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Silence–Golden Silence

In previous TFE pieces, I have expressed great appreciation for my mentor, Bob Jamieson. When I became of full-time life insurance agent with MONY in 1977 at the age of thirty-three, I took full advantage of his guidance and coaching. His combined work ethic, integrity and creativity served as a tremendous model for me over my next twenty years in the profession.

Bob, today long-since retired from the business, believed in working on the ‘must-do’ rather than the ‘fun-to-do.’ He became a star by scheduling only day-time appointments. He taught me never to compare apples to apples in competition because the other guy’s apples might be shinier. “Instead,” he preached, “compare his apples to your oranges and show them why they’re better off with  oranges.”

Bob believed that the ‘tail could wag the dog’–meaning that sometimes a rider on a policy might have more impact on getting the sale than the death benefit itself. That’s why he often stressed the waiver of premium benefit or purchase option rider. The purchase of of the life insurance policy was often motivated by one of those (or other) incredible features.

So with all of his amazing sales skills, did Bob have an Achilles’ heel?

Yes. He could not stand silence.

When we went out on a joint-call, I noticed that it was virtually impossible for him to wait for an answer to his own questions.

I recall one particular time when we made a terrific presentation to a prospect and his wife in our conference room. We demonstrated the need, they were in excellent health so would qualify for the coverage, and they had more than enough means to pay the premium. The perfect trifecta. A salesperson’s dream.

I had controlled this particular interview and received positive buying signals throughout. At what seemed to me the appropriate time, I leaned back and asked, “What do you think? Is there any reason we can’t get this plan started today?”

And then I waited. And waited. And waited some more–in a beautiful shared silence.

Until suddenly the tension was broken by the sound of a nervous loud voice. That sound, unfortunately, came from wrong person: my partner, Bob.

“He thinks it is too expensive!”

“Well, yeah, I guess that it IS pretty expensive,” replied an almost relieved prospect.

This objection, brought up by my partner rather than the prospect, created the need for a new fifteen-minute monologue. In it Bob tried to explain how the premium was fair but, if necessary, we could reduce the face amount to make it easier on their pocketbook.

I did not believe in capital punishment until that moment. However, if I had a chainsaw within my grasp Bob would have become known as the Headless Insurance Agent of Fort Dodge, Iowa. I thought then and still think a couple of decades later that if he had not opened his mouth, the prospect would have said, “Let’s go with it. What do we have to do to get started?”

Frankly, I don’t remember whether we got that sale or not. What I do remember is that an unnecessary roadblock was put into our path.

The tension created during silence is a healthy tension. It gives your prospective customers a chance to collect their thoughts and come to a decision.

We live in a fast-paced world of text messaging, instant news on radio, televisions and the Internet. Billboards bombard us screaming for our attention. Elevator music overwhelms us in restaurants and when we’re on hold during a phone call. Television talking heads tell us how to think and how to vote.

The solution for you as an entrepreneur?

Take a deep breath. Try something different on your next sales call.  Pause between thoughts as you speak. Let it sink in. Show your product or service only after ascertaining his/her needs.

Then, and only then, ask for sale.

Now here comes the hard part: Button your lip no matter how long the answer takes.

Simon and Garfunkel had it right—listen to “the sound of silence.”

Patiently wait for a reply. Resist the temptation to throw in one more concept or salient point.

The next voice you hear needs to be that of your prospect. 

It might be another question.

It might me, “I want to think about it.”

It might be, “No, I don’t want to buy.”

And it just might by, “Okay. Sounds good to me. What do I need to do?”

When that happens, and it will, hop on the SILENCE IS GOLDEN BANDWAGON with me.

Appreciating and practicing silence will become a habit that you will never want to change.

Bill Sheridan—SHERIDAN WRITES: Bio under Guest Authors

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2 Comment(s)

  1. John Cuvelier | Jan 31, 2008 | Reply


    Well said and I thank you for reminding me to be silent. I’m like Bob and more times than not have broken the silence. That quiet time in an appointment can seem like an eternity. Silence is golden as the rule says but I thought that applied to my wife only:-).

    Thanks Bill.


  2. Lance Hill | Jan 31, 2008 | Reply


    Very well said. Important advise for a salesperson to take into account. I too am guilty of trying to speak a little too quickly and not give it time to digest.


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