are saying it, then people will believe the how, the non-verbal clues.

So as salespeople we must be ever watchful of:

the message our customers’ body language is transmitting

our own body language


Remember we’re talking about presentation, not looks. And the key is that it must be appropriate to the sales situation. But with one overriding rule: You can always dress down – take off your jacket, undo your shirt collar button, loosen the tie, roll up your sleeves.

But it’s impossible to dress up if you’re under dressed to start with. If in doubt err on the side of caution. Dark suit (blue or grey, no browns please), plain shirt or blouse, sober tie for the men, black shoes (polished of course) – in short the professional business uniform.

Posture and movement

Here we come to a vital tool for establishing rapport – matching and pacing.

By matching the demeanour of our customer we are subconsciously transmitting the message ‘we’re thinking on the same lines’. Literally, the customer can see that you’re aligned with them.

Some posture matching is obvious; if a customer is sitting down so do we; if they stand up we follow.

Matching is not mimicry. You’re not aping the customer, so limit your matching to general posture, speed of gesture and eye contact, which should be at a level the customer is comfortable with.


Again matching and pacing are vital, adapting to the customer’s voice tone and speed, but not parrot fashion.

For example if your customer is a considered thinker and talker, slow down yourself.

And always use the customer’s own words to summarise, don’t paraphrase with your own. Changing their words to yours is telling them you’re not singing from the same songbook, the opposite to the message you want to send.

How Body Language Can Lead You Up The Garden Path

To avoid getting it wrong always look for clusters of signals, don’t just rely on one gesture or posture to give you an accurate picture.

Folded arms can mean defensive, or the person might just be cold.

For a MALE customer a progression might look like this:

Defensive/Mind Closed legs crossed, or stretched out with ankles crossed knees together leaning away arms crossed (fists might even be clenched – very bad sign!) chin down towards chest

Becoming receptive/Mind opening legs uncrossing, sitting forward, arms unfold, fists unclench, head lifts

Positively Interested leaning slightly forward, head tilted, nodding, stroking chin or mouth (theirs, that is)

Other common signals you should look out for:

Superior/Supremely Confident legs open and stretched out, head back, hands clasped behind neck or head, feet on desk!

How To Appear Brimming With Confidence When Inside You’re A Quivering Wreck

A classic sign of nerves is constantly touching the face, so if you ARE nervous but want to appear confident keep your hands away from your face.

Other signals that someone is nervous or not confident are barriers in front of the body (desk, lectern, arms, hands, folder, documents, phone, iPad, glass).

What To Look For In Eye Contact

Eye contact is only an issue when it’s non-standard, outside our unwritten norms, which are:

the business gaze: a triangle from eye to eye to forehead

the social gaze: a triangle from eye to eye to mouth

the intimate gaze: across the eyes and below the chin to other parts of the body. (Can also mean the opposite, ie hostility).

Space Invaders – How To Alienate Everyone You Meet

The other big taboo is our personal space, and again there are hidden laws governing how comfortable we are in various situations:

intimate zone: up to 18 inches; only very close friends, family members (including pets), or else a sexual or aggressive advance.

personal zone: 18 to 48 inches; social gatherings, parties, functions, known business acquaintances

social zone: 4 to 12 feet; strangers, shop assistants, new business acquaintances

public zone: 12 feet +; public events; lectures; seminars; training courses; addressing a group of people

All the above comes with a Health Warning. Most of it only applies to Western Business Culture, and even in that there are differences. If you deal with other cultures there is a whole new set of rules for each one.

While no one is suggesting salespeople need to be qualified psychologists, nevertheless a basic knowledge of body language will help you to understand the customer better. And that can only lead to a successful outcome.

So in terms of sales techniques, rapport building and body language awareness and management are vital pieces of kit in the sales toolbox.

Reading your customer’s mind is a question of methodology, not magic.