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Sell Like Steve Jobs: How to Use Silence in Sales

4 min readNovember 6, 2018

Steve Jobs may have left us seven years ago, but even to this day, the mere mention of his name sparks a range of responses. One of the many things Jobs was known for was his mastery of persuasion. The Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs discusses the “reality distortion field” that was Jobs’ ability to bring others to completely believe his point of view. The book quotes Bud Tribble, an engineer who worked with Jobs, as saying “It was dangerous to get caught in Steve’s distortion field, but it was what led him to actually be able to change reality.”

Being persuasive involves many skills, but one of the most under-discussed Steve Jobs skill was his use of silence. According to Business Insider, “Jobs used this tactic, which was extremely effective, on several occasions.” Another blog post notes, when discussing the evolution of his presentations: “His confidence shows not just in his body language, but in his deliberate, dramatic use of silence.” As an example, check out Jobs’ famous response to a public insult in 1997; his ~18 second pause after the insult completely changes the dynamic and gives Jobs the momentum in the dialogue without saying a word:

Silence can feel be ambiguous, uncomfortable, and awkward, but when used in the right moment, it can give a massive advantage. For sales, this undervalued skill is incredibly useful.

Turn Silence Into A Sales Advantage

Contrary to popular belief, silence is a good thing. Humans are naturally uncomfortable with silence, especially in the presence of strangers. Silence is a non-hostile alternative to talking over someone in order to control the conversation. It creates a sales negotiating advantage when a salesperson becomes comfortable with silence, because the customer or prospect is likely uncomfortable with it. When used properly, it is an incredibly useful and positive tool that goes hand-in-hand with better listening skills.

Some studies have linked our animosity towards silence to the constant amount of noise we experience in any given setting. From a TV on in the background to the radio in the car, when we hear an empty channel, we want to fill it. Other studies have traced it back to primal humans, where silence during communication elicits fears of incompatibility and exclusion. In sales, this leads to only thinking about what we want to say next. Not only do you lose out on the negotiating value, but you also may miss a crucial piece of information while you’re thinking about your next move or question.

Times & Techniques for Deploying Silence

Silence can be used during any sales conversation, at nearly any time. The key is to use it in a positive, productive manner, rather than to intimidate or overpower.

Extract a response

Silence unearths more information from your prospects who seem averse to sharing or divulging. After you ask a question, be quiet, and really listen to your prospect’s response. If you don’t get everything you need, wait at least seven more seconds. On the phone, this feels like an eternity. In an attempt to fill the silence, your prospect will feel compelled to keep answering your question and will likely provide you with more information.

Give better answers

Silence can work on your end as well. Like the Steve Jobs 1997 insult response, if you are asked a difficult question, don’t be afraid to take several seconds before you begin speaking. Take the time to develop a more complete, well-thought answer that completely covers all aspect of your prospect’s question. You take control of the pacing, gain the momentum, and ensure the conversation continues going in the direction you want.

Punctuate your pitch or a key point

When you deliver your hard-hitting sales points, leave several seconds of silence after. This gives your prospect some time to think about that specific key point, remember it, and even write it down. It multiplies the magnitude of your sales pitch.

Address an objection

It is tempting to immediately address any hint of objection during your conversation, however the use of silence can make objection handling easier. If you receive some pushback, leave a few seconds of silence after your prospect is done. Much like when you ask a question, the awkward silence may cause your prospect to reveal more information that you can use to your advantage in your response.

After saying their name

When we hear our names, we listen extremely closely for the next few seconds. You can use silence to multiply the effect. After you state the customer’s name, pause for a few seconds. This is build suspense as your prospect waits anxiously to hear what you have to say. After a few counts, deliver your points.

Silence is a force multiplier, you can use it to emphasize the sales tactics you already employ, or leverage it as an entirely new tool. The best part about silence is that it is easy to do, you just have to be comfortable enough to leave the emptiness on the phone.

As a negotiating advantage

Silence is one of the best tactics you can bring to the table in a negotiation. The ambiguity of it can leave your customer wondering if you are showing confidence, expressing dissatisfaction, or feeling uncertainty and doubt. When someone on the other side presents an offer, don’t respond. Take time to think while you wait for their response. Likely, several painful and awkward moments will follow. This is not the time to stare blankly at them, however. Use body language to stay connected. Smile, write something in your notes, get comfortable and wait. They just might increase their offer without you ever saying a word.

Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Silence is an incredibly underrated and underused tactic in sales. It is a powerful tool that can help you gain more information, take control of a wayward discussion, better contemplate your answers and deliver better pitches.