Sales Technique: Reading Faces

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You’ve landed a big sales call. You’ve done everything right.

You are ready to make your pitch and are anxious to close the sale. You also know, as a sales professional, that you have seven seconds to make a first impression! In those seven seconds, you must establish trust, status, power, warmth, empathy and, most importantly, credibility.

But after those crucial seven seconds, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve to better understand your client?

According to experts in sales training, learning how to read faces will undoubtedly improve your sales technique. There are courses, both online and in person, that deal with face-to-face sales training.

Whether or not your customers know it, they will exhibit facial expressions that reveal their innermost emotions. There is even a name for the practice of interpreting the human face to learn about the inner person. It’s called physiognomy, pronounced fizzy-OG-nuh-me. Practiced for more than 5,000 years, it goes beyond just reading expressions. In the last few decades, sales trainers have adopted and adapted this art into sales training materials that almost guarantee an enhanced ability to close a sale.

Keep in mind though, how easy it would be to misread or react inappropriately to facial expressions from people of different backgrounds, especially in situations when emotions run high. Variations exist, but in Western culture, there are seven basic human emotions that are used and recognized by trainers as part of our genetic character: happiness, anger, surprise, disgust, contempt, sadness and fear. There are automatic connections between the brain, feelings and thoughts, and body movement. These microexpressions can be displayed on the face in just 1/25th of a second.

It makes sense that a good sales representative could discern, with proper training, just exactly how the client feels and thinks about the product or service. An example of this would be the client who rubs her eye. Yes, she could genuinely be experiencing an eye irritation of some kind, or she could be just tired. Or it could mean she doesn’t believe what she is hearing. It could also mean she is upset over something.

Yet another example resembles the childhood tale of Pinocchio, whose nose grew with every lie he told. Someone scratching their nose might actually be covering up a lie, rather than experiencing a real itch.

Perhaps the best signals to learn involve the eyes. Eyes usually look to the right when the brain is creating or imagining, so depending on the circumstances, “creating” can mean “guessing” or even “lying.” When eyes look to the left, they are generally remembering, or trying to recall facts. This is more often associated with “telling the truth.”

Eye training goes beyond simply looking left and right. There is looking right and up, looking right and down, looking left sideways, looking left down, and so on. Direct eye contact can signal attentiveness and interest; an upward roll of the eyes shows frustration. Frequent blinking is not a reliable sign of lying, but it can show excitement. Infrequent blinking is not a very reliable body signal, because it can mean boredom, concentration, hostility or negativity.

Our mouth is a powerful tool because it has a lot more potential for signaling. When our bottom lip is jutting out, we are usually upset. If your client has a crooked or twisted smile, that can signal mixed feelings. If your client is poking their tongue out, this is a danger signal, expressing disapproval or even rejection. If they wrinkle their nose and squint their eyes at the same time, beware! And we are all familiar with the dreaded pasty smile, which most often means the client is displeased or feels forced to agree with something.

Naturally, the head is uber-significant in body language. Our heads can nod in agreement, but if we nod slowly, that indicates we are listening very attentively. If we nod vigorously, that could mean we feel like we have gotten the point trying to be made, sort of a time’s up nod. If we tilt our head to one side, that signals some level of trust and it usually shows interest.

A good sale representative has a toolbox of skills and techniques from which to draw. Reading facial expressions is but one of those tools, and naturally it will not work very well unless face to face. With new technology, it’s possible to see clients digitally, but it’s not quite the same unless with exceptional screen enhancement such as 4K.

And client interaction, whether in person, or digitally, is of major importance to companies. In the United States alone, over $70 billion goes into sales training every year, which amounts to an average of $1,459 per sales representative. That’s nearly 20 percent more than all other non-sales employees receive. ■

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