A Lesson From Sales
When a salesperson uses the power of silence in a negotiation, it adds pressure to whoever they are negotiating with. Salespeople are gregarious and like to talk to people and fill any space. It’s part of their charm and an effective way to build customer relationships.
Yet there is a time during any sale when you need to stop talking and let the power of silence do its work. That time comes when your customer gives you the signal that you won. They’re ready to provide you with the order. The temptation, of course, is to keep talking — to show your customer how much value they are getting by making that order.
If you find yourself in this situation: Stop. Talking.
Wait, There’s More!
So many people make the mistake of talking after they’ve already got the order. Once you hear “Yes, this sounds great. What are our next steps?” stop talking. But I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard a salesperson follow these words with something like, “Wait, I haven’t even told you the best part!” The salesperson has accumulated so much knowledge about how excellent their product is that they can’t help sharing it. In this case, the power of silence is in letting a win be a win, even if there’s more you could say.
If I hear this, I can’t help but cringe. Why? Because once you have the sale, the only other outcome is negative.
Case in point: I remember a situation where I was watching a salesperson in action selling large, expensive pieces of capital equipment we made for the utility industry. This salesperson was brilliant, they knocked it out of the park. The client sat there in awe. They were ready to sign anything we slid across the table to them. But can you guess what happened?
Yup, the salesperson kept talking and talking. At some point in their presentation, they started to brag about the effectiveness of the pumps inside the equipment we sold. The salesperson continued going on until the customer spoke up and said “We’ve had tremendous problems with those pumps,” they said. “If you use those pumps, we have a major problem.”
I watched the salesperson’s face shift from utter confidence to panic. The thrill of the sale won out to the power of silence and a sure thing just became a disaster.
Enough Is Enough
The goal of any sales discussion is to provide enough information for your client to decide and close a deal. You don’t need anything more than that. You can only lose if you don’t exercise the power of silence.
Strangely enough, a similar dynamic can unfold anytime someone pitches a superior, like a CEO, with a new plan.
Maybe you’ve experienced a similar situation where you’ve spent a couple of all-nighters in a row creating a PowerPoint presentation to pitch to your boss on a great new idea you have. You’re proud of all the work you put into it, despite the sacrifice it took to make it.
When the big moment arrives, you nail it — your boss is nodding their head and might even start to smile a bit. They might even stand up and say, “Impressive work. When can we start?” You’ve got the order!
But what happens? You tell them to wait, there’s more! Lots more.
You’ve won as much work as you put into the presentation — there’s no need to show your work, even if you have 30 more slides to share. It’s time to shut up and celebrate and let the power of silence prevent you from blowing it.
Who Wants Lunch?
One of the rules that my sales team and I have arrived at to deal with situations like these is that when the customer says OK, the only appropriate response should be to say: “Who wants lunch? I’m buying!”
That phrase, “Who wants lunch?” became a signal for everyone on my executive team when they missed the point that the sale was over and it was time to stop talking.
The Power of Silence
The lesson was clear for everyone: Once you get the deal, bite your lip, and stop talking.