If They Aren’t Available, Should I Leave a Voicemail?

I hear that leaving a voicemail for a prospect is a waste of time. I’m told that it’s much better to hang up and call back later in hopes of actually reaching your prospect. The argument is that nobody listens to voicemail anymore. Or, if they start listening, they delete it the moment they realize it’s a sales call. Or, if you leave a message, you’re probably annoying your prospect. Worst of all, they never call you back anyway.

Wake up, sales guy. Voicemail is not the problem. You are.

Or, I should say, your inability to use voicemail effectively is the problem.

Let’s look at why your voicemails don’t get returned:

  1. You’re not prepared to leave a voicemail, so you wing it each time.
  2. You don’t leave any detail about why you’re calling or what’s in it for them if they call you back.
  3. You sound like a cold-caller rather than someone with relevant and personal information and ideas.
  4. You’re not offering anything of value in your message.
  5. You don’t include a compelling call to action.

The reality is that you can learn to use voicemail to your advantage, and to leverage it as a valuable sales tool. The key is to have fun. Be creative. Take risks. Do something different. Every time you leave a voicemail, you have an opportunity and a choice: do you blend in with every other voicemail by being “professional” and “normal,” or do you leave a friendly, fun, and value-based message that helps you to stand out and to get your call returned?

Personally, I inject as much fun, humor, and value as I possibly can into every message I leave. My goal is two-fold: either I want my prospect to call me back, or I want my prospect to remember me and to be more likely to take my call the next time.

The trick is that you have to be prepared before you call. Before you dial the phone you have to have a plan for what you’re going to say if you reach your prospect, and for what you’re going to say if you reach their voicemail.

Here are a few reasons why you should leave a voicemail each time you call:

  1. Odds are they know you’re calling even if you don’t leave a voicemail. Some people review their caller ID frequently. And, if you happen to hang up after their voicemail greeting plays, their system tells them who called anyway. So you might as well leave a message.
  2. Your prospect likely receives far fewer voicemail messages than email messages. So if you’re thinking that you’ll hang up and send an email instead, think again. Pressing delete in Outlook is even easier and it’s very possible your email will get lost in the mix for a few days, wind up in junk mail for a week, or not read at all. I’m all for a two-pronged approach, though, in which you both leave a message and send an email. Stay tuned for more info on how to do that best.
  3. Sometimes your prospect wants to do business with you but just happens to be extremely busy. You may not be priority number one at the moment, but the more contact you make, the higher up the list you will become. The difference between an annoying salesperson and an appreciated salesperson is that the appreciated salesperson is following up because they know its best for the prospect. They call with new ideas or additional information each time. Don’t call “just to follow-up” or “just to check in.”

A few ideas to get you started:

  • Write out your message (a few bullet points are fine) in advance and practice it before you call.
  • Change the format of your message to sound more like a radio ad than a voicemail. In other words, don’t start with “Hi, this Jenny Salesgirl from XYZ Corp. I’m just calling to…” Instead start with an engaging question that captures their attention and draws them in. Announce yourself near the end of the message and save your phone number for the very last thing you say.
  • Keep it brief. Your message should be just long enough to work, and short enough that you don’t run the risk of being cut off by your prospect’s voicemail system. A minute at the longest is a good rule of thumb.
  • Try leaving a message letting them know you’ll be sending an email with more detail. This is a great way to improve your chances of getting through. Say, “Hi Bob, I have a few ideas that will help you to become more profitable, more efficient, and more successful and rather than leaving you a ten minute voicemail, I’ll send you an email shortly with one idea, my contact info, and an appointment request to discuss the rest. If you want to save yourself from having to read the email, you can simply call me back directly at 212-555-1212.”
  • Leave them one value message from a series of messages you will continue to deliver over time. For instance, the first time you get their voicemail you say, “Hi, it’s Bob from XYZ Company. There are 6 things you probably don’t know about the best way to use our product. Here’s the first:” – and then you share something cool and valuable. Do that a few days in a row and then the next time you call, say “I’ve left you the first four ways – if you want the rest, you’re going to have to call me back.” If your ideas are any good, they will.
  • Think about the voicemail you receive. Which ones do you delete? Which ones do you return? Why? Use the best messages you receive as a template for yours.
  • Inject some sense of urgency by including a deadline if you can. Maybe your company is offering a special promotion that requires the contract signed within the next few days. Maybe you’re calling to invite your prospect to an event that is taking place next week. Maybe you have two tickets to the ballgame tomorrow night. Maybe there are external influences that dictate when it’s best to buy from you (fiscal year, end of quarter, or even legal sunset dates). The urgency has to be on their part rather than on yours. I once had a salesperson call and tell me that his quarter was ending and he’d really appreciate if I could meet with him before that so he could try to squeeze in our sale. I could have cared less about his quarter ending and it became apparent to me that he cared more about his commission check than he cared about helping my business.
  • Practice by calling your colleagues and trying out new things. Ask them for honest feedback. If that makes you nervous, first practice by calling yourself. You can call your office phone from your cell phone, or your cell phone from your home phone. Think: would you call you back?

That’s just a start. You’ll find your own voice, style, and method over time. It takes practice. It takes doing it. If you put the hard work in, you’ll become a master in a few weeks or months and you’ll be in the small category of salespeople who get their calls returned.

So, should you leave a voicemail? Only if you want to make more sales! What are you waiting for? Reach out and sell something.

photo credit: flying colours ltd

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