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How to interpret non-verbal communication in sales calls

Nishit Asnani

6 minutes

One of the most fundamental skills in sales is empathy.  

Understanding your prospect's needs and their situation is essential for qualification, making a case, and closing.

Developing a deep understanding of the prospect requires you to keep your eyes and ears open. You need to understand what is being said and the context around it.

You also need to figure out what is not being said and ask probing questions to get the prospect to share more.

As Chris Voss has mentioned in Never Split The Difference, “Negotiation is about uncovering more information to come up with a proposal that works for all the parties involved”.

Non-verbal cues like body language, facial expressions, posture, and gestures convey more about a person’s beliefs than what they say. Especially when the person is evaluating potential solutions to her problems, and wants to be sure before committing anything.

In fact, studies have shown that over 90% of communication is conveyed through non-verbal cues like facial expressions, head tilts, body posture, and eye contact.

And what's even better is that understanding and interpreting non-verbal cues is totally coachable! If you can be consciously observant and validate your assumptions over time, you can pretty quickly learn to decipher what everybody is saying (or not).

Understanding non-verbal cues in video calls

When most of the business was done in person, it was easier for salespeople to read non-verbal cues. Humans are naturally adept at reading body language - whether someone is closed or open, hostile or friendly, curious or skeptical.

Experienced salespeople are even better at it.

It is not that easy to read people on Zoom calls though, is it? The “feel” and the “vibe” that we get about people in an in-person setting are hard to match.

But there are still some easy-to-spot cues that we can use to appreciate and take action on people’s engagement, interest, and intentions. It takes practice to observe these cues and act accordingly, but is definitely not rocket science!

Here are some tips on how you can turn up your sales game with empathy and understanding by gauging these cues effectively.

1. Heads Can Tell You Tales

Most video calls only show you a person’s head, and it can be very revealing.

A tilted head, for example, is a clear sign that the listener is interested in what you’re saying. Hear from former FBI agent Joe Navarro how head tilt is a sign of comfort.

Joe Navarro shows how head tilts indicate interest.

On the other hand, someone slowly pulling back their head could signal that they are uncomfortable with what you’re saying.

A raised head and broadened shoulders signal confidence. The opposite – a downward tilted head,  or one pulled beneath the shoulders is a sign of submission or discomfort. In the latter case, it is always good to pause and ask the other person if they have any questions or need clarification.

A jutting chin is a signal of danger, as it shows defiance, unwillingness, or anger. An example of this is Hillary Clinton’s defiant chin thrust from her presidential campaign from a few years ago. See it for yourself.

A jutting chin is a strong non-verbal cue for defiance.
A jutting chin is a strong non-verbal cue for defiance.

Head movements add to the story.

Take nods for instance. While they may mean different things in different cultures (like the famous Indian head-wag), shaking the head from side to side usually shows disagreement, while a nod shows agreement.

Even the speed of a head nod indicates a person’s emotions. A slow nod shows that the person is taking in what you say, while a faster nod could mean that the person has got what you’re trying to say, and is getting impatient while waiting for you to move on to other topics. We’ll discuss this more in another post.

Head nods are a great non-verbal indication of agreement.
Head nods are a great non-verbal indication of agreement.

Fidgeting is a sign of disinterest or discomfort. Is your prospect onscreen toying with their hair? Or are they pulling their ear as they listen? These are signs that they are bored or disinterested in what you’re saying. Instead, ask them questions and try to draw them into the conversation.

2. Read My Lips

Another powerful source of understanding a person’s mental state is how their mouth reacts. Especially since these reactions are often involuntary and hard to control.

Pursed lips are a sign of anger, awkwardness, discomfort, or reticence to communicate, whereas a relaxed mouth is a positive sign of interest.

Image shows pursed lips as a non-verbal sign of awkwardness
Pursed lips here are a non-verbal sign of awkwardness

Also, watch out for how a person smiles. A genuine smile is one where a person’s face completely changes – the forehead wrinkles, eyes brighten, cheeks rise, and, finally, the mouth crinkles.

A fake smile, however, usually only involves the mouth, while the rest of the face is unchanged. This happens when the person is trying to hide their true feelings, especially anger or displeasure, or does not feel any connection to your sales pitch.

3. The Eyes Have It

How a person looks at you can tell you a lot about their response to your sales pitch.

Wide eyes signal pleasure, interest or acceptance. Slitted eyes can mean that the person doubts what you’re saying, and is trying to discern what exactly is wrong (we’ve all noticed this on dates, haven’t we?).

Blinking rapidly is a sign of stress, or of trying to conceal something, while closed eyes are a form of detaching oneself or blocking out something unpleasant.

Raised eyebrows signal doubt or lack of certainty. They may also suggest surprise, especially in combination with a gaping mouth and a lean back. It’s a fairly common signal on product demos or proposals, and something to watch out for.

Image of raised eyebrows
Raised eyebrows: a sign of surprise

Why is it so hard to capture non-verbal cues on calls?

All of this is great, but how do you focus on reading your prospects in sales calls when you’re also taking notes, presenting content, handling objections and communicating with your other teammates on the call?

Invite a teammate or your manager on the call

We’ve talked to quite a few sales teams where inviting their manager for multi-stakeholder calls is common for the sales reps.

The manager sits through the call, keeps track of how the stakeholders (especially the ones who aren’t talking) are reacting, and jumps in when she sees that a decision maker or influencer is losing interest or is skeptical.

This has other benefits too. The manager is able to provide specific, actionable feedback to her rep since she could see what led to someone zoning out or getting disinterested.

In fact, such teams tend to outperform other teams in the same sales org. They repeatedly crush quota.

Unfortunately, managers have a lot more on their plate, and can’t sit through every deal.

Use a call partner

One way is to use sales intelligence tools that help you get a better understanding of your prospect. Sybill is an AI platform that helps you read nonverbal cues and develop a deeper understanding of people on video calls.

Sybill uses behavior AI models to capture your prospect’s interest and intent based on their body language throughout the call. After each call that you take on Zoom, Sybill generates a meeting report that indicates spikes and key changes in emotion and engagement, enabling you to tailor your pitch/deck/demo with these insights in hand. It helps you truly understand and empathise with your prospect’s interest areas and pain points. Sybill allows you to understand everyone on the call, whether they are a small square on the side of the screen or the prominent presenter.

Sybill’s insights on non-verbal cues also lay the foundation for a deep analysis of what is working in your playbook and what’s not, how your sales reps and content are coming across to prospects, and how the market is feeling.


Sybill captures non-verbal cues on video calls to figure out engagement and buying interest.

Conclusion: understanding your buyers on video calls

There are no silver bullets for this problem, but with a little bit of effort, you can go a long way in understanding your buyers and driving deals forward.

Be more observant, get your manager or teammates to help, or use a behavior analysis tool to help you out.

Read the room on Zoom and accelerate quota attainment!

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