Silence Isn’t Awkward— It’s A Powerful Tool

On this episode of the Sales Gravy Podcast, Keith Lubner, Sales Gravy Executive VP, and Jessica Stokes, Sales Gravy Master Sales Trainer, discuss strategies that leverage discomfort on sales calls to drive engaging conversations and achieve better outcomes. By intentionally using silence, sales professionals can prompt prospects to actively engage and lean into the conversation.

Preparation is key, and when executed correctly, this technique can inspire meaningful connections and foster a deeper understanding of customer needs. The goal is to strike a balance and avoid excessive discomfort, while still capturing attention and prompting thoughtful responses from your prospect.

This approach can be effective in both in-person and phone sales meetings, as long as the sales professional is both intentional and well-prepared.

  • Leveraging discomfort can drive engaging sales conversations, lead to more successful sales interactions, and yield better outcomes.
  • Introducing discomfort helps reset the typical cadence of sales meetings. Creating a brief moment of silence by taking a sip of water or a beverage, for example, prompts prospects to fill the void with their thoughts and opinions.
  • Sales professionals should aim to actively engage prospects and encourage them to share their perspectives.
  • Meaningful connections are fostered when prospects are given the opportunity to actively participate in the conversation and a deeper understanding of customer needs can be achieved through this approach.
  • Preparation is key to confidently employ this strategy. Sales professionals should have a list of well-thought-out questions ready to guide the conversation.

Discomfort Is A Misunderstood Emotional Response

We’ve all experienced that awkward silence during a call with a prospect. When faced with uncomfortable situations, it can trigger fear or avoidance. As sales professionals, what do we tend to do?

We want to fill the silence, right? Because it’s uncomfortable. Our heart races a little faster, and our amygdala kicks in. We start blurting things out, talking over the prospect, and never really getting what we need from them or triggering their self-disclosure loop. This is where the power of discomfort comes into play.

Use Silence To Your Advantage

In those moments of silence, it’s important to let the silence marinate a bit. As a sales professional, you need to be intentional about allowing the silence to exist. Both you and the prospect feel the anxieties of filling the void, but you don’t want to win the race of who talks first. You want to sit back, listen more, and let them do the talking.

In the virtual world, with technology lags and transmission delays, it becomes even more challenging. When you ask a question, there’s a pause before they even hear it. If you start answering the question without realizing this, you’re speaking over them. This is

Give Your Prospect A Chance To Respond

To leverage the power of discomfort in virtual meetings, try this simple trick:

Have a cup of coffee or a bottle of water with you. Ask a question, then take a sip of your drink. This prevents you from talking while giving the prospect time to answer. When you create a lag by pausing after asking a question, it prompts the other person to respond.

Reframe Your Question

However, it’s important not to wait too long and make it uncomfortable. If they don’t answer in a reasonable amount of time, you can fill the silence by reframing the question and clarifying what you meant. Taking another sip of water can also signal that you expect a response. This discomfort can be used in a positive way to encourage conversation.

What To Do If Reframing Doesn’t Work

Again, this is the art of having a conversation too. At that point, you’re not going to ask the question and reframe it yet again. Instead, you can say something like, “Let’s table that for now. I was going down this path and was interested in something else. Help me understand this a little bit more. I’m really curious,” and use probing questions.

The phrase “help me understand” tends to invoke reciprocity and encourages them to answer your question. When you ask for help, people usually want to assist you.

By asking questions, you give them space to talk, and it becomes a conversation. You can then ask for more details, saying things like, “Tell me more about that,” or “What’s that about?” The goal is to let them talk while you listen.

Then you can continue probing and showing interest. When the call ends, they will feel like it was the best conversation because they did most of the talking and you did most of the listening. Your aim is to have less than 50 percent of the talking and let them do more than 50 percent.

In this way, leveraging silence and pausing to listen helps your prospect to focus more and stay engaged in the conversation.

Prepare For Every Sales Call, No Matter What

Always be prepared with great questions as a sales professional. Without them, the conversation can become uncomfortable. It’s crucial to have a primary question to initiate engagement and a secondary question ready to keep the conversation flowing.

One way to make sure that you are prepared for sales conversations is to keep a pad of notes with you during meetings to jot down questions for discovery sessions. Let your prospect know upfront that you have your questions written down, as it helps you focus on listening to their responses. By setting this expectation, you encourage them to share more. If there’s a moment of silence, refer to your notes for the next question.

This approach allows you to actively listen and prevents you from constantly thinking about the next question, which can make the conversation feel like an interrogation.

The Four Second Rule

It’s important to truly listen to the responses instead of just focusing on asking the next question. Interestingly, science has shown that about four seconds of silence can evoke emotions in people, which is valuable in sales since emotions play a significant role in purchasing decisions.

By triggering positive emotions during conversations, you gain an advantage over the competition and create a deeper connection with the person you’re speaking to.

Break The Pattern

Prospects have conversations all the time, and their brains create patterns around these conversations. If every conversation looks the same, they stop really listening because the pattern takes over. As a salesperson, your mission is to break that pattern. Discomfort can work because it snaps their attention and engages them.

It resets the cadence that everyone is used to when a salesperson shows up to a meeting.

They’re used to being talked at, pitched a product, asked one question, and then the salesperson rushing to present.

So when we pause, take those drinks of water, ask a few more questions, and ask them to expand on something, it gets them more involved in a sales conversation than they typically are.

The innovative Sales Gravy University sales training platform gives on the go individuals and entire teams easy, affordable access to the world’s top sales trainers in both live and on-demand courses. Now you can learn how to win in sales anywhere, anytime, and on any device. 

About the author

Jessica Stokes

Jessica Stokes is a Master Sales Trainer at Sales Gravy. She started her sales…

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