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What is digital body language and how to use it to engage your buyers?

by Riya Uppal
last updated on May 23, 2022 7:22:51 AM

That abrasive email. Those bone-dry texts. The awkward pause on a zoom call. We have all had our share of encounters with ambiguous body language cues online and perhaps contributed to it too within our personal digital worlds.

Can you wager to put a number to how many times your emails or texts might have been misinterpreted by your colleagues, boss or prospects? Research can. A study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says that number is more than 50%. That is like saying “I love you” to your partner and at least half the time, they are like yeah right!

All this comes down to one thing, that Digital Body Language is important. You need to be well versed in it to ensure your tone is sincere and your pitches are landing. This blog will help you do exactly that.

What is digital body language?

As the majority of information we share and express today has become virtual, digital body language (DBL) has become inseparable from physical body language. It is reshaping physical body language in new ways that are often misinterpreted.

In simple words, digital body language is body language that you use in the digital space when communicating via email, messenger, chat, or conference call. Like our in-person physical body language, digital body language includes the subtle cues that signal our mood or level of engagement, and leaves scope for interpretation – be it in text, on the phone or in a video call.

Why is digital body language important?

In a world where 70 percent of all communication is virtual and 50 percent of the time the “tone” of your emails is misinterpreted, digital body language is the need of the hour. Especially with your prospects, where each interaction has a monetary value.

The scene is all too familiar, you are in a zoom call meeting and doing your discovery call script that always stokes out your prospects. However, this one prospect is fidgeting with his phone and looking bored. In such a scenario, what do you do? Do you carry on like usual or do you change up your strategy?

Erica Dhawan has an interesting take on this. Once when she was delivering a keynote presentation in front of an audience, she looked around to gauge the feel of the room as she normally does. To her disappointment, she noticed the audience looked tired, irritable, disengaged and tuned out. Some people even looked overtly hostile. Others were slumped in their chairs, heads hanging to the side, eyes glancing up at the clock. Their body language was screaming to her: not another framework, please. 

So she pivoted. She scraped her usual introduction and instead took a seat on the edge of the seat and said, “Talk to me about the emotions you are feeling right now,”. The mood in the room changed, just like that. She was no longer talking to the audience; but talking with them. And just like that, a speech which could have been a disaster turned into an interactive hour of genuine connection and animated discussion. 

While it may not be possible to exactly fit her public speech switcheroo into your context, it does help to read the room using digital body language.

How to listen and respond to your prospect’s digital body language?

Learning and deciphering digital body language will help you get a lot of insight about your prospects and customers. You can use this information to craft effective communication that is personalised and tailored to your buyer. 

Below are three key steps in understanding your prospect’s digital body language:

1. Find out where they are in the sales funnel or buying process

Map out the buying process: To understand where prospects are in the buying process, you must map out how buyers buy. Although each buyer is different, the phases of the buying process—awareness, interest, desire, action and post action—are shared. Mapping helps you better target your messages to prospects in each stage. 

2. Keep your messages targeted based on where they are in the process

As you communicate with buyers in a variety of ways and forums, each touch point becomes an opportunity to better understand each prospect’s area and level of interest. 

At the Awareness stage, new subscribers aren’t interested in an inbox full of blaring product promotion emails. Rather they want introductory emails that build trust in the brand without asking for money. Educational content, templates, workbooks, or impactful newsletters may be more suited at this stage. 

The Interest stage is an opportunity to understand your customers goals and interests, which you can use to recommend suitable solutions to solve their problems with your product. Customer testimonials, case studies, webinar recordings, knowledge base articles are the way to go during this stage. 

At the Desire stage, prospects are already sold on your product and want just a bit of a nudge to complete their purchase. Free trials, time-based offers, and discount codes, proposals, estimates, and personal consultations can act as the last push someone needs to pull out their wallet. 

At the Action and Post Action Stage, your prospect is already your customer. They now need assurance that they have made the right decision choosing you. This is the time to send them a welcome email, reiterate product features and guide them to your customer success process, should they need help.

3. Read cues to know when to send out messages based on how engaged or unengaged they are

Read the explicit cues or buying signals: Every prospect you deal with will display different buying signals at different stages of the selling process and the sooner you spot them, the faster you can move towards making a sale.

Some buying signals to look out for in the early stages are: Are they asking about the specifics of your offering? Are they sharing their pain points in detail and being curious about how your solution can help? Are they enquiring about post sales services and or payment plans?

To know more about the different kinds of buying signals and their significance, jump onto our in depth blog, “31 buying signals that indicate your prospect is (still) interested”.

Read the silent signs using Intent Data: Intent data from powerful sales automation solutions like hubsell can unmask engagement of your prospect in a multitude of ways such as: how frequently has the prospect been to your website? Over what period? How long have their sessions been ? How many page views and what web pages have they viewed?

DBL cheat sheet for messages: Don’t walk the talk. Write the talk.

