Six Sense Selling: Leveraging Buying Signals to Close Deals

by in Sales

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If you could possess a six sense, what would it be? Most sales professionals would opt for the ability to accurately predict prospect conversion rates – a clairvoyance or “ESP” of sorts. This would help them avoid opportunities that don’t materialize, can’t be won, or aren’t worth the resources allocated to them. A rep could then channel their limited resources so that less time is spent working leads that aren’t going to convert and focus efforts exclusively on the prospects that demonstrate the strongest pipeline health and the greatest likelihood of conversion.

While clairvoyance or “ESP” is still a fantasy, sales reps are closer than they’ve ever been to possessing the superpower. The most effective sales reps have a knack for identifying buying signals – verbal and physical cues that infer interest or disinterest in purchasing a product or service. Successful selling is about capitalizing on buying signals and accurately gauging which prospects are most likely to close. After all, according to SiriusDecisions, in a complex sale, the buyer’s journey is 70% complete by the time the buyer is ready to engage with a live salesperson.

Buying signals come in many forms. The tricky part is that many signals are difficult to spot and are often hidden amongst objections. Far more often than not, prospects resist disclosing (especially candidly) how likely they are to purchase your product. In most cases, signals are rather subtle. It’s an art form to be able to identify buying signals and the best sales reps are on a constant lookout. When you’re on the hunt for buying signals, consider the following three categories:

  1. Tone of voice, body language and word choice

In contrast to spoken words, tone of voice and body language rarely lie. They can be more reliable indicators of purchase intent than actual words spoken. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a professor at UCLA, found that feelings and attitudes are communicated 38% by tone of voice and only 7% by words. A prospect flaunting an agreeable, cheerful, animated, and/or engrossed tone is often more promising than that all-too-familiar prospect who presents with a quizzical, resentful, or annoyed tone.

Whenever you have an opportunity to engage with a prospect in a face-to-face setting, keep your eyes peeled for body language that suggests a propensity to buy. There is an undeniable relationship between human movements and emotional state. Haggard and Isaacs (1966) found that our faces reveal hidden sentiments (called micro expressions) that indicate our emotional states. When a sales rep is able to identify these expressions and the significance thereof, he/she is better poised to predict the likelihood of conversion. Smiling eyes, relaxed brows, and upward turns in the corner of the mouth, can signal heightened comfort, a low level of anxiety, and the fact that a prospect is closer to conversion.

Body position is also telling. If a prospect has a rigid body posture and hunched shoulders, this tends to suggest disengagement and closed-off behavior. Worse still, this type of physical form may signify a closed off attitude and a prospect that is not worthwhile. On the flip side, leaning forward is a positive sign of attraction that can infer a prospect is more impressed by an offering and receptive to further evaluation. According to the Center for Body Language, there is a correlation between a rep’s performance and his/her ability to read facial expressions. The Center looked at a top insurance company and found that the top-half of sales representatives scored 20% higher on the “Micro Expressions Test” than the lower-half sellers.

In addition to tone of voice and body language, you’ll also find that high performing salespeople pay close attention to a prospect’s choice of words. Some words have more positive vibes than others, and usage thereof can be more indicative of a deal closing imminently. For example, the term “agreement” is more optimistic and promising than “contract.” “Investment” is oftentimes more promising than “cost,” “contact” more promising than “sales rep,” etc. Always be on the lookout for words with positive and negative connotations.

Changes in a prospect’s pronoun use can also be telling. If, for example, a prospect deviates from using singular pronouns such as “my,” “you,” and “your” to using “us,” “we,” and “our” pronouns, this can signal greater inclusiveness, a stronger partnership mentality, and the fact that the prospect is nearing the end of the decision-making process. Other powerful indicators of greater, felt inclusiveness include discussions of family or business matters unrelated to the current deal. For example, if a prospect discusses personal matters such as health, well-being, family, vacations, etc., this suggests that you’ve established rapport with the prospect and he/she is warming up to the notion of a business transaction.

