It may seem counterintuitive to think that the secret sauce to winning deals isn’t something you do or say—rather, it’s silence. But ask any competent journalist how to get a great interview, and you’ll learn that the key is what you don’t say: the pause while you wait for a reply. Give the person you’re speaking with the chance to fill the void, and you’re likely to learn something invaluable that they may not have told you otherwise.

This doesn’t always come easily; silence can feel awkward. It’s natural to want to carry the conversation, impress others with your knowledge and continue moving the deal forward, especially if you’re eager to educate a potential buyer about your solution.

It takes time to get comfortable with allowing space for silence in your sales conversations. With patience and practice, though, you’ll see that you can gain more by adhering to the customer-centric principles that less is more, timing is everything and silence is golden.

Less Is More

People generally value their own opinions more than what others tell them. So how can sellers get buyers to listen to a sales pitch? By using techniques that open the lines of conversation to uncover what buyers truly need.

World-class sellers are masters at asking the right questions and helping customers articulate their needs. These investigative conversations help customers define their problems and visualize the payoffs of effective solutions. Top sellers understand that getting information is far more powerful than giving it, so they listen more and talk less.

Research also shows that sellers who communicate clearly and concisely win more business. In one analysis by Miller Heiman Group, seller correspondence containing fewer than 350 characters indicated a 70 percent chance of closing a deal. By contrast, messages with more than 500 characters indicated a 15 percent chance of success.

Timing Is Everything

Listening more and talking less works, but it’s not intuitive. Sales enablement best practices require that sellers do their homework to understand where their customers are in the buying process, giving them the information to ask the right questions at the right time—a method known as Conceptual Selling®. With this approach, sellers ask themselves:

  • Is the customer still trying to understand their needs? Ask questions to help bring the full picture into focus.
  • Does the customer clearly recognize their problem? Ask questions to learn about why the problem exists or persists, so you can formulate a targeted solution.
  • Has the buyer already identified what they believe is their desired solution? Ask questions that explore how they arrived at this conclusion, to help make them aware of other possibilities and to ensure that your solutions are on point.

Skilled sellers don’t just understand where their customers are in the buying process but also accurately gauge the buyer’s urgency to act. Through careful questioning and listening, these sellers can distinguish between needs that aren’t urgent enough to prompt action and those that incite customers to move.

Miller Heiman Group defines these conditions as two distinct classes of needs: implied and explicit. Implied needs involve difficulties and dissatisfactions; explicit needs are customer statements of strong wants or desires. Skillful sellers craft questions that develop needs from implicit to explicit, peeling away the layers and uncovering their buyer’s underlying desires until they clearly understand what will motivate the buyer to act. Then, and only then, will they introduce solutions.

Silence Is Golden

As the old saying goes, “When you’re in a hurry, slow down and you’ll get there faster.”

When top sales professionals walk into a meeting, they don’t just “show up and throw up.” Effective sellers pause before client interactions to ask themselves, “What do I need to learn? What information am I missing? Who do I still need to talk to?” Reflecting on these knowledge gaps enables sellers to ask quality questions that lead to meaningful conversations for both parties. Taking the time to consider thoughtful questions is one best practice of top sales professionals. Another equally—if not more important—tactic is giving the customer the time and space to answer.

After sellers ask a buyer a question, they should wait several seconds without additional prompting to allow the prospect the room they need to respond. Once the buyer finishes responding, sellers should allow another three- to four-second pause to enable the buyer to elaborate on their response. Resisting the urge to fill these silences allows the buyer time to reflect before answering. The results of this approach are much richer than what is possible in constant conversation—hence, the term “golden silence.”

The Keys that Drive Deals

Today’s sales world is constantly changing. Sellers’ ability to see every interaction through their customers’ eyes is the key that unlocks deals and sets top performing sales organizations apart from the rest.

Concise communications, adept questioning and intentional silence are research-backed tactics that lead sellers to create win-win solutions for their customers. These time-tested and proven practices of leading sales organizations—covered extensively in Conceptual Selling and SPIN® Selling Conversations training—are teachable, providing sales enablement tools that help sales professionals replicate success.

Contact us today and learn more about how Miller Heiman Group’s sales enablement training can help.

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