The power of eye contact in sales

Peter Parkinson, Chairman, The National Footwear Retailers Association and proprietor McCloud Shoes


Inside McCloud Shoes, Queen St, Melbourne

As human beings we often telegraph many of our emotions and inner feelings as a discernible expression through our eyes. Anger, boredom, love or focus can be telegraphed as states of our persona that can be determined by someone else looking attentively at our face and eyes.

The most marvelous example of this I viewed on a television show many years ago, where the principal of an Acting Academy in Los Angeles was interviewing the American actor Glenn Close in front of a student audience. The question arose concerning how an actor could communicate the intent of a script to the screen audience without words or artificial props to assist.

Glenn Close demonstrated her skill by using the example of her life ebbing away, and as the camera zoomed in on her face, viewers could clearly discern the changing expression through her open eyes, which indicated by appearance that her life was slowly slipping away, – and it appeared that she had ‘died.’

This example of a talented actor portraying her craft provides a valuable lesson to those of us in retail, because as a sales person what level of interest do your eyes convey to your clients, which is far more important than what their eyes convey back to us.

I am trying to highlight a point in selling here, where you can begin to understand the importance of eye connection, particularly if the products you are selling require a level of salesmanship rather than a ‘cash & carry thank you ma’am’ approach.

fashion_poor_customer_serviceThe important time span in which to greet a customer who enters your store stretches from the first 30 seconds to one or two minutes before you must acknowledge them. This is the moment when we, as proprietors and staff, structure our initial client contact which can set up the basis for a possible sale, or better still a successful sale.

So is it possible to greet our customers within the first 30 seconds or so, or do we let them stand around waiting for some belated approach from our staff? If, for the present moment our sales assistants are occupied, the first law in selling is for staff to acknowledge your customer as quickly as possible. If you are preoccupied with sales data, book-keeping or some other paperwork, it is essential to notice the arrival of a customer and attempt to make eye contact, and if they indicate a desire to browse, give them some space, but do not bury yourself back into the bookwork again, or you may miss out on some important buying signals.

Some customers will not wish to make eye contact, for they adopt the attitude that if they ignore you, then they are invisible. By avoiding eye contact, they are not communicating any intention to buy, or why they are browsing in your store. The opposite example that we have all experienced is where the salesperson will deliberately avoid making eye contact with you, and to this ignorant sales person, it is the customer who is invisible and potential sales slip out the door.

Sales assistants still have to quickly acknowledge their clients presence with a ‘hello’ because it opens the door for our secondary contact, where we can approach the client with our introductory remarks, which may include some reference to a product that appears to interest them, or small talk about our new products, or if they prefer, just allow them more time and space to look through the displays.

To be able to engage with a client we need to look them in the eye, which provides us with the opportunity to gauge their interest and connect with them, because even if we do not make a sale on this occasion, we want to establish a moment that makes a favourable impression. We can only do that if the vibes we are communicating by eye contact are alert and focused.

I wish to explain an example of why eye contact is so important. Many years ago I had a close friend who worked for ASIO, and he once told me that when they would undertake a surveillance operation, the first rule is never to make eye contact with the subject. Why, because eye contact establishes a connection that can register within the mind of a person, and in surveillance that is a negative; but in selling it is a positive outcome.

If we become aware of the importance of what our eyes can telegraph as our intent and interest to understand a client’s needs, then our body language will automatically follow. Conversely, we can often sense whether our client is “with us or not” by their lack of eye contact, and perhaps we may have to adopt a different approach to enable us to establish a stronger rapport with this customer.

eyecontact1Eye contact is so important, and it is amazing how many sales people talk ‘features and benefits’ while looking at some obscure point within the store, or gazing out through the store windows to the street as if the client were not present. Boredom or disinterest is easy to pick in this type of sales person, and it can reflect in poor sales performance.

Deborah Templar, who was a lecturer in ‘Consultative Selling’ at our National Footwear Retailers Fitting Courses, would frequently admonish staff who talk to the client’s feet instead of directly to the client. “The decision making by consumers is from the head and not the feet” Deborah tells us, and sometimes we do need to train ourselves in the practice of looking clients in the eye, and monitor their body language, which are our main tools of observation to sense if a client is undecided and not yet ready to commit to a purchase.

When you engage with your client you are able to observe their body language and sum up if there are any obvious buying signals there. Some clients are comfortable to interact from the moment you approach them, whilst others may be less confident, or just wish to browse until they discover an item of interest. You must remain attentive now, and although your client will often scrutinize products of interest with you, take any opportunity to quietly look them in the eye as you highlight specific features and benefits of a product; but never to the point where eye contact can make your customer feel uncomfortable, otherwise they will quickly discover a reason to leave the store.

Make it a test when you go shopping yourself to observe how salespeople interact with you. Do they look you in the eye? Do they appear interested and focussed, and how well do they know their products? The lessons we learn as salespeople can become lifelong traits which can shape our developing personality in meeting and greeting people from all walks of life. Never believe that these qualities are only relevant to you between the hours of 9am and 5.30pm when you are on the floor.

If we enjoy our work, we will be able to derive some pleasure from a satisfying sale, regardless of the dollar value, because the connection we have made with our client forms their buying experience, which will attract them back to your store in future; and best of all, when they next return – they will ask for you.

For more information, visit nationalfootwearretailers.com.au

Peter_Parkinson_headshot Peter Parkinson is the Chairman of the National Footwear Retailers Association(NFRA) and proprietor of the iconic McCloud Shoes on Queen Street, established in 1949.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s