You’re one of the best field commanders I’ve got — but you don’t know when to shut up, George.

Omar Bradley to George Patton (Patton)

There have been many times in my life when someone could have said something very similar to me! Knowing when to keep quiet is a very valuable attribute, not just to someone in a highly visible position such as military general or corporate CEO, but for all of us. However, for those of you in sales, it is indispensable. I believe that more sales have been lost by what a salesperson said than by what they didn’t say. Here are our some great opportunities when we would suggest you keep silent in a selling situation:Librarian Shushing

  1. After you ask a question (especially a challenging one):  If you are conducting a well thought out discovery session with your client, you are asking useful questions. As the interview moves forward, the questions should get more important and harder to answer. There will be times when the interviewee is struggling with how he or she should answer a question (perhaps even obfuscate or lie). This is a crucial time for the conversation, a time when a valuable nugget of information could be revealed.  The worst thing you could do at this time is to take the pressure off the client by saying something.  Be comfortable with the silence and let them struggle.
  2. When the customer is telling you something you need to know:  Finally you have hit upon a topic that the client wants and needs to discuss with you. He starts off strong and seems to be going on forever! Eventually bad thoughts start to creep into you mind. Thoughts such as, “Won’t he ever shut up?’ or, “Hey, I can solve that right now!” Resist every temptation to open your mouth! You have struck a vein here, and this isn’t the time to stick your nose in. Take good notes and be happy that the client is talking.
  3. When you don’t know enough yet:  Far too many sales people start to talk before they even know what they are selling! They ask a couple of discovery questions, find a little selling gap and start to prattle on about their product or service and how well it will solve the client’s problem. Unfortunately, it is very rare for a prospect to reveal what is really important so early in the conversation. Chances are that they have much deeper and more important (valuable?) issues yet to be revealed when trust has been established. Yet most salespeople will never discover these issues because they are talking.  In the words of Larry King, one of the best interviewers in TV history, “I never learned anything while I was talking.”
  4. When you’ve shown them something of value:  So, you’ve done a good discovery session and feel the time is right to present some of the attributes of your product or service that would address the prospect’s needs. You display the feature, discuss how it will solve their problem then….? How about being quiet and letting them think about it? Be comfortable with the silence until they ask for clarification or give you a positive or negative response.
  5. When you’ve asked for the order:  The time is right and you ask the client a valid closing question or slide the contract across the desk and point to the place where they should sign it. Now is the time to keep silent and let them consider all the values and consequences that have been discussed. If the decision is difficult or far reaching, it may take several minutes for them to think it through. Not only should you keep quiet at this point, but you really shouldn’t even move. Don’t clean up your materials, check your phone or look at your watch. Let the tension mount. When he or she decides to shatter it, you will either have your sale or know exactly what you need to do to get it.
  6. When they’ve decided to buy:  I used to work with a guy named Kenny who loved to talk. When I observed him on a sales call, I was in awe of how many times he convinced the prospect to buy, then convinced her not to buy. Buy – don’t buy – buy – don’t buy! Wherever the prospect was when Kenny finally ran out of things to say would determine if he had a sale or not! Once the client has said, “Yes!” get the agreement signed, talk about kids and dogs and get out of her office. This is not the time to bring up other ideas, features or issues. Don’t take the chance of talking them out of it like Kenny often did.

There are likely other areas where sales professionals should keep quiet. If you have suggestions, send them to me at and I’ll add them to the list. In the meantime, learn to value the silence.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.

Abraham Lincoln

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