There are as many theories about how to approach
voice mail as there are spots on a leopard. This issue's
Sales Tip will address this issue, offering some ideas on
how you can turn this mechanical gatekeeper into a
minor obstacle at worst, and an ally at best.
"To leave or not to leave?" a voice message. I'm
frequently asked this question by clients who find
themselves stymied and frustrated by the usual lack of
response to one. There are two broad schools of
thought on this issue: the first advocates not leaving
one, supported by the contention that "voice mails are
never returned." The other espouses the belief that
since sales is a numbers (actually, a ratios) game, some voice mails will be returned,
and therefore leaving a voice mail is a wise decision.
I subscribe to the second school, primarily from a time-
management perspective. Since time is a limited
commodity, we want to get as great a return on it as
we can. If you make that call, get voice mail, and then
hang up, the return on that time spent is
zero - it's wasted. If, on the other hand, you leave a
message, the (albeit greater) time invested has
the potential to yield a positive return. That is, the
recipient might return your call. The one for whom you
didn't leave a message cannot. Since you've invested
the time anyway, why not leave a message and give
yourself a chance, however small you think it might be?
So, for those of you who are still with me in my school,
let's tackle the nitty-gritty details of leaving voice
messages - What to say, how to say it, when to say
it. And when to call it quits.
What should I say? And how long should it be?
You must offer a compelling reason for the recipient to
call back. You should have an "elevator pitch" stating
who you are, whom you represent, what you do, and a
benefit for the customer, something that addresses a
need you suspect he or she has. The message should
not exceed 30 seconds (Laura Allen of The Pitch Girl teaches people how to do it in 15 seconds!).
How should I say it? Your first message should
be businesslike - you are making a first impression.
However, after leaving three or four messages, I'll
sometimes leave a somewhat flippant message ("Geez,
Bob, we're singlehandedly keeping the phone company
in business trying to connect!") to try to dislodge the
prospect from his inertia.
How frequently should I call back? I call back
every three business days - I feel that's frequent
enough so that they know they're a serious target for
me, and not some name on a list of 500, but not so
frequent that I'm perceived as either a pest, or as
being desperate. After the third unsuccessful call, I'll
reduce my frequency to once a week, and also try an
indirect approach (see below).
Are some times of the day better than other to
leave a message? One suggestion is to leave a
voice mail at such a time that when your contact
comes in in the morning, yours will be the first
one he or she retrieves.
How many times should I call and leave a message?
Should I leave the same message each time? At what
point should I call it quits?
Would it surprise you to
know that there are many (OK, some!) people
out there who actually respect and admire persistence?
People who may have gotten to where they are by
being persistent themselves. Sure, some may view you
as an irritant, but for every five, six, or seven of them
who do, there'll be one who respects you. And that's
the one who'll call, as you forget about the others.
Never forget - the squeaky wheel gets the
And lest you forget, keep this little ditty I was favored
with a long time ago
80% of all sales people quit after the first call
60% of all sales people quit after the second call
50% of all sales people quit after the third call
40% of all sales people quit after the fourth call
30% of all sales people quit after the fifth call
20% of all sales people keep calling
20% of all sales people close 80% of the
But don't squeak the same message over and
over again - if you do, you'll be less likely to get a
response, and more likely do induce the person to hang
up. Vary your message, provide a different benefit, or a
different take on the same benefit.
Having said all this, there does come a point where you
have to decide if the time you're spending chasing this
person is worth it. If it's a random name from a list of
five hundred, with no particular significance, you're
better off cutting your losses and putting that time to
better use. If it's a target account (e.g., a large $
opportunity), you may want to try an indirect
approach. Contact someone else in the department -
anyone - and make an ally of him or her. Then ask
that person to make a pitch on your behalf.
As you have seen, there are benefits - even
advantages - to leaving voice messages. As with most
things in business - and in life - nothing works all the
time. But used judiciously, leaving a voice message
can be an effective tool in helping you get your
message out, and, ultimately, to close more business.