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Selling - How to Recognise Buying Signals

Updated on February 17, 2012

I’ve been selling for a living for 23 years now and the more I do it, the more I get used to it. Helping people to make their choices can be gratifying work, and if you’re reasonably good at it, which generally just means having a good manner, you’ll always be in demand, because companies are always looking for people to sell their goods and services.

Knowing how to spot customers’ buying signals, is a great asset to sales staff, and it’s simply a case of tuning into your customers’ emotions.

These are the same emotions that we might all have when we’re parting with our hard-earned cash - so we don’t need to be mind readers or psychologists, or even to have extraordinary social skills to recognise ‘buying signals’ - we simply need to empathise, or, to put it in the vernacular - put ourselves in the customers’ shoes. This is important, because people don’t always say what they’re thinking. For example, if they complain about prices, it doesn’t mean they won’t buy; you can’t go home yet.

Buying signals often come in the form of simple mundane questions like:

How much is that one?
Do you have one in blue?
Do you deliver?
How soon can you deliver?
How long does the job take?
Do you offer finance?
Is there a backup service?
Does that price include vat?
How long is it guaranteed for?
Is that your best price?
Do you need a deposit?

Your customer might turn to a friend or family member and ask for their approval:

What d'ya' think?
Would that match the carpet?
Will we get it in the car?
Your credit card or mine?

These simple questions are all typical buying signals, which reveal that the customer is seriously considering ownership of the product:

‘Will it go in the car?’ Why would they ask that sort of question if they weren’t planning to take the product away with them?

‘Is that your best price?’ Ironically, this isn't always a challenge - and a truthful ‘yes’ is a good answer to the question, depending upon how much autonomy you have, because it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity as a salesperson - and integrity is the greatest asset a salesperson can have, when building a long-term career. Often your customers just need reassurance that their enthusiasm for the goods won’t override prudence. When you hear this one, there’s a good chance that you have a sale already.

An experienced salesperson is listening for these simple, basic and positive signals all the time.

Just think - if your prospective customer has taken the trouble to come to your establishment, or asked for an appointment for you to go to them, in the first instance, that is in itself a strong buying signal. Few people have time to waste on something they're not interested in, in a world where time is so valuable.

You can also get buying signals from your customers’ body language.

Body language isn’t brain surgery - (although that doesn't necessarily mean that all brain surgeons are good with body language). Most of us respond to it subconsciously - maybe that’s why we don't always recognise it. If your customers smile a lot, they’re either suffering from wind, or you’re making a good impression - and the old, ‘first you must sell yourself’ maxim is working well. On the other hand, if you see too much of a person’s back, i.e. no eye contact, it probably means he or she has seen too much of your face already, and we (most of us) get the message.

People who are interested in a product tend to start handling it as if they already own it. Fondling an item indicates a desire for ownership. Conversely, if a customer discards an item, as they would a smelly old sock - that would suggest a lack of enthusiasm for the product. These are obvious signs. Nevertheless, people who are new to this line of work might not recognise them as such.

A customer deep in thought, or who keeps returning to one particular item, is also showing typical non-verbal buying signals. Lighting up a cigarette was once a good sign that a customer had a settled mind, and although, in the UK, that has changed due to recent legislation, there are similar habits that might indicate a mind that has settled on buying, and is beginning to wind down and relax. They may change the subject, crack a joke, offer tea or coffee, or ask what kind of day you’ve had.

Be ready for questions like, "Do you deliver?" Or, "Does that price include vat?" Few people discuss vat, until they have to pay it - otherwise it’s just small talk, because, like the weather, there’s not much we can do about it. “Is there a delivery charge?” How would that concern someone who isn’t going to have to pay such a charge? “How long does the offer stand?” Who cares, if they’re not interested in the offer? Yet, these are all buying signals.

The customer might seem preoccupied, and repeat a question like, "How much was that one again?" This often indicates that the customer is ready to buy, and at the stage of choosing a specific model or type. Dig a bit deeper, i.e. ask some more questions; you might be able to advise them.