Here are some tips from Wall street bestseller Erica Dhawan’s latest book,  ‘Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance’ to help you ace your digital interactions with prospects. 

Value visibly

When relationships are mediated by screens, valuing visibly becomes all the more important. Valuing visibly means not assuming people are “okay”. Instead, it means being proactive about explicitly showing you understand their desires and value their participation.

As Erica Dhawan puts it, “Reading carefully is the new listening” so step numbero uno is to make sure you pay attention to what your prospect is trying to convey in texts and only then respond. While writing, do the little things. Check your tone, and think about how your message may be perceived. 

Communicate carefully

Communicating carefully means getting to the point while considering context, medium, and audience. In other words, when sending messages, say what you mean and state what you need in terms of clear CTAs – thereby eliminating frustrating ambiguity in your messages. 

Make your messages scannable. For long messages, use bullets, sub headings, white space, highlights and bold text. Present your prospects with options like, “Do you think we should do A, B, or C?” instead of asking open-ended questions like “What do you think about this?” or “Thoughts?”

Brevity creates confusion

Messages that are too long can seem boring, while messages that are too brief can create digital anxiety. 

When writing to your prospects, always ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my message clear?
  • Is there another way that the recipient might interpret my message?
  • If my message is confusing, is there another medium and style I could use to convey it more clearly?
  • Am I coming across as terse, vague or rushed? 

“Communicate your mind” mindset

It is vital to create a fair balance between written content and visual graphics when sharing your ideas with others.

Ideally, your goal should be to ensure your prospect is neither overwhelmed with too many visuals nor bored with an essay load of content. 

Assume the best intent

Erica Dhawan observes most people don’t reveal themselves all at once. Instead, they show themselves slowly, bit by bit. But there is nothing more encouraging than a person who listens intently and engages honestly. 

Migrate from phony to authentic communications. Reference back to your prospect’s website, blog posts and assess what the company needs. With every scrap of detail, you begin to develop trust and build credibility.

Find your voice

Last but not the least, do not be afraid to inject some personality into your messages. Real-world body language translates on screen into words, punctuation, timing, and choice of medium. Be mindful of the countless ways the words you type can be misinterpreted by the receiver and gain control over those words before you click Send. 

Dhawan recommends the below list as a primer to your digital interactions:

  • Priority = Choice of medium

Choosing the best medium to use – email, messenger, phone or text- is important and depends on context. She says switching between channels can indicate a shift in the urgency of the message- or even denote the closeness of a relationship. 

  • Emotion = Punctuation and symbols 

As your computer screen filters out most non verbal cues (facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, pitch) and thus strips away many of the qualities that make us human— punctuation and emojis are all that we have to rely on. 

You can use exclamation points when you want to say something extra loudly or even extra excitedly. As Will Schwalbe points out, “The exclamation point is the quickest and easiest way to kick things up a notch”. That said, it is always safer to err on the side of minimalism with emojis and exclamation points to keep the tone professional. 

  • Respect = Timing

While immediacy is an important virtue for most businesses, you must not prioritise immediacy over a thoughtful response that can be all the more valuable. 

Digital conversations are often asynchronous, meaning that your prospect and you aren’t necessarily having a conversation in “real time.” This gives you more control over when and how you respond, but at the same time, do not wait too long to respond as the gaps in response time can produce anxiety on the receiver’s end. 

  • Inclusion = To, Cc, Bcc, Reply All

Erica explains the importance of these fields using a sports metaphor. 

Think of an email as a sporting event she writes. You and whoever else in the “To” box are the athletes. Not CCing or BCCing anyone means you are just practicing, rallying before a match. When you add observers to the “Cc” line, you invite other people to fill the stands. “Bcc” means you are swelling the VIP box seats with scouts, coaches and recruiters. At this point, the game starts to happen. 

In other words, use these form fields to create inclusion with your organisation and that of your prospect. 

  • Identity = Your Digital Persona

Your digital persona has 4 main components: Your name, Your (work) email address, Your profile picture and your search results. To ensure a professional front, make sure to keep your LinkedIn updated and your digital presence as authentic as possible. The aim is to ensure that your prospect feels confident enough when engaging with you.

7-38-55 Rule: 95% of meaning is communicated nonverbally

When you book face-to-face meetings with potential customers or clients, you are likely focused on what you are going to say. 

But it does not suffice to only pay attention to your words. The age old saying, “It is not what you say, It is how you say it” rings true. 

Non verbal cues i.e your digital body language too makes a huge difference in making your pitch land. Let me elaborate.

Verbal and nonverbal communication: Read between the lines

You may spend hours perfecting your discovery call script but it will still not convert if you do not have conviction in your voice.

As per the 7-38-55 rule, 93 percent of meaning is communicated nonverbally. The rule states that 7 percent of meaning is communicated through spoken word, 38 percent through tone of voice, and 55 percent through body language. This is to say your tone of voice and body language are much more important than what you are actually saying.

