The Fear of Silence or How to Start Listen

I have been in numerous amount of meetings with customers. Long, short, demos and roadmap discussions – you name it. And numerous amount of times I saw the same – some people just could not stop talking. I call it – The Fear of Silence.

Especially, this issue is blooming in sales calls, RFQ defense or roadmap related meetings. It is difficult to calculate how many man-hours are spent annually for useless slides like “Company Introduction”, “Our 100 offices around the globe” and etc. Bragging and pitching how great company or product is. And a lot of talking about a seller and very little about a customer.

Why it is like that? Everybody would agree that we should listen to a customer more, ask questions, collect information. But still, it does not happen often. My observation is that many customer facing people are afraid of silence. They are just simply scared that customer will not answer on a question, will not start talking and awkward silence will fill the space.

They take all time of a meeting by chatting, presenting more and more slides. Leaving just tiny 10-15 minutes slot for “QA” part. They do everything to avoid potential silence and uncomfortable situation.

But guess what – people need time to start talking. Your counterparts from customer side need to make an effort to start answering and giving details. For some of them it maybe uncomfortable as well. You are in a customer facing role because you are good in talking, it may not be true about them.

So, try this tip next time – ask a question and wait at least 15-20 seconds. You may will feel urge to clarify the question or try to encourage people to speak up. Don’t do it. Just wait for a bit longer than you used to. People also don’t like awkward silence, so they will speak up. I can bet it will break an ice and conversation will go more smooth after that. Of course, if silence lasts longer than 25-30 seconds, it is a red flag and people indeed didn’t get your question.

If you are going into a meeting with prospect customer or RFQ defense, don’t waste your (and most important customer) time for slides about your company greatness or internal improvement processes. Customers don’t care about it. They care about the value your company can deliver and problems it can solve. So, the meeting is about customer, not about you.

Ask questions, listen more, talk less. Simple and effective rules.

For an introductory call with prospect customer or new business unit inside existing account you can use following slide deck structure:

Slide 1: Title

Slide 2: Proposed Agenda

If it is prospect customer:

Slide 3: Companies turn to (insert name of your company) when (insert here 3-5 bullets what customers’s issues you are solving)

If it is existing account:

Slide 3: Other business units come to us when (insert 3-5 bullets about what issues you solved for this particular account)

Slide 4: Our understanding of your situation (insert list of what you discovered about customer so far).

That’s it. You don’t need anything else to have successful first call or meeting.

What are your tips for successful meetings? Write it down in comments section!

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