The Horror of Silence (and Satisfaction of Comedy)

(Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to your prospect on the phone. Yes, really.)

In most horror films, at some point two people are in a scary place and they get separated. And at that moment, the tension begins because where there was conversation, now there is just the sound of the person’s breathing…the silence begins to play tricks with the imagination…and the suspense builds on itself until the character is at a level of irrational panic. Usually the person is calling out into the darkness repeatedly the name of the other character…and getting nothing back.

Silence is the worst when you’re on a hunt. One day there is a great dialogue and lots of discussions and the next you’ve entered some twilight zone of communication—emails aren’t returned, phone calls deadend at voicemail, and even your ace-in-the-hole contact (the one you’ve cultivated to give you the inside scoop) has dropped into some witness protection program, never to be heard from again.

Prospects smell fear and desperation; it’s pungent and unpleasant, so screaming into the night or begging for a returned phone call will not create a sense of strength and often doesn’t result in a returned call or email anyway.

However, humor can really work, so I want to share a few of the ways I have broken sustained silences in a big hunt and I want to hear some of your ideas in return. So, here are some cheap tricks and favorite techniques for reactivating the dialogue during a hunt that has gone silent…

1. Call and Sing Happy Birthday. I have done this a ridiculous number of times. I called my key contact and left a voicemail that says, “I wanted to get a hold of you and wish you a happy birthday. Congratulations on your birthday and I hope that you’re doing something special to celebrate. The next time I’m there you have to let me buy you lunch for your birthday, but for now….” This is where I break into song (“Happy Birthday to you…”) on the voicemail. Most every time I get a call back from the person within 24 hours. It involves them laughing at me and saying that whoever told me that it was his/her birthday was wrong, but they appreciate the call. That opens up the conversation and I get to re-connect.

2. Bio/Intro/Recommendation. – I send either a biography, introduction or recommendation about the person to him/her for his/her approval. The statement is flattering and factual. I indicate that I am using it for either a LinkedIn recommendation I am preparing for them or consideration for them for a national meeting that we are having that we would like them to attend and possibly speak at. I also indicate that I am missing a few items and I need to discuss it with them because the materials need to be submitted in a few days.

3. Send food. Is this cheesy? Absolutely. Is it transparent? I hope so. Does it work? You bet. Send them food—unusual food—and on the note write, “I know you have been busy because we haven’t talked. Call me for a minute to catch up while you enjoy this.” I recommend Graeter’s ice cream, particularly the Black Raspberry Chip, my personal favorite, that can be ordered by the pint. They pack it in dry ice and ship it everywhere. Cookies from Mrs. Fields are always good. For some great snacking food, go to www.VolpiFoods.com, and order some wine salami or rotola, (WARNING: Shameless client plug for Volpi, which doesn’t make the salami any less yummy!).

I know that silence, like time, kills all deals. You have to re-establish contact and dialogue, or you are fooling yourself if you believe that things are going your way. So, now it’s your turn–how do you break the silence with clients/prospects during the sales process when things go quiet (perhaps just a little too quiet)?