Written By: Keith Lubner
As salespeople, we must resist the urge to satisfy our own instinctive need to feel important by talking too much. Here’s a WWII story about how, in some cases, silence can send a stronger message than words.
Salespeople tend to over-explain things. We dive into too many details in an effort to come across as someone who is an expert. When silence hits the conversation, we tend to fill it with our words to “shed some more light” on the discussion.
Most of the time, this strategy backfires. We introduce irrelevant topics or take the conversation down rabbit holes. We invite more objections and end up stalling the deal.
But sometimes, you don’t have to say anything and still get your point across.
Salespeople could learn an important lesson about sales conversations from an event that took place during World War II.
In 1945, as World War II was approaching the end, General Curtis LeMay was put in charge of the Twenty-First Bomber Command in the Pacific Theater.
When he arrived at his base, the conditions of the facilities were not great. At this moment in history, the Air Force was actually a branch under the Army called the US Army Air Corps.
People did not yet believe in the strategic power of the airplane. That changed during the course of the war, but when LeMay arrived at his new post, his forces were essentially viewed as “second class” troops. They had to sleep in Quonset huts and the facilities were primitive, to say the least.
The Navy Seabees were the ones who were building the landing strips as the US forces leapfrogged across the Pacific. There was competition between the branches of the military and LeMay used this to solidify a point.
LeMay thought the conditions he was put in were deplorable. He was invited to a dinner with Admiral Nimitz, a fleet admiral of the United States Navy. When LeMay arrived, he was brought to Nimitz’ headquarters – essentially a palace by comparison. The meal was top-notch, very formal. Delicious. You would expect LeMay to lay into Nimitz about how awful his particular conditions were. After all, he had Nimitz’s undivided attention. But LeMay didn’t.
Instead, Curtis LeMay invited Nimitz to dine with him a few days later. Nimitz shows up and they had dinner in a Quonset hut while sitting on top of a few crates and eating C-rations. At the end of the meal, Nimitz turned to LeMay and said, “I get your point”. Soon afterward, LeMay got the construction materials he needed to complete his facilities.
LeMay painted the picture. Nimitz received the message and LeMay didn’t have to say a word. Sometimes the scenario you create, or what is left unsaid, sends a stronger message than the words you actually do say.
By filling brief silences during a sales conversation, salespeople often run the risk of over-explaining or pitching, talking over the prospect, or introducing another question before the prospect has a chance to answer the first one.
As salespeople, we must resist the urge to satisfy our own instinctive need to feel important by talking too much.
We need to give the prospect the microphone to show them that they can trust and believe us and that we understand their problems and prioritize their desire to be heard. Sometimes, that requires a bit of silence from us salespeople.
Your message matters. What kind of message are you sending to your prospects?
You can find more tips and techniques for strategic sales conversations that help you win in Gina Trimaco’s FREE guide, The Book of Play.
Keith Lubner is Chief Strategy Officer at Sales Gravy and acts as an advisor,…
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