What Are Your Buying Signals?

The USA Today quiz below, which makes a reference to a customer’s “buying signals,” got us wondering, what are our “tells” when we’re in the store? It turns out there are all sorts of places online to help us with this bit o’ self-knowledge.

“Whether our prospects like it or not, their bodies and words say it for them,” writes Laura Laaman for Business First. She lists a few basic signals salespeople should look for, which you may be providing without knowing:

  • Your prospect retakes possession of the product after your presentation.
  • Your prospect takes mental possession of the product or service. She could, for example, ask about the warranty. A novice salesperson thinks, “She’s concerned about the warranty.”
  • When one person asks permission of another. This can happen verbally or nonverbally. The reason a person initiates the “what do you think?” look is because he thinks it makes sense to move forward but wants reassurance from another person. If your prospect is shopping alone, he could look to you or ask for your opinion, and say something like: “Which model is most popular?”

Why is it so important to react to these buying signals immediately? Because they go away almost immediately. Buyers’ remorse sets in quickly, so hearing and reacting to the buying signals instantly often is the difference between a sale or not. An exception to this rule is when a customer asks about delivery or installation time.

Changing Minds lists some basic behavioral patterns that may help you see yourself as retailers see you. For example, as a shopper I tend to linger over products a looonnng time, which almost always triggers a salesperson intruding on my headphoned cone-of-music. I will stop doing this in the future, because it’s apparently a well-known signal to retailers that I’m thinking about buying, when what I’m actually thinking about is being a rock star and performing the song I’m listening to.

When they are not ready to buy

  • Avoiding eye contact with you
  • Making ‘not now’ excuses
  • Casual handling of the product
  • Looking at many different products
  • Moving around quickly

When they are ready to buy

  • Spending time looking at one product type
  • Looking around for somebody to help them
  • Asking questions about the detail
  • Asking about price
  • Using possession language
  • Asking another person’s opinion
  • Body state changes
  • Touching the money

Robert Gerrish at Flying Solo says some of the buying signals he learned from his used-car salesman days include:

  • Visualising language abounds — In the car business this came across with phrases like: “I wonder what my neighbours will make of the colour?” or “I can just see the kids in the back.”
  • Going over things more than once
  • Nudging your boundaries — Questions that challenge aspects of your procedures often indicate pre-sale playfulness. “You asked for a deposit of $2000. Would you accept $1000?”
  • Almost all references to money
  • Questions about timing

We came across several references to the money question—pretty much everyone agrees that if you start talking about the price being too high, what you’re really saying is, “I want to buy this but need to be better convinced of its value.”

“Learn customers’ buying signals to make more sales” [Business First]
“Buying signals” [Changing Minds]
“Do you recognise buying signals?” [Flying Solo]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. timmus says:

    This would work great for Home Depot customers, except that usually there’s not even any floor employees to be found.

  2. 8abhive says:

    “got us thinking-what are our tells when we’re in the store?”

    What does this mean?

  3. Onouris says:

    Some of those show you’re interested in buying, but not necessarily today, or even at that store, so I’d still be annoyed if someone came poking around uninvited.

    I wonder how many people actually want someone to come and ask how they’re doing. I’m doing fine, that’s why I haven’t come to ask you for your help yet…

    Yet on the flip side there’s always times when you say you don’t need help, because you don’t, then you think of something new and can’t find anyone because they’re off stalking the newest person to walk through the door.

  4. Chris Walters says:

    @8abhive: As in poker.

  5. parad0x360 says:

    Well I guess Walmart ignores all the signal…you could ask someone to get something out of a locked case with 1 $100 bill in your hand, they will tell you they will call someone with keys..20 min later another person will walk by for you to flag down, rinse/repeat.

  6. TechnoDestructo says:

    My instinct is always to cry “bullshit” at stories like this, or anything regarding how to sell things to people, because almost none of it ever applies to me.

    It just looks to me like wishful thinking on the salesman’s part…that people are all the same and that a certain behavior means a certain thing, or that a particular line of questioning will lead to a desired answer.

    Like someone trying to sell to salesmen exactly what they want to hear.

  7. 8abhive says:

    @cwalters: Checked the link but “what are our tells” still baffles me.

  8. Chris Walters says:

    @8abhive: As in, “What are the nonverbal signals (or in this case, possibly verbal) that we subconsciously broadcast to reveal our intention.” The “tell” analogy implies that this is a game or contest in which you might not want the salesperson to know your true intent, because you may be negotiating a price or package.

    “What are our tells?” == “What are our subconscious signals to the salesperson?”

  9. bohemian says:

    Standing at a register with a bunch of merchandise and your wallet in your hand is not considered a signal you want to buy something in many stores. Neither is standing in Home Depot whining that you really want to buy a generator.

  10. Zombietime says:

    I lead the salesmen on and then crush their hopes and dreams of commission when I say i’ll think about it.


  11. 8abhive says:

    @cwalters: Hits forehead. Verbs, nouns, whatever.

  12. Parting says:

    @TechnoDestructo: These signs do not work for everybody. It’s just an indication. I guess it’s an additional way to try to make sense of buyer/seller ”relationship”.

  13. Parting says:

    @Zombietime: If you do to every salesman, then you are a jerk. People have to make a living. However, if it only concerns pushy/arrogant sales staff, then have lots of fun ;)

  14. Rob says:

    I love those buttons that say things like “Call a sales associate to help you!” and you press it and no one shows up, so you start looking and then you find out that no one works there including the checkers…

  15. goodkitty says:

    It’s so much nicer to buy from someone who knows sales like this. They aren’t pushy until they need to be, and then it’s only to be supportive in your purchase.

    The only exception is when the sales droid gets stuck in a brain loop and keeps asking for the sale repeatedly like a whiny toddler.

    I still have true awe and appreciation for people who are gifted with sales and not just running down the checklist… it’s s totally different thing than the stunned deer milling about the aisles of Wal-Mart.

  16. SacraBos says:

    @goodkitty: I had a Dodge dealership salesdroid do this. Every sentence was structured around “what would it take to put you in this car today?” Didn’t know anything about actual vehicle, but wanted that sale TODAY. Extremely irritating…

  17. SexCpotatoes says:

    I just usually hump things until they give the item to me for free.

  18. mac-phisto says:

    @goodkitty: i used to love sales. i genuinely felt like i was helping customers make the best choice for their buck.

    what really got to me were the shoppers who took up 1/2-hr of my time gleaning information about a particular product & then responding with a “i’m gonna take a look at what wal-mart has”.


  19. Propaniac says:

    To be honest, I don’t think I ever trust a salesperson,at least at a corporate store, to know (or tell me) more about the product than I can read on the box myself. So even in a case where advice would be helpful, I still prefer them to just leave me alone and let me compare specifications on my own.

    The only times I seek out salespeople, usually unsuccessfully, are when I can’t find something in a big store. That’s so annoying.

  20. m4ximusprim3 says:

    @SexCpotatoes: Or the salespeople. They love that.

  21. GOKOR says:

    @Zombietime: Yeah, that’s a douchebag move on your part. Most sales people are simply doing their job because they have to, not because they’re trying to force things on you. They could honestly care less what you get or why, as long as it helps them out with their paycheck.

    @TechnoDestructo: It’s basic body language that the vast majority of people do. Some people are “immune,” but they’re the minority. Similar to the tells of someone who is lying to you.

  22. GOKOR says:

    @Propaniac: More often than not, customers are idiots. You can have the sales price on the box or right on the spot they got it from and they will still ask how much it costs.

  23. SaraAB87 says:

    I seriously doubt the temporary Christmas help at Kmart or Sears cares whether you buy something or not, as long as they get their paycheck at the end of the day. These people don’t care about reading body language or other things because they have had little to no training before being thrown into their position, they are there to ring you up and send you on your way.

    This probably applies more to larger retail sales, like cars, appliances and TV’s. Usually the workers at Sears here are so bored since no one shops there that they will be happy to take time to talk to you about something just so they don’t get bored to death.

  24. mac-phisto says:

    @Propaniac: that’s your prerogative, but sometimes a salesperson can save you time & money by helping you select the product that meets your needs best.

    for instance, i spent 5 minutes with a co-worker explaining to her the features she should look for on a gps, the ones she could do without & helped her find a unit that was well-priced & well-liked by users. saved her $500 (she was eyeballing a garmin, which are very nice but laden with unnecessary features for the average user).

  25. Curiosity says:

    That is a good sales tactic since you are selling not only your product but your expertise (which should mean more sales overall).

    You should make sure though that your store stands by you and the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose that you may be selling (generally). It is no big thing for a reputable store, but one salespeople and consumers should be aware of (and is founded in common sense):

    If a seller knows or has reason to know of a particular purpose for which some item is being purchased by the buyer, the seller is guaranteeing that the item is fit for that particular purpose. This differs from a warranty of merchantability in two ways:

    * First, the warranty of fitness applies to all sellers, not just professional merchants; and
    * Second, the warranty of fitness requires the seller to know or have reason to know of a specific purpose to which the property sold is going to be put.

    For example, if Joey buys four end-tables from Susan (a non-merchant) and then uses them to prop up his car while he works on the muffler, Susan is not liable for any injury that occurs to Joey – unless Joey told Susan that he was buying the end-tables for that purpose.

    The implied warranty of fitness is described in US law by Article 2, Section 315 of the Uniform Commercial Code. (from [en.wikipedia.org])

    Compare that to the implied warranty of merchantability [en.wikipedia.org]
    as well as the disclaimers [en.wikipedia.org]

  26. julienne says:

    @SexCpotatoes: I had just given up on this whiffleball article when your comment made it all worthwhile. Was worth splattering my keyboard with soda.

  27. VerucaSalt says:

    @Onouris: The people that are offended that they haven’t been greeted while browsing is a very small but vocal community. They are responsible for about half of the serious customer complaints the business I work at receives. They have no problem calling/writing/emailing/dropping in in person to the store manager to express their outrage that no one said hello to them while they were browsing. They are exactly why you get asked how you are or greeted.

    Could I just suggest to the shopping public that if you are asked how you are in public that you just say “Fine, thanks!” and not “Just looking!” It takes one second to be friendly back and your implied body language can tell the sales person if you are open to further conversation or not.

    Had to get that off my chest post-holiday rush.