Credit: Photo: | Joshua Blake

You gave a flawless presentation; every scripted word down pat. But midway through it you sensed you were losing the prospect's attention, then you felt their growing impatience. Your close was met with a firm “No.” What happened?

Chances are it wasn't something you said but something you did. Researchers theorize that human communication is 55% to 60% nonverbal — i.e., gestures — with 35% being tone of voice. Words may be as little as 7% of what we take in.

“When [the homeowner] answers the door, I evaluate the speed at which they talk, and how far they want to stand away from me,” says Daryn Keeter, sales manager at All States Windows and Siding, in Wichita, Kan. “That tells me how fast or slow I should talk,” he says, “and the tone of voice I should use” — as well as how and where to physically place himself in relation to the prospect.


Call it mimicry or acting, but failure to take note of the way prospects speak and physically relate could easily lead to a fatal disconnect. “You can lose your chance to sell in five seconds by standing too close or talking too loud,” Keeter says. “This whole process is scary for homeowners. Why give yourself a disadvantage?”

And adjusting your voice and body to theirs is just the start. Salespeople must also recognize the nonverbal signals that prospects give in the course of the presentation and should respond in a creative way. “If you want to know whether or not you're engaging with them, watch their faces. See where their eyes are focused,” says Gary Kearns, sales and marketing manager for Kearns Brothers, a home improvement company in Dearborn, Mich. Stroked chins and pocketed hands are classic indications of skepticism.


Vocal intonation is important. Kearns says that he trains salespeople never to speak in a monotone. Alternately raising and lowering your voice draws listeners in and holds their attention, he says.

Just as important is who sits where. Phil Sutko, who sells for ABC Siding, in Lincoln, Neb., says that he immediately suggests sitting at the kitchen or dining room table where he can face prospects and keep track of, and respond to, nonverbal signals. Sitting on a couch makes it far more difficult to do that. “Body language tells me what direction to go in,” he says.

Sutko notes that prospects know when he's getting ready to ask for the work; that's when he's most likely to see crossed arms. And that, he says, “means you have your work cut out for you.”