The conversation is flowing smoothly, and then — it stops. You don’t say anything. Your companion doesn’t say anything. You clear your throat. They scratch their knee. Your smile is getting strained. They look at the clock.
You’re smack dab in the middle of a very … awkward … silence.
This is bad news during a first date or a job interview. But in sales, awkward silences are actually good — that is, if you know how to use them to your advantage. The golden rule of using silence as a sales weapon? Embrace it.
Consider that it only takes four seconds for people to become uncomfortable with silence. So next time you’re tempted to break the silence, remember it probably hasn’t been very long, and keep mum.
Still not convinced that zipping your lips is the way to go when a conversational lull hits? Consider the following positive outcomes of awkward silences, and the negative ramifications of breaking them.
How to Use the Awkward Silence in Sales
1) Silence allows time for prospects to comprehend your offer.
The first few moments after you suggest a final proposal to your client are tense. Are you going to close the deal? Or will your prospect object to the contract, the price, or another component?
If your closing statement is met with silence, you could take this as a sign that the prospect is displeased with your offer. But there’s another equally likely explanation — they’re thinking about it. If you disrupt the silence, you could interrupt their thinking process — and they might have been three seconds away from saying, “Let’s do it.”
Keep in mind that people with certain behavioral types are more inclined to think carefully and speak slowly.
2) Silence communicates genuine interest.
When checking in with a friend after they’ve endured a stressful event, you probably ask, “How are you feeling?” and then listen — even if it takes them a while to answer.
You probably wouldn’t ask, “How are you feeling? Sad? Angry? Stressed? Why? Are you okay?” And yet, this is often what sales reps sound like when they ask a discovery question.
Instead of posing a question and letting the prospect answer, salespeople get excited and try to fill in the blank for the buyer after the first sign of silence. But by letting silence persist — no matter how uncomfortable — reps demonstrate interest in the buyer’s answer, instead of what they think the buyer’s answer could or should be.
3) Silence helps salespeople stand their ground.
If you’re uncomfortable with silence in the closing process, you might be tempted to revise your offer before your prospect has even officially rejected it. But instead of throwing out price discounts or freebies prematurely, simply state your offer — and then shut up.
For a prime example of how silence can be your greatest negotiation tactic, check out this article from Steli Efti, CEO of Close.io. In this situation, Close.io was the customer, and Efti was faced with paying a hefty sum to get his organization out of a contract. Instead of agreeing to pay the full amount, he simply kept quiet and let the account executive — feeling the pressure of Efti’s silence — negotiate the fee down all on his own. At the end of the phone call, Efti had saved Close.io $225,000.
Don’t undercut yourself before your buyer states their objections. There will be plenty of time to make concessions, but don’t make offers you’ll regret later just because you’re afraid of a little silence.
4) Silence prompts buyers to reveal their true needs and concerns.
Some prospects don’t have a problem explaining challenges at their companies or issues with a seller’s offering. Others are more hesitant to give honest or negative feedback.
If your prospect falls into the latter category, more talk from you won’t help to draw out relevant information. Instead, listen to your prospects. After all, what is listening besides intentional silence on one party’s behalf?
When a salesperson asks a question the buyer might not want to answer, silence coaxes them into sharing the truth while making it clear you’re prepared to carefully concentrate on their answers.
5) Silence encourages prospects to lead the conversation.
Sales should be about the buyer and their business, not about the salesperson and their product or service. To ensure the buyer gets exactly what they want out of a sales meeting, sellers should fall silent after explaining a point or presenting a certain argument.
If the magic of awkward silence works (and it usually does), the buyer will guide the conversation. By analyzing what the buyer brings up next, the seller can determine what part of the product or service the buyer is especially interested in or concerned about.
6) Silence pulls disengaged prospects back into the conversation.
Remember the statistic above about most people feeling uncomfortable after four seconds of silence? If you feel like you’re losing the room (i.e., people are checking email, zoning out, or disengaging), pause for between three and five seconds.
Give your audience time to look up from whatever they’re doing. Once your silence has accomplished its goal, touch base with your prospects and ask if you’re still on the same page, or if there’s anything you can do to make the conversation more meaningful for their business. The result is a more fruitful conversation for them, and a more engaged audience for you.
7) Silence highlights important points your prospect needs to understand.
Since today’s sales process is all about the prospect and their needs, it’s important for them to understand key points about your product or service to ensure it’s the right fit for them.
Author and public speaking expert Andrii Sedniev says pausing before and after critical points in your speech will emphasize important information, pique your audience’s interest, and give you a moment to catch your breath. It’s tempting to ramble on about important points in your presentation, but give them space and you’ll increase their impact.
Don’t be afraid of silence on sales calls — use it to your advantage. With a little practice, this technique will become scond nature.