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Your New Sales Associate: Silence

Pauses in conversation give prospects space to share, communicate interest and exude confidence.

Silence feels uncomfortable. The moment silence enters the conversation we feel an impulsive need to fill the void. Don’t believe me? Pay attention to your next three conversations. I can almost guarantee there isn’t a break in the conversation that lasts longer than five seconds.

But what if I told you that strategic silence can be your ally in sales? These pauses give your prospect space to share, communicate interest and exude confidence. Not to mention, keeping quiet at critical moments also frees you up to listen and pay attention to non-verbal communication.  

If practicing silence is new to you, understand it won’t be easy—it will take conscious effort. But once you embrace this new sales advantage, you’ll find yourself more in control of prospect conversations. The following are six situations in which it pays to zip-it:

1. When you ask for a commitment, wait for your prospect to speak.

When you ask a prospect to move forward, it can be nerve racking. At times, silence can feel like a “no.”  That said, usually your prospect just needs a second to process. Standing your ground here with a moment of silence displays confidence and will help to push the relationship forward. Ask for their commitment and let your prospect be the next one to speak.

2. When you ask an important question, slowly count to 10.

As tempting as it may be to fill in the awkward silence after you ask a significant or challenging question, resist. Just wait it out. After you ask a thought-provoking question to a prospect, start slowly counting to 10 to yourself. If your prospect hasn’t responded by the time you reach 10, then you’re free to step in and clarify. 

3. After you hear a concern, pause for a few seconds before you respond.

Pausing after a concern or objection does a couple things. First, it gives you an opportunity to process the objection and consider your response. Second, it shows the prospect you are processing their objection and not trying to quickly overcome it. People like to feel as though they are heard. For example, if your prospect is concerned about your fees, you would first pause to consider the objection. Next you could ask a clarifying question like, “What services are you receiving from your current advisor?”

4. When your prospect is speaking and pauses, don’t immediately jump in—they may have more to say.

When you give your prospect space in the conversation, oftentimes they’ll continue to fill it. Your silence will prompt them to keep talking and, as a result, give you more information. This is especially important for prospects that are more reserved and naturally less talkative.  

5. After you make a key point, pause to imply its importance.

WARNING: Use this one sparingly. If you start pausing after everything you say, it will lose its effect. That said, when you state something of importance, finish it with a moment of silence, and let your prospect be the next one to speak. For example, after you explain your team’s differentiators don’t immediately jump in and ask a question. Instead, pause to let it sink in with your prospect. Wait for a verbal response. If you need some help thinking through your differentiators, catch Episode 31 of the Stephen and Kevin Show.

6. Wait for a response after using a “check.”

We’re fans of using checks like, “Does that make sense?” or “Are we on the same page?” When you ask one of these questions, show that you genuinely mean it. Sometimes we utter a “Does that make sense?” and steamroll through the conversation. Instead, allow space for your prospect to respond.   

During your next meeting with a prospect, give the above ideas a try. While some might feel uncomfortable at first, with practice you’ll have a bi-directional discussion with your prospect and be more in-tune with them as a result.

Kevin Nichols is a partner with Oechsli, a firm that specializes in research, training, and creative services for the financial services industry. @KevinANichols

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