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Between The Lines

Reading your customer's next move is easier than you think.

Perhaps you're the type who could sell a melting chocolate ice cream cone to a woman in white. Or maybe you don't know a sale from a used Chevy pickup. Whatever your sales smarts, experts agree that true selling power derives from your ability to read people.

If you can read your clients--judge their next move, evaluate their body language and conversational behaviors, and respond to their questions in a way that will leave them longing to know more--you're well on your way to nabbing that sale.

Don't know where to start? Don't worry. That's where Jo-Ellan Dimitrius' Reading People: How We Reveal Ourselves in Everyday Situations and How to Work It to Your Advantage (Random House) comes in. Her advice? Connect with your clients. "Connecting doesn't have to mean a 10-minute discussion," writes Dimitrius, a jury consultant who has helped select jurors for 600-plus trials, including the O.J. Simpson and Rodney King cases. "It can mean simply looking someone in the eye, smiling and commenting on the weather. These brief sparks of contact aren't superficial; they're sociable, and they're where trust and communication--and people-reading--begin."

That trust is vital to your business; without it, clients won't feel comfortable--and not a people-reading guru in the world could help you make those sales.

Indeed, people-reading skills are crucial for entrepreneurs, notes Fritz Russ, dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Cincinnati. "Because entrepreneurs are selling all the time," he says, "they're on the spot to always understand whether their message is being received and what kind of message they're getting from their audience."

Add to that the need to read entire committees or groups of investors, and you've got a lot of homework to do in the people-reading department.

So get reading already.

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Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.

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This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Between The Lines.

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