Understanding How Body Language Affects Sales Success

There is a lot of nonsense around non-verbal techniques for sales success. As an expert in body language, I can tell you; that you (or anyone else) can’t completely control all your own non-verbal behaviour. But you can benefit from reading other people’s non-verbal gestures to get clues about what they subconsciously feel at that moment. Because, at its root, selling is all about psychology.

Read Body Language

Gurus may tell you they will teach you to read body language. What they mean is that you can learn to observe and identify the meanings of non-verbal gestures and body movements. Controlling your own body language can take time and will never be 100% perfect. But at least by being aware of bad body language and doing less of it, you will be more persuasive. Let’s look at some examples.

For example, you can learn why it might be important sometimes to notice what someone is doing with their feet. Ex-FBI Joe Navarro offers some excellent training material on reading feet and analyzing the meaning. Show me where their feet point, and I’ll tell you where they want to go. Simple, eh? Notice where prospects point their feet, and it’ll give you a clue of how engaged the customer is with your sales presentation. If their feet point away from you, that may mean they don’t want to listen and want to leave.

During a sales pitch, I can quickly identify how interested the prospect is by watching the direction they point their feet. If they point toward me, that’s a good indication they are interested or at least receptive to what I am saying and probably want to know more. On the other hand, if their feet point away from me, they probably want to leave, or maybe they need to go to the toilet!

Another example. What does it mean when a speaker raises one shoulder higher than the other? Generally, it means a lack of confidence or a sign of insecurity in what they are saying. According to FBI experts, raising the shoulder on one side, or both is an unconscious movement to protect the neck, which suggests the speaker feels vulnerable. It displays a lack of confidence. Ask yourself when you (or a client) might raise a shoulder when considering making a purchasing decision.

This can often be seen when politicians are asked a question, and they’re not completely convinced about what they are saying. You can use this technique in sales when you ask a question about price, and you observe your customer raise one shoulder. It’s a classic non-verbal sign of uncertainty. They may be trying to get you to lower your price, but aren’t sure of the negotiation tactic.

We do this when we’re uncertain because, subconsciously, we’re protecting our neck. It might sound a bit simplistic, but we’re animals and, in many ways, we behave like animals. So protecting the vital organ, the jugular vein is essential for mammals’ survival.

If your customer suddenly starts to fidget, this can also be a sign of feeling unsure or uncertain about something that’s been said. For the gesture to be pertinent to your sales presentation, it would be essential to recognize what triggered the fidgeting.

I can always tell if someone suddenly starts to fidget, click their pen etc. that they’re uncomfortable in a sales presentation. Mostly the last thing I said or did was the trigger. For example, one time, I explained to a Human Resource manager that for the services he requested, our hourly rate would be over 500/euros. Immediately after that, I observed he started to bounce his leg under the table.

Facial Expressions Understanding Body Language for Sales Success
Understanding Body Language for Sales Success Voice

Master the nuance of voice tones.

These are powerful tools when used correctly. The voices’ nuances are typically subconscious leaks. However, professional speakers can train themselves to use their voice to impact their audience, almost like a musical instrument. However, keep in mind that a professional speaker is repeatedly giving the same speech/presentation over and over.

Learning to mark certain words or pause after a key point is a vocal tool that has a significant impact on influencing your audience. If you are giving a sales presentation, it would be well worth your time to invest in developing and practising these skills. They really will help you persuade your prospective customers.

How do you master vocal nuances and voice tones? The best way is to practice in a recorder, listen to your voice and repeat it until you achieve your desired impact. Practise your pauses and inflexions.

In my advanced courses, I teach you how to skyrocket and achieve this outcome. But this complexity takes us out of the scope of this post. Typically, a crack or fluctuation in the voice indicates some emotional reaction. It likely caused an emotional display of doubt or a lack of certainty.

For example, I have had customers say yes and their voice cracked as they made the commitment. Do you know what happened? A few days later they decided not to follow through with the sale. Generally, it wasn´t clear as to why. Has this ever happened to you? So if I hear someone’s voice crack when they’re making a commitment for me it´s a red alert. Perhaps with more foresight, I could have tried to investigate before the close to see if I missed something

Understand what’s not being said.

By putting all these elements together, you begin to get an image of what’s not being said. Firstly, slow down and watch. Without mastering the ability to observe, identifying and reading nonverbal communication is useless. Or worse, it can hurt your sales because you’ll only see bits and pieces and miss the bigger picture.

You need to have a panoramic vision, so to speak, of this unique individual’s behaviour in this situation, and what deviance(s) they display. With practice, this becomes easier and eventually automatic. You become what they call unconsciously competent. Typically, I can save a lot of time by understanding what is not being said. I can address issues and potential objections before they flourish and become a real obstacle. Trying to ignore or sweep obstacles under the rug and hoping they’ll vanish is generally a bad idea. Instead of vanishing, they grow and become impediments for making the sale. As soon as I notice something, I look for the opportunity to bring the subject up, check their reaction and address it with a solution.

