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How To Use Voice Mail to Sell

Getting through to a real live human being is more difficult than ever. Most of the time, you end up getting in voice mail... even if the person you're trying to reach is sitting next to the phone.

Fortunately, voice mail can be a POWERFUL sales tool... if you know how to use it correctly. This post describes a proven method for turning those voice mail dead ends into done deals.

CLICK for the first step »
NOTE: This post is based a conversation with (and materials from) the lovely and talented Wendy Weiss, the undisputed Queen of Cold Calling.

Illustrations by Andrey Anoshkin

STEP #1: Stop Wasting the Opportunity
When most sales pros make a call, and end up in a voice mail situation, they tend to do one of the following:
  • Tactic #1: Transfer. The rep tries to get the call transferred to an admin in order to find out a better time to call. This used to work, except that nowadays, you're going to end up in the admin's voice mail. The only person answering the phone is the receptionist, and even she's not answering when she's on break or at lunch.
  • Tactic #2: Terminate. The rep figures that there's no sense leaving a voice mail message, so he or she terminates the call and (sometimes) makes a not to call the decision-maker back at a later date. Most of the time, however, the rep ends up back in voice mail anyway. Because nobody is answering the d**n phone anymore.
  • Tactic #3: Babble. The rep, desperate now, tries to leave a message, but because he or she is not prepared, babbles on and on, and then at the end of the message leaves a phone number, which spoken so quickly that it's completely impossible to understand. Eventually the rep wonders why the prospect hasn't called back.
Sound familiar?

Fortunately, there's a better way...

CLICK for the second step »

STEP #2: Create a Voice Message Script
A voice message script consists of three parts:
  • Part 1: Identify yourself. Say your name, your firm, and your telephone number. Be sure to say your name and phone number at the speed you would if dictating to someone who is going to write it down. Your prospect will interpret this slow dictation as a direction to pick up a pen and begin to write. If your name is at all difficult, spell it slowly; you want your prospect to write your name down.
  • Part 2: Explain why you're calling. Write a one-sentence statement about the value, benefits and outcomes that you, your offerings, or your company delivers to your customers. Ideally, this should include a quantifiable financial impact that's meaningful to the customer.
  • Part 3: Provide proof you can deliver. Write three brief success stories about a similar company with whom you have worked and how you were able to help them. Keep this short! Two sentences per success story should be enough.
  • Part 4: Identify yourself again. Say your name, firm, and number again at the end of the message. Slowly. This way, if your prospect missed the number the first time, he or she won't have to go back to the beginning of the message. Make it easy for your prospect to call you back!
Here's an example:
  • Part1: Hello! I'm Wiley Coyote (C... O... Y... O... T... E...) from Acme Devices, 8... 0... 0... 5... 5... 5... 1... 2... 3... 4....
  • Part 2: The reason I'm calling is that our inventory control systems save our clients an average of $1 million in excess costs and we may be able to help you achieve similar cost savings.
  • Part 3:
  • (version a): IBM recent hired us to save around $200 million in its part inventory by building a customized solution; I can send you a case study if you're interested.
  • (version b): System Builders Unlimited -- they're down the street from you -- recently credited us with decreasing their customer response time by three days. This just resulted in their most profitable quarter.
  • (version c): The Widget Manufacturers association recent sponsored a study showing that we had the most efficient solution for controlling inventory inside companies like yours.
  • Part 4: If this is interesting to you and you'd like to have a brief conversation to determine if it makes sense for us to meet personally, please call me back. I'm Wiley Coyote C... O... Y... O... T... E... from Acme Devices, 8... 0... 0... 5... 5... 5... 1... 2... 3... 4.... Have a great day!
NOTE: If you want your scripts to convert more consistently, tie one or more of them to events that influence the prospect's likelihood to buy, such a personnel changes, new customers (of theirs), a merger, or some other significant "trigger" event. There are several applications that allow you to get this information right in the context of your CRM system, including SalesView, iSell, and FirstRain.

