You're late to a sales call and the guy driving beside you has a lot going on in the car. Between texting, the satellite radio, and the electric razor, he's paying zero attention to the white lines on the Interstate. Scared you won't see your next birthday, you give the goof your best Archie Bunker death glare. What you get back is an equally nasty look and a good old-fashioned “bluebird” (that's Canadian for a middle finger).

Without uttering a word, a lot was just said between the two of you.

Body language (kinesics) gives a lasting and critical impression about people, sometimes more so than words. In selling, it's important to remember that your success during a sales call begins the moment you walk in the door.

Assuming you're not walking in smelling like a cigarette or wearing a coffee-stained brown bowling shirt and wrinkled black slacks, you can easily affect how others perceive you by worrying less about what your mouth is saying and more about your body language. Here's where to start:

Hand shake

It all starts when you whip your hand out to greet your customer as those first few seconds can strengthen or weaken the relationship. What can you learn from a handshake? “The Controller” is the customer who wants to be in charge and will purposely move his hand onto the top when your hands are linked. “The Dead Fish” is when your hands are sweaty, which makes it very unpleasant for the person you're greeting. The “Limp Finger” is when you only extend your fingers rather than the entire hand; this shows a sign of weakness. When you shake hands, hold the person's hand firmly, shake three times maximum, maintain eye contact, and radiate a positive aura to ensure the call is successful starting off.

Eyes

I don't want to sound like a Harlequin romance novel, but the eyes are windows to the soul. Maintaining eye contact without glaring gives the impression that you're confident and honest. Staring shows aggressiveness. Looking away or down indicates a lack of confidence, lack of interest, submissiveness, and nerves.

During your call, focus on maintaining eye contact, control your blinking, and make sure your gaze returns quickly to the person speaking whenever you look away.

Posture

Nothing says low self-esteem and lack of poise more than slouched shoulders, a protruding stomach, and a downcast head. You have zippo chance of getting that rate increase when you turn people off without even being aware of it. Stand tall, plant your feet, pull in your stomach, and put your shoulders back and head up. Even feet talk. If the new traffic manager's feet are pointed inward when they sit, he's most likely an introvert. If they point outward, an extrovert.

Movements and gestures

Like wine, moderation is best. Slow movements and gestures may make you appear lazy, sluggish, or uninterested; too fast or jerky and you'll be perceived as out of control or impulsive. The best advice? Think of your words as symphony music and move your arms with the rhythm of your voice.

These seem like basic concepts. Yet how you carry yourself projects confidence, trustworthiness, self-control — the kinds of qualities that customers expect from someone they're doing business with. Don't believe me? Next time you cross the border, avoid eye contact with the customs agent and fidget around a lot. You'll see how effective non-verbal communication can be; however, I wouldn't recommend flipping him a “bluebird.” Actions do speak louder than words.


Mike McCarron is managing partner at the MSM Group of Companies, which specializes in transportation and logistics service between Canada and the United States.