Selling at the Speed of Silence

Shape Shape Shape Shape

Sometimes watching sales people in action is like watching a tennis match; the prospect asks something and we lob back an answer right away. Other times the prospect will make a comment, and we slam back an answer, at times with more top spin than one would ever need. While there are a number of good lessons in sports for sales people, a meeting should not look like the final match at a Grand Slam event.

There are a couple of reasons this happens and a larger number of factors that contribute to it, all of which can be controlled by the seller. One reason is we want to convey knowledge and confidence, and by “having the answer” we feel that we demonstrate this; not true. The second is the lack of a specific goal and related plan with respect to where and how we want the meeting to go and end.

Many sales people do look at sales as a quiz show, believing that if they have the right answer, they will impress the prospect and demonstrate their knowledge of the industry, product and the company – the thinking being that “I put all this effort into learning all this stuff, research, years of experience, all the companies I worked at, here is my opportunity to use it.” But silence, that is not immediately responding to clients, can help you do that in a much more elegant and convincing way. By seeming to take a minute and think things through, by using that silence to formulate a clarification question, you go much further than with an instant answer. Formulating a solid clarification question will demonstrate knowledge and experience much better than blurting out a response. The silence between the time the prospect stops and you begin to respond just adds to the drama and the effectiveness of your response.

This is not a TV game where the first seller to buzz in gets to answer. Despite the fact that usually there are no other contestants in the room at the time, sellers often buzz in before the prospect has finished their comments or question. I never understood why, there is no upside, and besides risking giving the wrong response because you were in a hurry to impress, you often end up turning off the seller. Turn off both literally and figuratively. Beyond the basic turn off of being cut off, the seller gets conditioned to not being completely listened to, and eventually doesn’t bother responding and at times stops playing altogether.

The second reason is the lack of a specific plan to get to a specific point by the end of a given meeting. There is always talk of account plans, meeting plans, all kinds of plans. At times some managers make their people spend more time on the plan than executing it. After all, the real value of a plan is realized in the execution, and it is hard to execute without some form of plan.

Many sales people do not have a call plan.

I remember working with a consultancy, asking one of their top reps

“How long is the average sale?”…

… “About 3 months”

“How many meetings on average”…

… “Usually 5 or so, beyond some of the scoping with non-decision makers, but about 5 to drive the sale”

“What is your goal for the first meeting?”…

… “To close them!”

“What happens in the rest of the meetings?”…

It was clear that he did not have a plan for the sale, did not have a plan for any given meeting, certainly no next step plan. What’s the old saying “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.” In sales, I guess it may be a case of “if you don’t have a plan for where you want the meeting to end, any response will do.”

By having a plan, you can afford to leverage silence and not feel compelled to respond to things instantly. You would need time to consider how the prospect’s question or comments may move you closer to where you want to go. The silence while you are thinking about your answer will also give the prospect time to consider what they just said and what specifically they want to hear. Again, you don’t have to deliver the exact answer, but you do want it to help the prospect join you on the road to the planned destination.

The silence helps accentuate both what came before it and after it – by considering the prospect’s statement, giving it time to rise, allowing the prospect to play it over in their mind. In fact one thing you may want to try is not to respond for a few moments, and see how many times a prospect takes the statement back or changes it dramatically after considering it. Instead of having to deal with it, they take it back, but when you jump all over it, they can’t. Similarly, with your response, by waiting, you give it more weight and purpose, having had to wait for it the prospect will be more ready for it, and while there is no guarantee that it will satisfy their expectations, it will make the answer and the person delivering it more relevant.

As with most things in sales, the key is execution.

© 2012 by Tibor Shanto. Tibor Shanto – Principal – Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., is a recognized speaker, author of award winning book Shift!: Harness The Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers, and sought after trainer; his work has appeared in numerous publications and leading websites. Called a brilliant sales tactician, Tibor helps organizations execute their strategy by using the EDGE Sales Process to create the perfect combination of strategy, tactics, and skills to ensure execution. This forward thinker has been ranked 8th on the “Top 30 Social Salespeople in the World” by He has also received Gold Medal for the “Top Sales & Marketing Blog 2013” from the Top Sales World Awards. Tibor can be reached at : or + 1 416-822-7781.

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