  1. Online and offline activity

A prospect’s online activity can provide powerful indicators of his/her likelihood to buy. Tools such as Twitonomy App, InsideView, TweetDeck can all help keep you in tune with prospect buying signals and allow you to assess deal finality. If a prospect visits your website more frequently than in the past, endures for increasing periods of time, downloads more webinars, and reads more white-papers, these actions signal mounting interest in your offerings. If a prospect is reading testimonials and customer case studies, as opposed to reading the “About us” or “What do we do?” pages, this also signals heightened potential for a deal.

The significance of each online action will vary by company. Hubspot, for example, has found that one of its most powerful buying signals is whether a prospect visits a webpage that contains the word “search” in the title. These prospects are nearly 300% more likely to become customers than others. On the other hand, prospects who view webpages with titles that contain the word “resources” are 37% less likely to become customers than average. The rationale is that if prospects are searching for “resources,” they are more interested in self-education than purchasing.

In addition to online activity, much can be gleaned from a prospect’s offline activity. Length of conversation can be a powerful indicator of conversion. If a prospect ordinarily keeps conversations brief, but has slowly progressed to longer conversations, this change infers a willingness to invest added time in exploring and evaluating your solution. Prospects, like us, are busy too. They’re not going to devote a lot of time evaluating your product unless there’s some level of interest. Second, consider responsiveness to your outreach efforts. According to RingLead, on average, 80% of B2B sales calls end up in voicemail, and over 90% of voicemails are not returned. If a prospect doesn’t normally pick up the phone to answer your call or doesn’t return your voicemail, but begins to do so, take note. This tends to indicate greater interest in for your offering.

Also pay heed to offline actions that occur beyond your own 1:1 interaction with a prospect. If a prospect wants to introduce you to other business stakeholders, this can be a powerful indicator that they see value in your solution and are willing to stand behind it. A word of caution: make sure you’re progressing up the chain of command and not simply being passed off to another rep as an avoidance tactic.

  1. Prospects’ lines of questioning

High performing sales reps have an innate ability to spot buying signals that are embedded in a prospect’s questions. A prospect’s line of questioning can provide enormous purview into the likelihood of a deal close. If questions revolve around post-sales support or specific contract terms, for example, it’s likely your prospect is moving the needle towards closure. Often, the questions a prospect poses are more indicative of the future than answers to your own questions.

When trying to identify buying signals embedded in a prospect’s questions, first consider the level of specificity. When questions become more specific, it’s likely that a prospect is nearing the end of your sales funnel. Consider, as well, the types of topics your prospects’ questions relate to. Typically, questions related to features and specs occur at the beginning of a buying decision, whereas questions related to invoicing, payment options, monthly versus annual billing, product warranty, etc. arise just short of the finish line. If a prospect poses questions as if he/she has already purchased your offering and has assumed ownership, this can be very indicative of the end of a decision cycle. Questions that fall into this category include: “How will product X integrate with my current software?” And “How often do I get notifications?”

According to FactorLab, 25% of forecast and pipeline deals result in no decision. By looking for buying signals at each stage of the decision making process you can go a long way in terms of predicting whether a prospect is likely to close. Always be acutely tuned to buying signals and you’ll be eons closer to convincing others that you really do have a sixth sense. At Node, we’re sitting right beside you and, as your personal sales analyst, we’ll help you do a lot of the heavy lifting, telling you which accounts to focus on, who to contact, and how to close the deal. While some buying signals are trickier to spot or hidden amongst objections, the most successful salespeople habitually look for signals that ultimately distinguish worthwhile prospects from the riff-raff.

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About The Author

Rebecca Hinds
Rebecca Hinds - View more articles

Rebecca Hinds graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a M.S. in Management Science and Engineering. In 2013, Rebecca co-founded Stratio, a semi-conductor company developing infrared sensors. The company was selected by the Kairos Society as one of the 50 most innovative student-run businesses in the world.