Retail Sales Training: Is Your Body Language Telling Customers To Go Away? 9 Ways To Improve Your Non-Verbal Skills
By Bob Phibbs
Looking for how non-verbal communication impacts sales? Your body language sends wordless cues long before you try to close a sale.
I was headed home across the LA freeways at 2:30am to my home. Dog-tired and just one exit shy of my offramp, I saw flashing red lights behind me.
My pulse raced, my hands sweat, my breathing became shallow.
I had met a friend for one drink four hours earlier. It was a white wine spritzer to give you a timeframe…
To make a long story short, I had to take a sobriety test because I had changed lanes without using a turn signal…and it was prime time to catch drunk drivers.
I got out of the car. My mind was reeling as the cop had me walk a line, touch my nose, and repeat what day of the week it was. I did them all just fine. After all, I wasn’t drunk; I was just tired.
He leaned in a bit too close, put his hands on his waist, and ordered me to say the alphabet. Fearful and panicky, through a fog of fear, I repeated the alphabet too quickly, ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTRVWXYandZ, the letters reeled out of me.
“You repeated the R’s,” he said a little too happily. “On the basis of that, we are taking you in.”
Sober, I spent the night in a cell with a couple drunk guys.
The next morning, when they found my alcohol level had been under .02, I called my mom who picked me up and took me to get my car ...ironically on Mother’s Day.
My fear put me in a jail cell that night.
And fear is what we’re ultimately talking about when we talk about body communication.
Our bodies give us away like red shirts at an all-black event.
The more we understand about what our bodies are saying…oftentimes without our knowledge…the more we can see how often they get in our way.
And that is especially true when it is your body and you are selling to a shopper in a retail store.
That is because oftentimes our bodies communicate fear...
And fear makes people look away.
Fear makes us lose our temper, or it silences our own voices when they most need to be heard.
Most of all, fear keeps strangers at arms length.
That’s because 55% of our language to communicate with another person is non verbal.
Our bodies can sense bad vibrations long before someone’s words arrive.
So now think about a time you felt devalued by someone. Picture what their body position was. Now picture your own body’s reaction...
I’ll bet you averted your eyes,
You slumped your shoulders,
You might even have curled your toes inside your shoes.
Now think what it would feel like to be served by someone whose shoulders were slumped, who didn’t meet your eyes, whose arms were crossed.
Would you feel engaged by them? Of course not!
Their body was telling you they weren’t being authentic. Their non-verbal cues made it hard for you to trust them.
Most of us don’t even realize when we our bodies are communicating, so the first thing to do is to simply notice your body position.
Do you cross your arms unconsciously?
Do you leave your arms down like a corpse when you talk to someone?
Do your shoulders slouch most of the time?
Those unconscious habits won’t bring customers to you.
In fact, they are communicating your unease to your shoppers.
And when you have a whole crew of people doing that, the energy in your entire store turns toxic... it makes shoppers walk out saying to themselves, something just didn’t feel right about that store.
9 ways to improve your non-verbal skills:
Lift the sternum (that’s the flat bone at the front center of your chest). This allows more oxygen into the lungs. A good image to maintain is that of a string pulling your posture up from your sternum. This allows your shoulders to become more relaxed when engaging strangers.
Lean forward (but just a bit).Yes it’s subtle, but it keeps you from leaning backward which shows a negative attitude.
Smile. A smile is your best tool to get someone to like you, and when you don’t smile, it’s the quickest way to turn someone off.
Use your hands. Don’t over due this but when you gesture with your hands in a natural way, you are creating energy.
Meet their eyes. We like people who look at us. Too much eye contact and it can feel threatening, but too little and you come off insincere. Yes, this is a balancing act to practice.
Gesture. Point directly at a feature and look at it with the shopper. They will follow your gesture, and so will their eyes as you describe the benefit. Use an open hand or two fingers together, it's perceived as more open and friendly.
Nod. Nodding is another sign of being engaged and agreeing with someone.
Arms open. Hold your arms open and loose to show a welcoming attitude. Arms folded over your chest indicate you are unsympathetic, authoritative, and at some level, you are closing yourself off from the other person.
Stand side-by-side not face-to-face. When you present merchandise standing by your shopper’s side, it is non-threatening. This allows you to do a sideways lean, which is friendly and non-threatening.
An old-school tip says to mirror your customer’s body posture. For example, if they use their hands a lot, you mirror that. If their arms are open, so are yours.
I’ve found some truth in this, but if the shopper suddenly crosses their legs and arms, you don’t want to mirror that. Their body is telling you they are closed off. You don’t want yours to say the same thing!
You need to maintain an open stance and see what you said or did to close them off. I’ve found addressing it with something like, “Did I just say something to put you off?” is a good way to bring them back.
Yes it takes practice, but once you’re aware of your own body communication, you want to be a student of your customer’s body communication too.
Body posture is something we rarely talk about in selling because we assume if an employee is standing upright, that’s all they need to do. But there’s much more to it.
Begin by noticing your own behavior. In what situations do you lose your voice? At that moment, what does your body look like? When you’re about to close the sale, how does your body look? When do you notice your breath becoming shallow? When do you take a step back from a customer?
The more you can choose your body posture, the more you’ll find you can also choose your attitude.
Our bodies are just like the cars we have to drive. If we aren’t choosing the direction and checking the instruments, we’ll often be taken to a place we didn’t want to be.
And while you might still be afraid at some level when engaging a stranger, when you use these tips, you act as if you aren’t afraid which allows you to place the fog of fear in the background.
The more you master your body communication, the easier it will be to master your verbal communication.
And that could come in handy the next time you meet a cop...
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