Recognizing Buying Signals

What the customer meant to say…

“When I said ‘Oh yeah, put me in for a delivery next week’ I didn’t mean you should really think I was ready to buy,” says the buyer.

“Well what did you mean when you said, ‘Oh yeah, put me in for a delivery’?” asks the confused sales consultant.

“I meant that we had just finished one contract and we need to take some time taking a look at our position before the next delivery. So I was being sarcastic when I said ‘Oh yeah, put me in for another delivery’ and I really didn’t mean I’m ready to buy another contract,” says the buyer.

The confused sales rep asks, “So how will I know when you are ready for the next order?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” says the buyer. “I’ll have the check book in my hand.”

Sometimes we misunderstand the message and it can lead to a lot of misguided communications. At other times we communicate a message that is misunderstood. In sales, you and I need to use all of the tools at our disposal to clarify communications and accurately recognize buying signals.

How we understand the message:

According to a classic 1971 study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, there are three elements of communications. Words account for only 7% of what we understand in a conversation. Tone of voice (the way we sound) accounts for 38% of what we understand. And body language, (the way we look when we say the words) accounts for 55% of what we understand in a conversation. They are often abbreviated as the “3 Vs” for Verbal, Vocal & Visual.

While we spend a lot of time examining “what” people say, Mehrabian tell us that people give only 7% of their message with their actual words. Of course, words are important, “Yes we will take a Thursday delivery,” would define how critical words really are. In this case, the “words” may indicate that a Friday delivery is unacceptable.

Mehrabian further tell us that 38% of what we understand in a message comes from the way the message “sounds.”

Try this experiment. Read the sentence below, putting the emphasis on the word highlighted inbold.

I neversaid he needed the delivery Thursday.

I neversaid he needed the delivery Thursday.

I never saidhe needed the delivery Thursday.

I never said heneeded the delivery Thursday.

I never said he neededthe delivery Thursday.

I never said he needed thedelivery Thursday.

I never said he needed the delivery Thursday.

I never said he needed the delivery Thursday.

While the words stay the same, the meaning changes as we hear the emphasis change.

Finally, Mehrabian tell us that 55% of what we understand in a message comes from the “non-verbal” body language we see. We learned about the power of body language as children. My old mentor Joe Charbonneau used to say that as children we could look out the living room window as dad arrived home from work and as he walked toward the house, we could tell if our evening would be pleasant or we should hide behind the couch.

Here’s an important question, are we telegraphing our “mood” when we walk into the selling situation? The answer is “yes.” If we lack confidence, it will show and the buyer will recognize it. Hence the advice, “Fake it until you make it.”

At the same time, the buyer’s body language communicates many signs. Many signs are easy to identify. Do the eyes of the buyer keep flashing to a clock one the wall or look for approval in the face of an associate at the table? Is the buyer apprehensive or relaxed? Does he greet the sales rep warmly or with a cold tension?

Other signs are not so obvious. Does an issue the sales person brought up but failed to explain distract the buyer? Is he concerned about an objection he has not brought forward?

The question here is, does the sales rep notice these subtle signs? It is easy to miss these signs if the sales person is absorbed with what he or she is saying. The answer is to be sensitive to the non-verbal signs and stop the process as soon as the signs are detected.

When we sense the mood has changed, (the buyer frowns, backs away from the presentation or tightly folds his arms on his chest) it’s appropriate to say, “It seems you have a question, tell me about that.” It makes sense to address a concern or objection on the spot instead of letting it quietly grow in the buyers mind, never getting settled at all.

Non-Verbal Buying Signs

While body language can be misleading, some nonverbal signs are clearer that others:

If the buyer is leaning into the conversation, it is a signal of interest and concentration. The same is generally true when the prospect reaches out to touch or hold the product. Think of the implications if a potential car buyer does not want to take a test drive.

Eye contact is a dependable sign. Those who “avoid” eye contact are sending you a negative buying message. At the same time, those who make eye contact are not necessarily ready to buy but it’s a more positive signal.

Since elementary school, teachers have admonished us to “pay attention.” It is the same advice I would give sales professionals. Do not get so involved with what you are saying or plan to say that you miss the non-verbal signals the buyer is sharing.

Verbal Buying Signs

Questions are good. When the buyer asks you to, “tell me how this works,” it’s a positive buying sign. They wouldn’t ask if they were not interested. It’s important to understand, however, that the buyer is not usually interested in signing up for an education when she asks a question. Some sales reps want to impress people with how much they know.

“I’m glad you asked. I’ll keep it as simple as I can. This model is based on the injection molding design. If you look within the oil projection system you can see the fluten valve travels inside the heat resistant ceramic sleeve…”

Keep to the basics and follow up with a question that involves the buyer.

“Well we recommend you heat the oil to 350, pour the raw product in here and at the end of the day, drain the oil over here. How does that compare with what you are doing now?”

When body language conflicts with the buyer’s words, the seller is faced with a quandary. Which do you believe? Do you believe the positive words, “This looks like a real value.” Do you accept the grimace on her face as accurately reflecting her attitude? Guessing at this point leads to mistakes 50% of the time. Why take the chance? Just stop the process and get clarification. You can accomplish this by asking a “trial closing question.”

A “trial closing question” asks for an opinion, “How does this look so far?” while a “closing question” asks for a decision, “Will you want delivery on Thursday or Monday?” The “trial closing question” will interrupt the flow of the sale to take the buyer’s temperature. It is intended to give the buyer the opportunity to ask questions, express and address concerns or even move the sale forward.The key to recognizing buying signals is to always be alert for them. You will need to be alert for not only the words but also the way they are said and the body language of the prospect or customer. With practice and coaching, you can become very adept at “reading” buying signals. This attention to detail marks the difference between the professional and the mediocre sales person

Although we can learn a lot from body language, you must realize that nonverbal signals are not 100% accurate. But if you are alert to non-verbal buying signals, you will add a very powerful tool to your selling arsenal. Every time you explain how a benefit meets a customer need, carefully observe your prospect’s behavior, watching for non-verbal cues and be willing to learn.


Post time: 03-15-2017