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Reading Your Buyers' Digital Body Language: A How-To Guide

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Marketing has undergone a fundamental change over the last decade. More buyers have moved online to educate themselves on the market and available products, and our ability to guide them through a "sales process" has diminished.

Today's buyer is in control, has access to numerous high-quality sources of information, and goes through a "buying process" at his or her own pace.

This transition means that our sales teams are no longer required as a conduit of information. Industry websites, vendor sites, blogs, social media, and search all make the required information readily available and, by doing so, leave the sales representative out of the room.

As a result, it's impossible for the sales rep to read a buyer's physical body language to understand what aspects of a message are of interest and determine whether the prospect wants to move forward.

Marketing teams must therefore instead read a buyer's digital body language—his or her Web activities, email responses, search activities, and engagements in events and demos—to understand what messages are working and where each buyer is in his or her buying process.


To understanding a buyer's digital body language, marketers should focus their actions on four main areas: communication, sales alignment, data management, and marketing analytics.

Below are tips for how to use digital body language to improve your efforts in those key areas and reorient your marketing efforts around a buying process rather than a selling process.

1. Communication

Be findable: A key goal in communicating with today's buyer is to be findable wherever the buyer is looking for information. Whether it's sharing videos on YouTube, asking questions on LinkedIn, reading industry newsletters and reports, or searching on Google, buyers seek information in a variety of ways. Being findable on these channels, rather than simply pushing out a louder message, allows marketers to better connect with today's buyers.

Set your information free: Prospective buyers will find the information they're looking for, whether it's from you, your competitors, or their peers in the industry. It's in your best interest to make sure they find it from you, as that gives you a chance to guide the conversation and highlight topics that the buyer should consider.

Digital body language in every touch: 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. Emails with a link to more information should allow you to gain insight into the recipient's Web activity to better understand what he or she is interested in. With direct mail, a personal URL can similarly allow you to identify the individual's Web activity and area of interest. As you understand more about each prospect, you can provide much more personalized information to each person.

2. Sales Alignment

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—recognition, education, sampling, and verification—are shared. Mapping helps you better target your messages to prospects in each stage.

"Who" vs. "How interested": The buying phase that most organizations focus on is whether a buyer is ready to talk to a salesperson. Historically, this decision has rested on who is the right person in the organization, based on his or her industry knowledge and expertise, to speak with the prospect. These are important aspects of the "who," but through observing digital body language we can understand the "how interested," which is an equally important criterion for determining when a person is ready to talk to Sales. Only by splitting these into distinct dimensions of lead scoring can we truly understand which prospects should be connected with a salesperson.

3. Data Management

Build a contact washing machine: As data flows into your marketing database—from Web forms, uploads, lists, tradeshows, or your customer relationship management (CRM) system—always have it flow through a "contact washing machine" that cleanses, normalizes, and standardizes your data. Without that, even simple personalization, segmentation, or scoring rules become almost impossible, as they are built on a foundation of nonstandard data (such as "Vice Pres," "V.P.," "VP," or "Vice President" as a title).

Equitable exchange of information: As you interact with your prospects, you're providing them with valuable information. In return, you can ask for a small amount of information. Use a modular profile, and ask only two or three questions at a time (but never ask the same question twice), and you can progressively profile your audience and develop the equivalent of a 20- or 30-field form.

4. Marketing Analytics

Sales visibility into digital body language: Sales professionals usually have a good understanding of the dynamics of an account, its people, and its politics. By giving them insights into the digital body language of the people within their accounts—either directly in their CRM systems or through emailed notifications when interesting account activity occurs—you help them identify how to position a solution, whom to talk to, or where a hidden interest might lie. This information enables them to better understand their accounts and gives them highly usable information about specific elements of a campaign that resonated with each prospect.

Socializing your metrics: Offering marketing metrics to your sales team can have a profound effect. As team members understand more about Marketing's ability to influence key pipeline deals, and how digital body language helps them understand and guide their deals, you'll be able to forge a deeper, better, and more productive relationship with your sales team.

* * *

With the multitude of online sources at buyers' disposal, successful marketers must take a new approach. You must understand your buyer's digital body language and use it to better communicate with your buying audience, align them with your sales team, complete your 360-degree customer view, and analyze your marketing efforts. Hopefully, this article has given you a few ideas on how to get started.


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Steve Woods is cofounder and CTO of Eloqua (www.eloqua.com), a provider of marketing-automation technology. He is the author of the book Digital Body Language and also writes on the topic at his blog (http://digitalbodylanguage.blogspot.com).

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