Be clear and specific.

A great technique here is to repeat your key points several times. Usually, I recommend 3x as a minimum to ensure that the listener grasps what I am saying. It’s amazing how frequently people nod like they’re listening. Still, if you double-check, it literally went in one ear and out the other.

I find this to be the most helpful of all sales tools because it removes the opportunity for misunderstandings. In my experience, northern Europeans such as Germans, Swiss, Dutch and Nordics are really good at being upfront and straight to the point. Sometimes may be too direct for Anglo liking, but it sure is efficient and doesn’t waste time. The flipside is the southern Europeans and Chinese who try to be so diplomatic that very often you never know 100% sure what direction they’re headed, or when a yes is yes or no means no. That can be frustrating, trust me, but it’s useful to know.


Be comfortable with silence.

Here’s another very powerful tool that people generally find uncomfortable. It provides space for your message to sink in and increases your personal power and influence when used correctly and at the right time.


As a sales professional, silence is your friend. It puts pressure on the other side to invest in the interaction. If they are unable or unwilling, maybe they’re really not that interested in your product. However, it’s good to keep in mind not to use this tool too early in the interaction but later on.

Never assume that people will buy your product because it is great. Customers can come up with a lot of objections as to why your product or the price isn’t right for them. By understanding the common objections customers have, you can be prepared to overcome any objections and still land the sale.


Sales objections are engrained in the customer’s mind so you can’t take them personally. There is a sales objections psychology that makes customers give a conditioned response in reaction to a sales proposition. Just like how asking the question “May I help you?” will get you a “just-looking” response 90% of the time. The customer is conditioned to respond in that manner, even if they regret not asking for help after they dismiss you.

Facial Expressions

The lips don’t lie, according to David Matomoto. Pulled back lips mean holding back thoughts and not saying what they think. And the person feels stressed, nervous, and tense. By compressing their lips, a person is literally keeping themselves from speaking.

Another thing to be aware of, according to Greg Hartley, Mark Bowden, Chase Hughes and others, is the chin. When the chin is pulled back to protect it, it demonstrates a lack of confidence in what is being said. So, if your prospect says something and pulls their chin down toward their chest or neck, it is not that they’re lying. But they don’t feel confident nor believe 100% in what they’re saying.

This, again, is an act of protecting the neck. I saw Trump do this in one interview when he was asked about China trade issues. In a sales scenario, you might observe the chin pull when discussing payment terms, requesting a price increase or if the customer says they need to speak with their boss for approval. It means “I am not sure” or “I am not confident on this subject.” During the negotiations of a sales contract, I have often seen this gesture.


Microexpressions or subtle facial expressions is a heavily researched topic dating back to Darwin and continued by Paul Ekman and other very notable scientists. The difference between a microexpression and subtle facial expression is how fast the facial gesture flashes across the person’s face. A microexpression is much quicker, a 20th of second and much more subtle than a subtle facial gesture. Therefore, reading microexpressions requires practice and training. It is typically taught to and used by high-level intelligence officers and interrogators. More here about microexpressions

There are seven common micro/subtle facial expressions in all cultures and societies. The seven basic subtle facial expressions are:

  1. Anger – Can be seen in a flash, the eyes narrowing and eyebrows wrinkle for just a fraction of second. For example, you may see this if the customer doesn’t like the price.

  2. Disgust – Usually, one or both nostrils pull-up.

  3. Happiness – The eyes narrow, and wrinkles appear around the eyes. Also called crow’s feet.

  4. Sadness – Inner corners of eyebrows raise, eyelids loosen, lips pull down.

  5. Contempt – The corner of the lips pull up and back on one side.

  6. Surprise – Eyebrows and eyelids pull up and together, and the mouth may stretch. Again, as a microexpression, this happens in a flash of a second.

  7. Fear – This one is easy to confuse with surprise but typically lasts a bit longer. Eyebrows and eyelids pull up and together to take in the surroundings. The mouth tends to open to take in excess oxygen in case there is a need to react physically.

We are all biologically wired to express these emotions the same regardless of culture or country.

Keep in mind that these micro-expressions might mean something different in every sales situation. They vary according to your particular situation.

  1. Anger – You’re getting in their way. They don’t like the price or terms. You’re impeding them from doing what they want.

  2. Disgust – I haven’t seen this in sales situations, so if you have, let me know!

  3. Happiness – They like it, but maybe your price was too low, and you could have charged this customer more! Or perhaps they see the solution to their problem, and they are pleased they can move ahead with you.

  4. Sadness – Doesn’t meet their expectations. Disappointment that the solution will not work.

  5. Contempt – They feel they’re superior or superior to what has been said in some way.

  6. Surprise – Could be the price, terms, benefits, and features.

  7. Fear – Perhaps they can’t afford it or don’t trust something. But fear of making the wrong decision is a natural part of the buying process, right before they sign the deal!