"We're going on holiday in a fortnight. Can we have it installed before we go away?" This is the ultimate buying signal. Your customer has given you a leg up here; it's an opportunity for you to get the order form out and start to close the sale, because now you can say, "When would you like it delivered? I can put special delivery instructions onto the order form." Now you’re filling out the order form, and your customer has saved you the trouble of asking for the sale.

Of course, buying signals don’t always guarantee a sale; the customer might need more time to think it over - or he or she might need to consult with a family member or colleague, but you should learn to recognise and duly respond to all these positive signs if you intend to make a living at selling things.

Be helpful; be cheerful - and good luck, (unless you’re one of my competitors).

© Copyright David B. McBain 2012. All rights reserved.


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    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Thanks Xenolit, I wouldn't describe myself as a great salesperson; I make a living and that's all I need to do. I hope these little tips will be useful, especially for people starting out.

    • Xenonlit profile image


      7 years ago

      I am terrible at sales and have clipped this to Evernote! I just sit there praying "buy, buy buy!" Well done!

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Yes, trust is invaluable Neeleshkulkarni. And it's a diminishing asset, for as the bigger businesses swallow up the smaller ones the customers get a much less personal experience. That can be an advantage to some, because it leaves a gap in the market that the big companies find hard to exploit. They have their business model and often that constrains them - ("computer says naw").

      For example, how often do we go into a big electrical store these days and ask about the specifications of an item, or simply ask what it does, to find that the shop assistant hasn't a clue? One day, a shop assistant said to me that I had to buy the product to find out what it could do. So presumably, I had to keep buying their stuff until I eventually bought what I needed. The individual item might be cheaper to buy in these places, but that's hardly a cost effective way to buy that sort of thing.

      That's the sort of thing that I suspect makes your business model so successful. All the best - and continued success to you.

    • neeleshkulkarni profile image


      7 years ago from new delhi

      this point needed to be made milla and you have rightly put it when you say building trust is important.

      I run my own company in which i have not gone and actively sold anything in a longgggg time.mostly my presold customers call me up and say ,"will you please get such and such installed at such and such a place please" No questions on price, none about delivery terms,none about terms of payment and so on.When i tell friends we do absolutely NO selling they wonder why and the answer is clear in what you said.TRUST has been built up and so they rather not spend time figuring out a series of odd and confusing variables- they know it is best left to me.

      it is a responsibility but also gives me a captive market in which clients often tell competitors- sorry we do not know what we are buying, we do not know the price- but

      yes we buy from kulkarni and it is going to stay that way.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      I hope it's helpful to people starting up in this line of work drbj. I agree with what you say about perception and empathy. People, who are responsive to others' emotions, deserve to do well in life.

      I think there's a lot of myth about selling that isn't helpful. Sales people aren't all sharks and selling is vital to the way we live - for if no one is selling, there's no point in making anything. The good thing is we don't have to be talented; we just need to be considerate and helpful.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Every person who sells or is even contemplating a sales career, amillar, should read this excellent list of buying signals you have shared. I have found that those who are most perceptive and empathic respond to verbal and body language most quickly and generally are most successful. Thanks for the useful reminders.

    • amillar profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Hi Neeleshkulkarni,

      Yes, it becomes instinctive after a while. Often when I preempt the customer's next question and they say, 'How did you know I was going to ask that?' I answer simply that it has become routine to me after many years.

      Whether we sell business to business or do small retail transactions, I still think that building up long-term trust is the most gratifying way of doing business.

      Thank you for dropping by my friend. It's nice to see you again.

    • neeleshkulkarni profile image


      7 years ago from new delhi

      right on target millar dear friend.

      for most seasoned salesmen of course it is instinct. you seem to enter a zone where there is just you and the customer and then you know the deal is done.

      i have always sold high value items so the contact time has typically been over many meetings and the period long so it was easy to do that over time but in the retail sector i guess contact times are less but yet the same thing should be true.


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