Selling: Golden Silence for Better Communication…

Keeping one’s mouth shut is a great virtue, as in don’t tell anyone else about it—silence is golden. Although this precise phrase was first recorded only in 1848, it is part of a much older proverb, “Speech is silver and silence is golden.”

However, in the book “New Conceptual Selling” by the Miller Heiman Company they’ve developed a different definition. They write ‘Golden Silence’ is simply a pause for approximately three or four seconds at two different points in a sales-customer questioning process; after the salesperson ask a question, and after the customer responds. The first three-to-four-seconds pause is called ‘Golden Silence I’; the second pause is called ‘Golden Silence II’. Introducing these two pauses into the salesperson’s sales-call questioning process will significantly improve the quality and the quantity of the information the salesperson receives.

It’s “Golden” because it encourages the customer to talk, to think, to share their perspective on the question. It’s “Golden” because it could produce responses that amplify on the original comments, and vastly improves the chances for making a Win-Win sale.

According to studies done by educational researchers a number of years ago, the most effective teachers’ almost invariable employ an instructional style of communication with the following characteristics:

  • The teacher and student participate in a mutual dialogue, rather than one person being the “sender” and the other the “receiver”.
  • There are longer and more numerous pauses between questions and answers than you typically see in less effective teaching styles.

The application of this educational research to selling has revealed some startling statistics. This is what was found to be typical:

  • In many sales encounters, sellers who are questioning can deliver five or more questions every minute.
  • After asking a question, sellers often wait only about one second before either rephrasing the question, asking another question, answering the question themselves, or making some other comment.
  • After receiving a reply to a question, many salespeople tend to wait less than one second before commenting and moving on to anther point.

These finding suggest that in probably the majority of selling situations, salespeople inhibit the positive flow of information by trying to move things forward much too rapidly. How much real thought can the salesperson expect from a customer to give to them if the salesperson gives only one second to answer it? How much thought can a salesperson give to the customer’s response if they spend less than one second analyzing the customer’s answer before moving on? Very little.  As a result, the typical, rapid-fire questioning style is a very ineffective means of communication.

When the salesperson practices ‘Golden Silence I’ by giving the customer a moment to think about what the salesperson asked them, the information is much more likely to be solid information than if the salesperson give them half as much time to respond.  When the salesperson practices ‘Golden Silence II’ by waiting after the customer speaks, the salesperson has a much better chance of understanding what they have been told, than if they spent half the time. Furthermore, during the second pause the customer will often reflect and then provide additional information. The result of using ‘Golden Silence I and II’ together is more leisurely, more thoughtful, and ultimately far more productive flow of information.

This is not to say that the salesperson should carry a stopwatch into the selling encounters, and that the salesperson should follow this technique slavishly to the exact second, or that the salesperson should use it in every question-answer exchange on every sales call. Each selling encounter has its own rhythm and pace, and the salesperson needs to adjust to that reality in each engagement.  But as a model to aim for; ‘Golden Silence’ is quite simply; invaluable for better communication…