Reading People, a Room, and a few Books

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Dr. Seuss

I believe that reading is absolutely critical to be a sales superstar…and not just books. The best salespeople can read people individually and, of equal importance, read a roomful of people in a meeting or presentation. The big thing to remember about reading a person or a room is to be both self-aware and, at the same time, almost disembodied in the sense of being able to be both a participant and observer of the situation. Most people have experienced this autoscopy at least a couple times in their lives and it is a valuable skill to help read an individual and a room.

Let’s look a little deeper into the following:

  • Reading People
  • Reading a Room
  • Bonus: Reading a few Books

Reading People

“Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.” Deborah Bull

Reading People for Context

I always like to know a little something about the people that I’m going to meet with whenever I’m planning a meeting. If we have mutual friends, I might drop a line to my friend to ask about the person I’m meeting with…likes, dislikes, etc. LinkedIn can be a very helpful resource in learning about someone’s background and experience. I believe that it is important to try and find some kind of ‘shared interest’ to refer to as you are starting the meeting. It could be a shared background, interests (music, arts, sports, etc.), or mutual friends. The purpose of this is to establish a shared commonality before you actually get into the ‘meat’ of the meeting. All people like to find something in common with others…particularly if you are meeting them for the first time.

Reading People LIVE

Most meetings are held in conference rooms or other ‘neutral’ spots. If you are able to meet someone in their office, make sure and notice everything on their walls and desks. Pictures of family, favorite sports teams, etc. can be great topics of conversation.

Once you’re engaged in the actual meeting, it is very important to pay close attention to what the person is saying and telling you. I’ve seen many new salespeople in such a hurry to get their points across that they aren’t listening to the customer…in fact, many times they are actually interrupting the customer before the customer is finished talking. That is not only rude but also very disingenuous on the part of the salesperson…remember the sales tip, “two ears / one mouth”. You should try and let the customer talk at least 2/3 of the time as this will provide you with valuable information about their goals and challenges. Don’t rush your sales features and benefits and it’s also helpful to slow down and pause a few seconds to actually think about the customers comments before responding. It’s not a race but a conversation. 

Reading a Room

“Language is a more recent technology. Your body language, your eyes, your energy will come through to your audience before you even start speaking.” Peter Guber

When giving a presentation to a roomful of customers seated around a conference table, for example, the same principles for a 1:1 conversation hold true…but there are other variables, too. Ideally, you will have someone from your team in the meeting to help with the tech issues of set-up and to also take notes. As the presenter, you need to focus on your audience and communicating your story…it’s very difficult to add tasking notes to your task.

But, just as with 1:1, you need to be reading your audience. Are they paying attention? Are you seeing heads nodding in agreement or disagreement? And most importantly, are they looking down at the phones or other screens? I always love to get tough questions from customers during a presentation because that means they are really listening and thinking to my message. I’m always concerned if I’m looking at a roomful of blank faces…if that happens, I’ve got a few choices to make.

If my audience is not responding, I can try walking around the room or conference table to ‘shake things up’ a bit. I’ve given a presentation at the rear of the conference table as opposed to standing in front sometimes…this can also help to make sure that the customers seated farthest away can clearly see the slides. In a few cases, I’ve actually stopped the presentation, turned off the screen, and acknowledged that there was a disconnection and to try and start a conversation with the customers. The most important thing to remember is to pay attention to both telling YOUR story but also the subtle stories your audience of customers are telling you.

Bonus: Reading a few Books

I love to read books…mostly paper but a few books on my tablet, too. I believe that reading not only is fun and informative but will also help in developing your writing skills both for business and pleasure. I like biographies, nonfiction and also fiction.

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

This is the best new novel I’ve read in 2017…while I don’t want to give too much away, the book takes place during the Civil War after the death of Willie Lincoln. There are a cast of characters including Willie’s father, the President. It’s an incredibly imaginative story and very much aligned with the need for salespeople to “put themselves in other’s shoes.” Listening, understanding, and empathy are a huge part of this book…and should be a huge part of the salesperson’s personality and character, too.

Author: Tim Hand

My name is Tim Hand, and I am a digital media, sales & marketing team leader, and I have a real passion for partnering with companies, publishers and agencies to help drive client growth and bottom-line revenues.

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