CLICK for the third step »

STEP #3: Rehearse and Adjust
You're used to leaving voice mail messages for friends and colleagues, so you've probably got some bad habits to break. Also, it takes practice to work with a script so that it doesn't sound like you're just reading it.

Call your own voice mail and practice leaving voice mail messages. Don't just read the script but "interpret it" as if it were just part of a conversation. Alternate the "Part 3" case study. Play with different ways of emphasizing the "Part 2" reason that you called.

Make sure that you do the ENTIRE name, firm and number routine. CLEARLY! That's very important, because the more clearly you give that information, the more likely it is that the prospect will write them down.

And they're only going to call you back if they write that information down, right?

After you've left yourself about 10 messages, get into your voice mail system and play them back. Notice how you sound. Listen for which statements worked and sounded the most genuine.

If you're not satisfied with how you sound, keep rehearsing until you are.

If you ARE satisfied...

CLICK for the fourth step »

STEP #4: Schedule Multiple Calls and Messages
Make a call.

If you get through to a decision-maker, great! You already know how to handle that situation. (For help with this, use this post: How to Make a Flawless Cold Call.)

However, if (as is likely) you get into voice mail, leave a message, as prescribed in Step 2. Remember to only use one version of the "Part 3" success story.

Get out your day planner or call up your calendar program and schedule another call -- in 3 to 5 business days.

If the prospect calls you back, fabulous. You're on your way! Cancel your scheduled recall and get selling!

However, if the prospect does NOT call you back, when the scheduled time comes, leave another message, using a different "Part 3" success story. Once again, schedule another call in 3 to 5 business days.

Repeat this one process more time.

By leaving different messages, each reinforcing the initial message, you're showing persistence and exposing the prospect to positive aspects of buying from you. If they're a real prospect, there's a good chance you'll get a call back.

However, if the prospect STILL does not call you back...

CLICK for the fifth step »

STEP #5: Leave a "Last Chance" Message
If you have left your series of messages and have not received a return call... make ONE MORE CALL.

This message has the same beginning and ending as the previous messages, but the inside is different.

In this message, you let your prospect know that you understand that they are busy. Tell them that you assume that it is not a good time for them to have a discussion with, so you will NOT be calling again for a while.

Specify a time frame, six months, a year... That way they know you're serious and not giving up on them.

NOTE: Make sure that you keep an even tone, saying nothing that could be interpreted as angry or annoyed. Shoot for the normal friendly, business-like manner you use to communicate with peers.

HINT: As with the other messages, you may want to practice a bit using your own voice mail.

Why does this work? Sometimes the statement that you won't be calling can spur an interested (but busy) prospect pick up the telephone and call you back.

It helps overcome procrastination if the prospect was intending to call but never got around to it.

If the prospect still does not call you back, mark the opportunity as inactive, and put them on a recall list six months out.

CLICK for the final step »

STEP #6: Measure and tune the process
This is important.

All too many sales teams treat cold calling and selling by voice mail as chores. As a result, many teams (and reps) keep doing the same things over and over without really seeing what's working and what's not.

If you're going to sell using voice mail you MUST keep track of all of this. Figure out how many prospects are calling you back. Track the conversion rates of the prospects that call you back.

Map those conversions into revenue, so that you know whether or not selling by voice mail is worth the effort. I think you'll be surprised at how cost-effective it can be.

If you try different scripts, measure which ones work better -- and try to figure out why. The more effort and precision that you put into measurement, the more likely it is that you'll come up with a system that works consistently.

CLICK for a summary and more help »

  • STEP #1: Stop Wasting the Opportunity
  • STEP #2: Create a Voice Message Script
  • STEP #3: Rehearse and Adjust
  • STEP #4: Schedule Multiple Calls and Messages
  • STEP #5: Leave a "Last Chance" Message
  • STEP #6: Measure and tune the process
If you want to learn more about this technique, and improve your cold calling chops at the same time, I highly recommend getting onto Wendy Weiss's website and downloading the the free report, "Getting in the Door: How to Write an Effective Cold Calling Script."

Beyond that, the following posts will prove useful: