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How to find out what your customer is thinking about you

Be honest – who of us hasn’t ever secretly wanted to be able to read minds?

Sales people more than most, I guess. We spend our time speaking to people and building relationships, and there are times, especially with those hard-to-read customers where you just don’t know what approach to take, that we are just dying to get inside their brains, and find out – what are they really thinking?

Happily, there is a way of finding out. Famous research by the UCLA indicates that, in communication, just 7% of the total meaning is conveyed by the words used. 38% is conveyed by the intonation and inflexion of your voice, and a huge 55% is body language.

You read that right: for every 7 words we say, our customer hears an extra 93.

And fortunately, we can have a good idea on what meaning they’re getting, from our often unconscious behaviour – and the same tips can help us to pick up more accurately the true meaning behind what our customer is saying.


Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on the power of a ‘superman’ pose has been widely tested and proven. Her theory is that if you stand tall, square your shoulders, spread your arms and make yourself big, your mindset unconsciously changes to make you feel more positive and in control.

And conversely, when you make yourself small – hunching or slouching – you feel powerless and negative.

Research also implies that using this posture actually decreases the level of cortisol (the negative stress hormone) in your body, and for some reason, makes you more likeable.

It also works the other way round. That if you stand tall, you’re perceived as being more positive, powerful, in control, and more likable.

So it’s a win-win – because with positive body language, not only do you feel better about yourself, your customer is pre-programmed to feel better about you as a salesperson.

Nervous gestures

They mean just that. But to many of us, they’re so unconscious, we don’t even realise the effect they’re having on our customers.

Just take stock next time you’re in a sales call. Are you a pen-clicker, or a knee-jigger? Do you restlessly tap your foot, or talk at top speed, punctuated by ums, ers and y’knows? They all convey one thing: discomfort.

And as unfair as it may seem, it will make your customer perceive you as less competent.


It’s great to be affable and willing to go along with the customer’s views, but not so good to be a yes-man!

If you nod and show agreement too fervently, it can make your customer perceive you as anxious for approval. It can put you in an unconsciously weaker position for negotiation, and can make your customer feel that you will give way more easily.

Crossed arms and legs

Customer sitting with crossed arms or legs?

As a rule of thumb, if your customers are sitting with crossed arms or legs, they’re not as engaged with your message as they could be. They may have reservations or doubts about the content of what you’re saying, or they may be otherwise turned off by your presentation or delivery.

This is especially true if they’re sitting back in their seats – conversely, leaning forward is a sign of interest and engagement.

So if you spot folded arms or crossed legs, try changing something about your presentation: ask them a question, make them laugh, or try a practical demonstration.

And another little tip: when you’re with a customer, see if you can subtly notice which way their feet are pointing, if you can do it without diving under the desk to have a look!  It’s been proven that engaged customers will often sit or stand with their feet or knees pointing directly towards you. If your listener is disengaged or uninterested, they will tend to angle their body away from you.

Copying gestures

I’m not talking about mimicking here! But when a customer is unconsciously mirroring your gestures, the way you are sitting or standing, and even the tone of your voice, it’s a strong sign that they’re engaged and in agreement with what you’re saying.

It can also be a powerful way to unconsciously make someone like you more:  we like people who like us, and we like people who are like us.

The way we act and behave is a strong indicator of this: so if you really want someone to like you, try subtly copying their stance and one of their gestures.


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