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The “White Space” of Sales

March 5, 2012
Mary Jane Copps

White space, which simply defined means the space on a page not covered by print or graphics, has always appealed to me. I learned its value way back in the early 1980s when I was a newspaper journalist (in the days when hot wax and rollers were used to hold type on broadsheet pages before printing – imagine!). We used white space to draw the reader to a story – or a certain aspect of a story. It was – and is – an important element of graphic design.  

When my involvement in a project includes input on graphic design, I always vote for less rather than more; I champion the use of white space. As both a reader and a creator, I embrace its power. 

And I believe that white space exists in the sales process as well. My husband, a successful realtor, is a master of white space. I’ve watched him employ a measured patience in situations where I would respond with a flurry of activity – phone calls, email, etc.

White space in sales is a time of silence where active listening and creative thinking are allowed to happen. When its acknowledged and respected, you gain new clients and close deals. When its not … 

I believe I recently lost a sale because I didn’t respect the importance of white space. The prospect and I had spoken and our initial conversation was brief, so brief I wasn’t sure of their level of interest but I sent off information. I followed up with voicemail messages in my usual diligent manner and received an email in reply. It was one sentence and simply said they hadn’t reviewed the material.  

Soon after I received another email with a short, precise question. At this moment, I was actively listening because I responded by email and gave a short, precise answer. I did not follow up by phone. 

A few days later, new developments created an even better product and I emailed all of my prospects the news, hoping, of course, to close sales as a result. This particular prospect did respond, once again sending an email with a short, precise question.  

And this is where I ceased to acknowledge the white space. One of the reasons I did this was I had a deadline and I was anxious about my results. I’m sure the moment you read that sentence you know that’s a problem – I’m not thinking about the prospect, I’m thinking about myself and that is a surefire way to lose a sale, right?  

Absolutely – and I know it – but yet I allowed that deadline to propel me forward. In addition, while the one question was precise, the answer was complex and, for me, a real-time conversation was easier. Again, that’s about me, not the prospect and … it’s not good selling.  

So, I picked up the phone and called the prospect. I can’t remember precisely but it was likely very soon after they sent their email. I answered their question, I moved them towards the close, I actually got them to commit but … less than 12 hours later there was absolutely no sale. 

What I did was create a lot of noise when the prospect was asking for space, time to consider. I filled up all the white space with talk and questions and, in the end, confused the prospect, allowing what might have been a great relationship to end in buyer’s remorse.  

Selling is not always about providing more information. And it isn’t always about talking to the prospect, or sending email for them to read. Sometimes, it is simply about letting everyone breathe and consider.  

Yes, we often have deadlines and yes, it is important to reach your quota, make budget. But often when we fill our sales with too much noise, especially when that noise relates to our needs, we lose a prospect that could have become a loyal customer if we had only given them more space.

Does this “ring true” with you? Have you ever experienced a “noisy” salesperson? Or been too “noisy” yourself and lost a sale? It would be great to hear your stories.  

Worthy of Note 

I’m pleased to announce a collaboration with Peter Skakum of Tangent Strategies http://tangentstrategies.com/. He and I are going to deliver the workshop “Exceed Your Quota: Book More Appointments – Close More Sales” at the Ashburn Golf Club http://www.ashburngolfclulb.com/index.cfm?ID=1 on April 19. More details will be posted at this website very soon but in the meantime don’t hesitate to contact either Peter or myself for more information. This full-day workshop is limited to 20 participants.  

One Last Thought:

Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence. -Thomas Szasz, author, professor of psychiatry (b. 1920)

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. Linda Daley says:

    The way you describe it, I think my entire life has been missing white space. haha I can’t agree more – it is something I struggle with in everything I do.

    • Great piece. We all need more white space in our lives. The white sheet of paper, before we draw or write on it, is an open-ended invitation to discover the possibilities of the moment. Once we let our fear of space take over, the more we fill the paper up the more we limit what can come next.

      This is connected to the idea of attentive patience as a leadership technique. When we are willing to give the moment space without losing our focus, that mix of openness and presence can invite something new and unexpected from the people we are with. The job of the leader is to create that fertile, unencumbered ground for others to bring out their best.

      Thanks for this interesting post.

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