Comfortable with Silence

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Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a sales newby.

I had undergone the standard sales training: my sales manager handed me a copy of the yellow pages, a rate card, and pointed to the street. “Go get ’em, tiger!”

It took over a year of making every mistake a new salesperson can make for me to finally realize there are certain things you should do—and others you should definitely not do—when attempting to make a sale. One of the items under the “definitely not” category was talking too much.

Think back to a time when you met someone to whom you were very attracted. You wanted to make a good impression, and there were those awkward moments of silence. To minimize the discomfort, you said something—anything—to fill the void. Unfortunately, whatever you said made the discomfort worse. And saying the wrong thing risked ending the relationship before it ever truly began.

The same is true in sales.

Once, when calling on a decision-taker in his office, I completed my presentation and sat back to await a response. Instead of asking a question or making a comment, the executive turned his swivel chair and gazed out the window. I was somewhat nonplussed.

What was he doing? I fought down the urge to fill the silence. Instead, I vowed I would not say a word…even if we both sat in his office for years as time ticked silently by.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity—but was actually only about 30 seconds—the man turned back to me, picked up a pen and signing the offer said: “Okay, let’s do it!” He took the time to think over the merits of my proposal, and eventually decided they outweighed whatever negatives he was considering.

I’m convinced that if I had given into the urge to fill the silence by saying something, I would have broken his concentration and possibly lost the sale. He had all the information he needed to decide…he just needed a moment to think things through logically.

If you’ve had the quick salesperson’s course, add this bit of experience to your fund of knowledge. If you’ve said all you need to say to make the sale, say no more. Become “comfortable” with silence and let it work for you.