In all my time in business, closing deals has always been one of the hardest aspects. You might recognize the pattern I've been through many times. We'll get a lead and my sales team and I will be completely confident the client is going to close, and the deal will fall through when we're on the verge of celebrating. It's frustrating to find out your perception was wrong when it feels like you've done everything right.

The natural solution for many businesses is to look at the tools they are using. There are so many sales products on the market it can be tempting to choose to upgrade your tech. We've invested significantly in tech enablement products such as Sonero.AI, yet the situation has remained stubbornly consistent. No matter what we use, we seem to overestimate how likely a deal is to close. Most products on the market can give us more information, but the issue is more with how we interpret the data we have. 

It's not an individual issue either, as it's a trait I've seen in almost everyone I've worked with within sales. When I'm on the calls myself, I'm liable to the same over-optimism that then gives way to disappointment.

This issue has troubled me for some time but I recently had a conversation with Ori Zuckerman that made me realize what I was missing. He's the founder of Substrata and is building A.I.-based sales tools to help us with all the social signals we misinterpret. His research suggests the pattern of believing deals to be more imminent than they are is because most of us haven't developed our ability to read non-verbal cues and we focus too much on the words that were spoken instead. 

A good way to think of this is in terms of implicit versus explicit communication. A potential client might not have verbalized any of their doubts explicitly but there could be implicit cues if you know what you're looking for. When so much of our communication is now online, this task becomes even harder. It's why Ori believes that "decoding the subtext of these communications is essential for them to succeed."

The business impact of being able to better read non-verbal cues would be significant to companies regardless of what stage they are at. There are three mechanisms that would make this possible. First, if dead-end leads can be identified faster, then sales resources can be redirected to other leads, making those more likely to complete. Second, if doubts are picked up early enough, then communication can be adapted to reassure the potential customer to close the deal. Finally, a lead that would have been wrongly identified as not worth pursuing can be recategorized and concerted. 

To train yourself to read non-verbal cues and improve your sales, start by acknowledging that all the messages you receive will have subtext. When we're in a rush, it can be easy to make a snap decision, but failing to making time to question the underlying tone behind a message can help you pick up subtle cues faster.

To interpret the signs properly, you need to be able to focus on changes in behavior to give context to the signals that are being sent. Establish this baseline early and then keep referring back to it in future sales conversations. Does it seem like the lead is more or less excited than those original interactions? 

When you're analyzing lead messages to work out what they need for your cycle, be sure to look for the most engaging and disengaging cues. Did they lean in forward throughout, or were they too busy checking their phone to care what you had to say? For email, are they going through the motions or are they making effort to improve your relationship?

It's also crucial to recognize that context is king when trying to understand the non-verbal cues. Are you aware that their business is currently overwhelmed? If so, then a blunt tone might be nothing to do with you or your sales pitch at all but from other stressors. This might even mean they are more likely to buy your product to ease their crunch. On an individual level, if you know your liaison has a young child then grumpy or short messages might be because they've just had a poor night of sleep.

These tips can get you closer to where you want to be, but there's still more that you can do. A.I. is rapidly adapting to be able to read humans better than humans can themselves. Tools that read between the lines on our behalf are coming to the market such as Q. This smart product scans emails instantly and assigns a tone and other supporting information to it, which can help a busy sales professional to understand the mindset of the sales target. It provides a second reference point for making decisions rather than just the sales representative's opinion which reduces pressure.

There are many further examples of the ways that A.I. can help in the context of reading social signals for sales professionals. It can also be used to detect changes in tone in calls that can give away how a customer is feeling. This can be particularly illuminating, as often the sales professional will need to focus on what they need to say rather than paying attention to the tone of the listener. In the future, we may even see A.I.-generated reports after a Zoom call of body language signals. The technology is still in its infancy and it will be interesting to see what impact these tools have on the public.

The key is to use A.I. as a way to enhance sales professionals not replace them. As you know, the human touch can be so important in building a rapport but AI can just help with the interpretation. 

Action Steps to Take

  1. Be aware that there could be subtext for a message;

  2. identify a baseline;

  3. look for engaging and disengaging cues;

  4. context is king: Is there something else happening that could explain their behavior? and

  5. explore A.I.-based tools to further enhance your ability to read cues.