The Power of Silence

Silence is a wonderful tool in sales. It can be used effectively in almost every type of conversation regardless of where you are in the sales cycle. Of course, silence is not a new tool in the sales world. In fact, silence has been used by the best business negotiators for a very long time. And just like closing, the more you understand it, the better you’ll be able to use it.

During the 19th century, one businessman who fully understood the value of silence was James Stillman. As the legendary stock market speculator, Jesse Livermore, said: “simply by looking and listening, Stillman often made the man offer terms much more advantageous to the bank than he had meant to offer when he began to speak.” And in his biography Stillman himself remarked “I like William Rockefeller because we don’t have to talk. We sit for fifteen minutes sometimes before either breaks silence.” That’s a nice visual: fifteen minutes of no spoken words between two of the world's foremost bankers.

Sales professionals have many opportunities to use silence. For example, when booking a meeting you might ask: “what time do you have available this afternoon?” and stay silent until the prospect replies. If you are demo-ing your product and have a “wow moment” in your presentation, silence can amplify your message and allow your prospect to visualize what your product could do for her/his business. However, the most important area for using silence is in closing. As I’ve previously discussed, you never want to step on your close, and therefore you should follow any closing question with Stillman-like silence.

A great example of closing and using silence that many millions of American consumers have experienced is demonstrated by the successful insurance company Geico. If you have ever spoken to a Geico representative via phone, you know that they help ensure customer happiness by closing with total silence on every single phone call.

All Geico customers will recognize the following sentence because it is asked at the end of every call: “My name is Julie, and it was my goal to provide you with excellent service. Did I do that for you today?” SILENCE. This is a direct close, where you can either say “yes” or “no.” By ending the call with a “yes,” the customer feels better than ending the call with nothing or a “no.” The goal of every sales rep should be to end their calls with a “yes”--your prospect will feel much better. Yet, you only get that honest answer if you stay silent and wait for the answer.

The interesting part about this Geico example is that if you tell the representative what sales technique (direct close) they’re using at the end of the call, they will laugh and describe in detail how they are trained specifically to use this close and stay silent until the customer says something. The next time you ask a question, think about the Geico example and stay silent until your prospect responds.