Why the best consultants are comfortable with silence

In an interview on The Good Life Project, Sherry Turkle talks about the ‘boring’ parts of conversation. When talking to students she’s found that they want to pull out their phones whenever there is a lull in the conversation. Some of them didn’t even know what a ‘lull’ was, and when it was explained to them, they named it the ‘boring’ parts of a conversation.

While we can easily lament the always-on connected nature of technology here, and the ‘younger’ generation in needing this connection, the truth is that this is simply enhancing an existing condition we all deal with.

We hate silence.

Silence is what makes conversations feel awkward. We have some idealized view from movies or books where the conversation flows interestingly from one topic to another with no pause for reflection. No one has to think for a minute before they respond. The dialogue keeps moving because the script calls for that effortless banter where every sentence is witty.

This harms your business

Bite your tongue, and don’t fill the silence. I know it will be uncomfortable, and I know it creates space for learning and insight. – The Coaching Habit

When a prospect looks at your estimate and says “That’s expensive”, how do you feel? If you’re like most people your instant reaction is to justify the price by talking about the time it’s going to take to do the work. Maybe you’re worse off and start to talk about lowering the price when a prospect comments about the price of your services, or you offer add-on services at no extra charge.

While the last two options are worst, all of the options are bad ways to respond to a prospect. They all decrease the chance you’re going to win the work and will cost you money.

Lowering price

The worst option is to start off by lowering the price. If you can instantly lower the price a bit to try and sweeten the deal then you clearly can’t be trusted. You lied about the price in the first place. In doing so, you’ve admitted the thing you’re offering doesn’t cost that much — you just hoped to be able to convince a gullible prospect to pay the initial rate on the proposal.

This also shows that you don’t value yourself. If you’re not worth what you’re asking for, why would the client choose you? You lack the confidence to be worth the price you originally asked for.

Why on earth in the face of that would the client value you? They’re going to figure that if they keep letting you talk they’re going to get an even better deal with more things thrown in for less money.

Justifying the price

While this option is slightly better than lowering the price it’s still a bad option. In the face of prospect push-back, it’s tempting to justify your price by going into detail about how long the prospect’s job is going to take. The big thing is, clients don’t care how long it’s going to take you!

The only thing that clients care about is the value the work will bring to their organization. They care about the extra money they’re going to make by working with you or the extra savings they’re going to realize because they use your services.

If the two top natural reactions are terrible ideas, what do you do?

It wasn’t a question

The big thing we’ve missed so far is that the statement “That’s expensive” isn’t a question. They didn’t ask for a discount or ask you to sell them on the price, they made a statement about the price of the work. Since they didn’t ask a question, you should say…nothing. It’s in this nothing where you need to be comfortable with silence.

People hate silence. They want to fill it with words or with a break to look at their phone or…something…as long as it’s not silence. This is one of the big reasons you jump in with your price-lowering or justification. You’re trying to fill the silence at the same time as you work to land the prospect. When you’re comfortable with silence a magical thing will happen– your prospect will fill it. Almost every time they’ll fill it with one of two things.

More often than not they’ll say “That’s expensive” and then into the silence they’ll say that they’re signing the contract right now. They’ll do this because you vetted them and spent time convincing them to NOT use you.

Some of the time they’ll talk a bit more and they’ll be talking about the value the project already brings and that you agreed upon together. Then after a minute or two they’ll sign the contract.

What if they make it a question?

In a few, very few, circumstances they’ll look to you and ask some variation of “Did you hear me?” They’re so used to people jumping on that statement that they’ll be expecting you to as well. The only thing you need to say in return is:

“You said, ‘That’s expensive’ which isn’t a question.” You can say that because it wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

Most of the time your prospect will now chuckle, smile, and choose one of the two options above. They’ll sign or talk themselves into signing. Very rarely they’ll turn it into a question asking about why it’s the price it is, and now is the time you can speak again.

Remind your client of the value you both worked out the project would bring, which should be at least 3X the price you’re charging, better yet 10X. I’ll say something like:

We agreed that we should be able to make at least $30k on this right? (wait for their agreement). So at $10k you triple your investment.

Then you sit in silence again. You don’t keep diving and justifying, trying to cajole the yes out of your prospect. You sit in that comfortable silence you know so well. If you’ve managed the sales process so far well then they’ll see that they’re tripling their money (or 10x their money) and they’ll sign on the dotted line.

The thing with silence is that it conveys confidence. You’re not cajoling to convince that you’re worth the fees. You’re quietly confident that you’re worth what you’re charging. That shows your prospect that you’re worth it and increases their confidence in your services.

Get comfortable with silence and let it do the final bit of your sales work for you.

photo credit: pahudson cc

4 Replies to “Why the best consultants are comfortable with silence”

  1. Great post Curtis. I’ve broken that silence before and I regretted it immediately. Quick question, do they (potential client) ever ask you about guaranteeing the outcome of your work?

    I know if you have doubts about achieving a particular goal than maybe you should pass on the project but I was approached last week by a potential customer. This person didn’t even have a website at all and I’m sure having one would help his business but he wanted a guarantee from me. I kind of froze and stumbled over my words a little.

    What do you say if someone asks you for that?

    Thanks for your time!

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