Furthermore, a study by Albert Mehrabian, a reputed professor of Psychology, says people’s emotional responses are influenced much more by nonverbal communication than verbal. It also says that all of these verbal and non verbal cues incite an emotional response in the receiver. 

Love. Hate. Trust. Admiration. Whatever emotion prospects may feel can be traced back to how they interpreted three types of communication with that person i.e words, tone of voice and (digital) body language.

For instance, imagine telling your potential customer, “Our software has the best feature deck in the industry.” Even a sentence like that may leave your prospects confused if they see your salesperson’s eyes darting over to their phone mid sentence or if they have a flat tone as if they were reading the statement from a script.

A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures do not significantly change those impressions. This means you have got to make your first impression count. 

Let us look at some body language techniques you can use to boost your sales numbers.

Zoom tips: 8 ways to improve on-screen body language

1. Make a lasting digital impression

When you want to make a strong first impression, pay attention to every word and signal you send out. When you are in the comfort of your own environment, you tend to be fundamentally more casual. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, casualness must not equate to  carelessness. 

Leaders with a strong executive presence are present, calculated, and careful. Online, this means double-checking all your written digital communications, and treating the virtual ones as if you were there in person. Prioritise speed, clarity, and a substantive message. The extra effort can make all the difference.

2. Set the stage and sit back

According to an analysis of TED Talks speakers, most viral speakers use an average of about 465 hand gestures, twice as many as less-popular speakers. 

Just because you are meeting virtually, does not mean you should hold back on your gestures. Make sure you position yourself in the center of the screen, and pay attention to whether your hands stretch beyond the screen. If they do, move the camera further away from yourself. 

3. Make constant eye contact

Firstly, your eyes should be at the same horizontal level as your camera. You may add a book below your laptop if needed. In person, you would look directly at someone’s eyes. In a video meeting, you maintain eye contact by looking into the camera. Do not look down, away, or read other things on the screen, as eye motions can be easily detected.

If you can not help looking at someone’s face on the screen instead of their camera, it helps to move the Zoom window to the part of the screen nearest to the camera so at least you are looking at approximately the right place when you are looking at their face. 

4. Prioritise empathy and understanding

Remember you are talking to your prospect, not addressing a large audience. Loosen up a little. Make your calls interactive. You do not have to do all the talking! 

Have your prospective customer walk you through their business website, share materials, or give a quick product demo that allows you to learn more about their needs. Share your screen to present graphics, stats, demos, and other information to discuss how you can help them. 

Above everything, practice being empathetic towards your prospect’s pain points so you can present your product as the solution. 

5. Sit up straight and lean slightly toward the screen

Slumping in your chair can make you seem unenergetic, so use an open posture. When your body is not facing the person you are there to interact with, it invites distraction — from objects around the room, other people, or your thoughts.

When people meet in person, leaning towards the speaker can express interest, so you want to imitate that movement here. Squaring your shoulders and keeping your head straight — especially when making a statement — makes you look sure of yourself.

6. Mirror the other person’s body language

When engaged in a digital conversation, the most important thing is to be conscious of nervous behaviours such as fidgeting, rubbing your hands together, playing with your hair or jewellery. If you catch yourself indulging in any of these behaviours, take a deep breath and steady yourself by placing your feet firmly on the floor and your palms on your lap or on your desk.

When unsure of what actions to adopt, mirroring is a powerful tool you can use to bond and build understanding with your prospect. If you want to establish a connection with the other person on Zoom, simply mirror his or her talking pace, posture, gestures, or tone of voice.

7. Use an uncluttered background

A sloppy background can make you seem disorganized or careless. Some virtual backgrounds can also make the meeting feel even more “cyber” than it already is. If there is an uncluttered space at home, the on-screen experience will feel more authentic.

If you are unable to find a suitable background, you can use the ‘blur’ option or a professional backdrop to obscure the reality of your home environment and give a professional tone to your calls. 

8. Set aside time to refocus before virtual meetings

In a remote work environment, it is easy to pack your schedule with back-to-back meetings, but a lack of transition time can leave you flustered and scrambling to get into the right mindset.

So, make sure to give yourself some time to refocus before jumping onto the next call. You can also use this time to set up your camera and do a little audio/video test before the final call.

The bottomline

Understanding digital body language is no longer optional in today’s digitally dispersed environment. Be mindful of the signals you send out with your words, tone and digital presence. As Erica Dhawan puts it, “reading carefully is the new listening, writing clearly is the new empathy.” There is no replacement for face-to-face conversations, albeit virtually. Remember your goal is not to run a dry script to entice your prospect, rather it is to build a connection. So, slow down, be more strategic and prioritise substance over speed in your digital interactions.

New readers

For those unfamiliar with hubsell, we provide an end-to-end B2B prospecting solution with on-demand generated B2B data and multi-channel personalised outreach automation software to generate qualified sales leads.

Book your discovery call today to see how you can scale your opportunity generation.