Identifying Buying Signals


For a salesperson, identifying buying signals is the ability to analyze the events in a sales situation and make a determination as to when the prospect is ready to buy.

A salesperson with good skills in this area is attuned to the verbal and nonverbal signals of their prospect or customer. A common mistake that many salespeople make is approaching a prospect or customer with a preplanned presentation and delivering a “pitch” — blatantly or inadvertently ignoring buying signals even if the prospect may be ready to buy.

This improvable skill of identifying buying signals is a combination of intuitive insight, people-reading ability, focus and the ability to listen. In taking a look at ways to improve your ability to identify buying signals, let’s take a look at a few key elements:

  • Focus
  • Nonverbal cues
  • Feedback


Sometimes it’s difficult to shift your focus away from yourself; your career and/or entering the sales process with a pre-determined personal objective. However, to be successful in a sale, you have to focus on your prospect and their wants and needs at all times. This is a difficult task, and you should be aware of a common pitfall.

Many salespeople who are unable to keep their prospect in the forefront of their mind mentally “settle” or “compromise” by shifting focus to their product or their organization. Because it’s difficult to stay focused on someone else, the salesperson justifies their inability to hold the spotlight elsewhere by talking about their product or organization. This shift becomes obvious when the salesperson stops using the words “you” and “your” (speaking of, to and about the prospect) and starts using “my” and “our” (speaking of and about the product and organization.) Remember, everything is about your prospect. If you’re talking about the product or organization, you want to keep the focus on how it benefits your prospect. Consider the different effects of these two sentences:

“You can feel very confident about the level of support you’ll get from our award-winning customer service reps.”

“We offer outstanding support to all our accounts based on our award-winning customer service department.”

The first sentence is all about what the prospect will get. “You can feel” and “you’ll get” both keep the focus squarely on the prospect. The word “our” obviously refers to the organization, but it’s in reference to what the prospect gets. Further, the use of “reps” personalizes the experience the prospect can expect to have.

The second sentence keeps the focus on “we” and doesn’t tell the prospect what it means for them. When you’re talking to a person, try to avoid words that lump all your clients into categories or things, such as “accounts.” Also, let your prospect know they’ll be dealing with people, not bureaucratic “departments.”

This is a straightforward way to put your customer at ease and to make sure you keep your focus on them. In the sales process you can really only focus on one thing at a time: yourself, your organization, your product or the prospect. In order to be able to identify buying signals, it is very critical that you focus totally and singularly on the prospect, yet remain flexible enough to recognize all the possibilities and opportunities.

Nonverbal Cues

Identifying those nonverbal indications that your prospect is ready to buy involves some basic psychology, but you don’t need a degree to understand them — simply use some common sense and remain focused and alert enough to pick up on them.

Some traditional positive physical cues include:

  • Eye contact
  • Nodding in agreement
  • Leaning forward
  • Smiling
  • Wrinkled brow

All of these are physical cues your prospect or customer can demonstrate to alert you to the fact that they are engaged and are beginning to form positive decisions about your offering.

Some other nonverbal cues to consider can be found in your audience. Some things to look for include:

  • How many people are in the room during your presentation?
  • Who’s in the room? The CEO? Buyer? User?
  • What are they doing? Are they checking their BlackBerry? Are they leaving the room to take phone calls? Do the buyer and user quietly discuss issues you bring up during the presentation?

Looking at indicators such as how many people have come to your presentation and who they are can give you an idea as to how seriously your offering is being considered. Watching people during the presentation can shed even more light on buying signals. How would you interpret the situation if the CEO waved off an assistant who brought in a message? The key here is to be open to others and to constantly listen and observe.


Feedback means that you have to be able to stop at various points along the way, testing to see if your prospect is ready to buy. You may want to start being alert for what we refer to as “how to” questions from the prospect. Those questions are, in many cases, geared toward buying signals. Here’s an example of four of them:

  • “How do we receive the product?”
  • “How do we take care of paperwork?”
  • “How do we handle any changes to the order?”
  • “How would you help me implement this?”

These are “operational” questions that presuppose an acceptance or purchase on the part of the prospect. That simply means that the prospect is moving closer and closer to making the purchase decision.

Also, you may want to look for “when” and “where” questions. These are basic questions that deal with operational issues like:

  • “When can we take possession?”
  • “When do we put it in place?”
  • “Where would we place it?”
  • “Where can we get in touch with you?”

You may also want to listen for additional statements like: “When we” or “As we.”

  • “When” communicates some idea of “Yes, I am interested in doing this. Now I am simply looking for a time frame.”

The transfer of ownership must occur first in the prospect’s mind before it’s ever going to occur tangibly in a sale.

  • “As” means while we are doing something like this.
  • “We” suggests that your prospect is looking for a partner. What your prospect is likely saying is, “We are looking for someone to partner with us.” “We” means that they have emotionally engaged you as their partner by saying things like, “and as we implement this” or “when we implement that.”

One of the other things that is extremely essential is your skillful use of “feedback questions.” These are “weigh stations” along the way that allow you to implement reality checks. These reality checks start in the application or presentation stage of selling your product or service.

Asking for your prospect’s reactions and feelings does three very important things for you:

  • It lets you know if your presentation is on or off target.
  • By asking, you enable prospects to admit to themselves how they feel and commit to you on how they’ll act.
  • It enables you to reinforce positive feelings and clear up any misconceptions.

As long as you are getting a positive response to those questions, continue your presentation. However, as soon as you get a negative or neutral response, that should communicate something to you. Your presentation is off target.

If this is the case, simply ask, “What is it about this [product, feature or benefit] that causes you to say that [it is not something you would like to be able to use]?” Get your answer. Then ask if there is anything else that is causing your prospect concern. If there is nothing else, you have isolated what is off target. You can then go back and ask what the specific concerns are. You have now identified and isolated the problem. Now you can resolve it before moving forward.

A reliable sales process is essential to your success, but don’t get so wrapped up in it that you miss buying signals your prospect may be giving you. Incorporating these skills into your sales process will help you remain vigilant and receptive to opportunities.

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  • photo of Bill Brooks

Bill Brooks is CEO of The Brooks Group, an international sales training and business growth firm based in Greensboro, North Carolina. For more information visit If readers would like to receive The Brooks Group’s free e-mail monthly Sales or Sales Management newsletter, e-mail or visit