The Art of the Sale

7 Ways To Improve Your Non-Verbal Selling Skills

When closing the sale… think before you flinch

by Bob Phibbs

Mr. Phibbs is the CEO of The Retail Doctor, a New York consultancy. As a speaker, sales consultant and author of The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business, Bob has helped thousands of businesses since 1994. With over thirty years’ experience beginning in the trenches of retail and extending to senior management positions, his presentations are designed to provide practical information in a fun and memorable format. For more information on Bob, please visit

Your body language sends wordless cues long before you try to close a sale.

The more you understand about what your body is saying—oftentimes without our knowledge—the more you can see how often it gets in your way.

And that is especially true when you are in a sales situation. That is because oftentimes our bodies communicate fear—and fear makes people look away. Fear can cause you to lose your temper, or silence your own voice when it needs to be heard.

Most of all, fear keeps strangers at arm’s length.

So much of our communication is non-verbal

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 and 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 people don’t even realize when their 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 them.

When you have a whole crew of people doing that, the energy in your entire business turns toxic. It makes customers walk out saying to themselves, “Something just didn’t feel right about that place.”

7 ways to improve your non-verbal selling 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.

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

Lean forward (but just a bit)
Yes it’s subtle, but it keeps you from leaning backward, which shows a negative attitude.

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.

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.

Point directly at a feature and look at it with the customer. 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.

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.

Look in the mirror…

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.
If the customer 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. 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 rarely talked about in selling because it is assumed that 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.

Your body is just like the car you have to drive. If you aren’t choosing the direction and checking the instruments, you’ll often be taken to a place you 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.