How A Successful Salesperson Reads the Prospect


Some of us are born actors. We effortlessly exude happiness, excitement or any other emotion we want to portray. Other people will never verbalize what they are feeling or thinking. But they sometimes act in certain ways to reveal what they will do. In a selling situation, you want to be the successful salesperson who can read the meaning of what a prospect says and how they act.

How Does a Successful Salesperson Read the Prospect?

If you’re about to give a sales presentation, it helps to understand the mood of the audience. Maybe you’ve been called in to present to buyers who are considering an alternate vendor to a competitor that has long served the business. In this case, you may want to pre-​read the prospect. Learn why they selected your company to present, and learn about every way that the established competitor may not be meeting your prospect’s needs.

Use that background information, along with the physical signals the people in your audience are giving, to adjust your presentation. The people attending your presentation may believe they are wasting their time listening to you. If they’re looking at their watches or phones, you can joke about being the underdog to lighten the mood. Meeting attendees who sit with their arms crossed and a scowl on their faces could be signaling that that they don’t believe your solution is any better than the one they already have. One strategy to change their minds is to offer a case study showing how one of your clients doubled revenue in a year by successfully using your product.

Talk Less and Listen More

Many salespeople fall into the trap of nervous talking. They’re afraid that the next phrase out of a prospect’s mouth might include the word “no.” To prevent that from happening, they speed up and review every product feature they can think of. At that point, the prospect may be trying to figure out how to escape and never get trapped by that salesperson again. As we’ve pointed out in the past, a successful salesperson talks less and listens more.

Steve Weinberg, who admits to being a poor poker player, points out that what your prospect says can be a “tell.” If the prospect asks, “When can we having the training?” they are sending a buying signal. They’re ready to move to the next step in the sales cycle. This question doesn’t mean you’ve won the deal, but they are seriously considering your solution. You may not be particularly excited about discussing training, especially when the prospect hasn’t asked about all the cool tech features on your product which took you forever to understand. Too bad. Follow the prospect’s lead. Listen to their questions carefully and give them the information they want.

Being Ghosted

At first, you don’t want to believe it’s happening. When a prospect you thought was close to signing a deal with you suddenly stops returning calls, you might think they had a family emergency. Or you might tell yourself they somehow didn’t see your message. Believing these lies makes it easier to avoid the truth. The deal has fallen apart. 

Once you recover from your disappointment, take time to review your most recent exchanges with the prospect. Were they giving you signals that you missed? Did they mention that the cost of your proposed solution would be a stretch for them? Did they seem uninterested in your last presentation? Depending on the nature of your relationship with the prospect, you could reach out and acknowledge that the deal no longer seems possible and thank them for their time. This outreach can improve your credibility. And if they respond with their reason for ghosting you, use the feedback in your dealings with future prospects.

While a successful salesperson excels at reading a prospect, what really matters is what you do next. Show the prospect an effective solution to their most serious business problem, and you’ll have their attention and a sale.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator.

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.