Between The Lines

Reading your customer's next move is easier than you think.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the August 1999 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

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.

First Impressions

Package your product with style.

It doesn't matter if you're clinging to a pair of acid-washed jeans or some punk-rock-pink fishnet stockings. OK, it might matter. But what matters more is whether you're keeping a watchful eye on the type of packaging that's wrapped around your precious product--assuming, of course, you'd like to move that product out the door.

"Think of packaging as fashion," says Leslie Evans, founder of LEDA (Leslie Evans Design Associates) in Portland, Maine. "A lot of the packaging now picks up on the color trends and patterns for the particular year [the product was released]. Your packaging has to be hip to what's happening in retail."

For one fall package design, for instance, Evans included plaids and darker colors appropriate to the season.

The key is to make the package so appealing that consumers won't care what they're buying, as long as they get to keep a cool box or bag. "A lot of the products out there are the same," Evans notes. "It's just the way you package it that draws someone to buy that brand."

Don't get too crazy, though. "Avoid anything that will be outdated in six months," cautions Evans. "Be slightly conservative, and stick to classic designs with a little twist."

However you package your product, make sure you're consistent so you'll build brand loyalty. That doesn't mean you have to be boring; be as creative as you like--just make sure you stay true to your vision for your brand. Hopefully, that vision doesn't have anything to do with leg-warmers.


What's in a name? Everything. Unless you're a bigwig like AT&T or IBM, consumers are 30 percent less likely to remember initials than names . . .

Point and clip: These days, coupon-clipping doesn't necessarily mean getting out a pair of scissors. While most consumers still like paper coupons, e-coupons are becoming quite the rage, too.

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