Voicemail – the Bane of the Sales Person

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Phone Sales

This has to be one of the most popular sales topics. Google “getting past voicemail” and you can spend the rest of the day reading every kind of trick and method. Check any of the 22,000+ sales groups on LinkedIn and there are sure to be multiple threads on the subject. In short, why am I bothering to reinvent the wheel or beat a dead horse or whatever idiom you choose. Did I need to fill an empty slot in my schedule?

No, it’s because the topic interests me. In my career, I have made tens of thousands of cold and warm calls and directed operations that made many times more. Voicemail has evolved from its original intent – a convenient way to keep in touch with anyone whether you’re available or not at the moment – to a universal, impersonal gatekeeper that almost everyone hides behind any more.

Some of the observations I’ve made over the years might offend; for instance, women get calls back from voicemail much more frequently than men. Solution – hire an all-female inside sales team.

OK, so that’s not realistic, or even ethical or legal, and that particular phenomenon is changing as a new generation moves up who are less surprised by female professionals and less likely to be swayed by gender alone.

Some of my observations are pretty banal; for instance, have a specific voicemail script ready. That’s one tip you’ll see over and over, because it’s a good one.

So here some observations that I hope bring a little something new to the game, or at least clarify something old.

1. Messages. Yes, I believe in leaving a short message occasionally. Key words here – short and occasionally. I don’t try to do anything in my message except introduce myself and make the customer aware of my name and my polite, low-pressure demeanor. Occasionally means infrequently, just enough so they know you’re not giving up. And that leads to …

2. Persistence. In this day of high-velocity sales, people are inclined to substitute quantity for quality. Not me. If someone was important enough to call once, then they’re important enough to call twice, etc. Some research I read claims that it takes an average of 8.4 calls to get through to your target. Of course there has to be a limit, but you need to figure that out based on your specific business. Which leads to …

3. Don’t expect a call back. I ask for them, but never expect them. I always let the customer know that I will be calling them back. I’ve seen a lot of counter-arguments that say no message or don’t say you’ll call back. That advice, it seems to me, is based on actually expecting a call back, and I don’t. Which leads to … (do I see a theme here?)

4. Record every attempt. The only way to know how frequently you’ve called (every other day at the most) and whether that was one of the occasions where you left a message is to record it in your contact manager/sales automation/crm system. Some of these systems (yes, ACT!, I’m talking about you) get clogged with these notations, so see if you can use one that let’s you categorize your calls and filter the benign ones out unless you need them.

5. Pick up the phone. The subject of another article here, so I’ll just mention it. In addition to the advice given in that article, I can only add that cold calling can be a very low pressure job if you let it. No one has any expectations from you except metrics – the number of calls which leads to the number of contacts which leads to the number of appointments, etc. So make sure those metrics are real and not some sword hanging over your head, and dial the phone as many times as you can and then enjoy the occasional surprise when someone actually answers.

6. Tricks. Don’t use them.

7. Listen. Even though it’s a recording, it might tell you something important, like the guy is out of the office until next week so you can stop calling this week.

8. It does work. Yes, cold- and warm-calling does work. And if you do it as a professional and not as if your selling carpet-cleaning services, you can be successful, and even enjoy it.

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