Sellers and buyers will have to make do without in-person negotiations in many cases in 2021. And even after the corona pandemic has subsided will virtual dealings likely continue to make up a large share of the human interaction and communication in procurement and sales. Communication tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams have become a part of the new normal in many companies.
Virtual dealings, however, cannot be compared one to one with in-person negotiations. Which special characteristics and requirements await salespersons and which priority non-verbal communication takes in this situation are explained by facial expression trainer Mario Büsdorf.
Mr Büsdorf, what challenges do salespersons face when they have to lead negotiations in the virtual space?
Firstly, it’s about mastering the technical requirements. All participants in the meeting should be able to hear and see each other well, presentations have to be able to be shared, and an eye possibly has to be kept on the chat, to name just a few. But this has become standard today and is no longer a headache for salespersons. The desk should be tidied up and not have any documents lying on it that are not meant for others to see.
On a personal level, it more difficult at first to create a good atmosphere for talks, as the first impression cannot be picked up by all the senses. How is the interpersonal demeanour, the strength of the handshake and so forth? What’s more, online dealings were seen for a long time as an unpopular replacement and not equal to the alternative of in-person dealings. This has markedly improved today, and virtual negotiations are now considered to be on par with face-to-face talks.
How can a virtual sales-supporting atmosphere be created then?
Small talk for getting warmed up is also possible in virtual meetings – but simply without any questions about the journey to the company, and more about the experience of being in home office or similar. The virtual space offers lots of options. The background should match up with the product or service being sold: if you would like to sell real estate, the background image should perhaps be a nice property where we see two people in front shaking hands after making a deal. For products from the mechanical engineering realm, an advanced manufacturing hall would be suitable as a background picture. The possibilities online are endless.
Is there some kind of digital etiquette which salespersons should follow?
Yes, definitely. The same standards should be adhered to as with personal talks, with the aim to show your best side. This includes, for example, the lighting, which has to be right. No one wants to negotiate in low light. But even more important is the camera’s position. This should not be placed significantly below eye level. If the camera angle is on the face from below, the potential customer will be focused more on the salesperson’s double-chin or nose hairs than on the overall appearance. It’s also important to look into the camera when talking and not at the monitor. Otherwise you run the danger of looking down and seeing the other person as submissive.
To what extent does non-verbal communication contribute to success in closing deals?
Studies show that sellers who identify the emotions of their customer earn a higher annual salary. Non-verbal communication makes a much larger impact when I can interpret it correctly. Especially when it comes to online dealings, as the salesperson has the chance to focus solely on the face and hence on the facial expressions of the other person. There are hardly any distractions. Only non-verbal communication allows for recognising the true feelings of the negotiating partner. Words can always be changed with care and strategically, but the facial expressions and gestures can only be changed to a limited degree. For instance: the salesperson provides a new offer which is extremely attractive to the buyer. He feels completely amazed; his words, however, are rather reserved. Perhaps he talks of a “first good step in the right direction”. The art therefore lies in reading the honest, non-verbal reaction, which says what the buyer truly thinks about the offer.
There are also subconscious parts of facial expressions and other physical reactions that reveal the truth.
Tells us more about this art …
It is about the reactions which cannot be controlled consciously. Of course, I can laugh as I like, which can signalise agreement, but also an uncertainty that I would like to hide. There are also subconscious parts of facial expressions and other physical reactions that reveal the truth. If I am aware of the emotions, I have a hint of how the other person will react to my proposals – either in agreement or with scepticism, which is possibly not openly communicated.
So what should the salesperson look out for in concrete terms?
An emotion is always faster than the mind. Which is why it makes sense to pay attention to physical movements of expression. If observations are noticed, these should be checked by posing a question. Two examples: recognising real joy in the contraction of the muscle in the eye ring, in other words the area between the eyebrow and the upper eyelid moves down. An increase in the blinking rate of the other person is a hint of stress. If you notice such reactions, you can look behind the façade by openly asking the question “What do you think about that?” and get closer to the truth.
And how can gestures be interpreted?
The increase in gestures, such as the sudden kneading of the fingers or the touching of the neck, is an expression of stress. A question along the lines of “What exactly is causing you to worry?” helps to understand what is on the other person’s mind.
And what should the salesperson do to come across in a positive way themselves?
Firstly, ask yourself how exactly you would like to come across. There are, of course, concrete behaviours for making an advantageous impression on the other person. An upright posture, for instance, provides a powerful and dynamic appearance. If you imagine having a rubber band attached to the back of your head and it being continually pulled up, you will automatically sit straighter. Otherwise, smile and maintain eye contact. This makes you likeable and creates trust.