How do you learn to observe these facial gestures?

You start by learning to watch people’s faces. Watch around the eyes, mouth, and nose. This skill can drastically improve your persuasion and interpersonal communication skills.

Even though people try to disguise their true feelings, these “micro-expressions” and “subtle facial gestures” leak out the person’s subconscious. Remember, humans are foremost emotional creatures, and all decisions are based on emotions followed up by rationalized logic.

At least according to Antonio Demasio and other neuroscience experts, “decision-making isn’t logical, it’s emotional, according to the latest findings in neuroscience.”

So, if you observe people carefully, you’ll detect these hidden emotions, and sometimes people themselves are not even aware of what they are experiencing. You can then detect if there’s resistance to buying your product or service, and what is the cause of that resistance.

I recommend you get professional sales training to learn to identify micro-expressions. Otherwise, it can do more harm than good because you likely will miss important expressions. The tools I share with you are easy to observe and interpret. You just need to learn to watch your prospects during your sales presentations.

Assume Good Intent Understanding Body Language for Sales Success

Assume good intent.

Always, always assume the other person has good intentions, until proven wrong. This more than positive thinking transmits optimism and goodwill towards others. We tend to attract what we focus on. It’s like the story of the formula one driver who only watches the road, NOT the wall. Why? Because the race car drivers know that if they watch the wall, eventually they’ll drive into it. And the wall isn’t where they want to go!

Never assume from the get-go that someone is wasting your time. You might be driving away from a perfectly good sale. Try to help and then see what they do. I find in sales and life in general that an optimistic attitude goes a long way and will help you tremulously.

Always be honest.

Another critical component, sometimes it can be tempting to twist the truth a bit just to get that sale. But the reality is, if you do that then you’ll unconsciously give off a vibe of a lack of trustworthiness. You probably make some sales this way, but you’ll never be a star salesperson or top sales producer. Reputation is everything. It was before the digital world, and it’s even much more so today.

I have found as a sales professional that reputation is everything in sales. So I would much prefer to lose a sale and keep my good reputation than make a quick sale and hurt my reputation. Further, people recognize the integrity and generally appreciate it. Which means more often than you might think, you’ll find people send referrals to you because you were honest and didn’t sell them something they didn’t need.

Be empathetic.

Then again, knowing all the body language and nonverbal material will help you, but not nearly as much as if you genuinely care about helping your customer.

As Daniel Goleman says, empathy is key in having emotional intelligence. This is the key to a balance of motivation and empathy. Motivation, we might say, is the ego drive balanced with nearly the same amount of empathy. I learned this years ago working with psychographic assessments, and we found the most successful salespeople always had a good balance of ego and empathy.

You might ask how to develop empathy for others? “I don’t give a damn about others. I just want to sell a lot and earn lots-lots of commissions.” For the individual who has trouble with the concept of empathy or doesn’t agree, it’s crucial. Well, I might ask you, do you like the feeling of being respected, feeling important and regarded highly by others?

Empathy is key in sales and in life if you want to succeed. By being empathic towards others and listening to their concerns, the result is it changes my attitude towards them, and it helps me make that sale. For example, you might catch a customer on a bad day. Understand that we all have bad days. Hey, sometimes things happen we don’t expect or like. By being empathic, you’ll help your customer, and you might get what you’re after the sale!

When I used to sell insurance, at times, people were not as open and friendly as I would hope or liked. But realise that like everyone, they too have problems and who knows what might be bothering them, which would explain a negative or aggressive attitude. It helps me overcome the other person’s negativity and move forward with a positive attitude, which might and often does result in making a sale!

Let me ask you a question. Why do you want to earn so much extra money? What will extra money do for you? Maybe you’ll buy a new Porsche so that the girls look at you? How will you feel when the girls are looking at you? Eh, maybe you’ll feel more important? Would that be similar to being highly regarded by others? Perhaps if I make a lot of money, people will look up to me? The point is that the objective in life for most people is similar.

Once, I had a client with several objections and concerns. By listening actively, I was able to identify these sales objections before they become major obstacles. Then by following up and asking good questions I was able to identify and answer those concerns and remove those objections before they were able to stall the sales process.

"You can have the things you want if you help enough people get the things they want."

Avoid pain – get pleasure.

How we go about achieving this varies depending on our culture and the century, but the end result is the same. After your basic needs are met for food, shelter, security, safety, etc.… the thing most people desire is feeling significant and important. That’s one of the reasons why many emperors and kings in Europe built statues and impressive cathedrals. So if you really want to be regarded highly and be important, taking an interest and having empathy for others is the surest route to sales success. In a twisted sort of logic, it’s in your best interest to care about other people. Not what they think of you, but actually learn to care about them. It’s a learning process.

Help your customer solve their problem (avoid pain) and fulfil their desires (get pleasure.)

"Be genuinely interested in others."


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