Break Open the Voicemail Clamshell

Being effective
at prospecting requires that you maintain a steady pace with your sales calls. That’s how
you ensure your sales funnel remains large enough so that you meet your sales targets year
after year (and remember, that funnel has to be three times the
value of your targets). In making those calls to new leads and prospects, sales people
often complain to me that when they are intercepted by someone’s voicemail, it too often
becomes a black hole. No matter what you put into it, your efforts never see the light
of day ever again—prospects don’t return your calls and you spend more time than you think
you can afford being on the phone leaving message after message.

It doesn’t have to be that way! The key to mastering voicemail is to recognize its true
character…and to use that knowledge to your advantage so you can sell more to more customers
in less time.

Facing up to the facts about voicemail

Let’s face it: nobody really likes voicemail. It’s slower to use
than other communications tools and yet we’ve all learned to accept it as a necessary part
of our busy lives. To understand how you can leverage this imperfect technology to your advantage,
exercise those empathy muscles that all successful sales professionals possess.

If you think its tough being the calling party having to deal with that robotic message
taker, put yourself in the shoes of the called party for a moment.
While most will admit reluctantly that voicemail can help avoid calls they didn’t really
want to answer, it’s still a major nuisance that taxes their time as much as it does those
who are trying to leave the messages in the first place.

Recognize that not everyone leaves short, purposeful messages. In fact, too often it’s left
to the called party to trudge through each message to determine which ones require some kind
action on their part. That’s why, in the end, both the caller and the called party wind up
feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. It has even prompted Michael Arrington of the widely
read Silicon Valley-based blog TechCrunch to plead publicly "think before you

Here’s another important fact to bear in mind. In sales, no matter how successful you become,
you will always have to deal with voicemail. Finding ways to master it so that it helps you
reach the goals that matter to you—that’s what will set you apart from the other eighty percent
of sales people in any organization. Treat it well and it can be a highly effective selling
tool that helps you make a positive first impression on prospects. Treat it poorly and it
will be a clamshell that will snap shut on you.

Three-step strategy to break open the voicemail clamshell

Over the course of more than a decade as a sales person as well as a sales trainer and coach,
I’ve noticed that the most successful sales professionals out there have some common habits
in how they use this particular technology to their advantage. Based on that, I’ve developed
a three-step voicemail strategy that you can apply to your own business and start getting
the results you’re looking for today.

Step one: leave a short, purposeful message that requires no action by the person
you are calling.
Here’s an example of what that message might sound like. "Hello,
Janet, it’s Colleen from Engage Selling. Sorry, I missed you. I’m calling because Chris
at the Gizmo Corporation asked me to speak with you about the work we are doing to
improve his sales results. I promise to call you back Wednesday at 2:00PM."

Notice that the message does not include leaving your phone number.
There’s a reason for that. Your first message must not require any kind of task or action
on the part of the called party. You’re the one who makes the commitment to call back at
a specific date and time. Also, if the call is a referral, be sure to include that person’s
name in your message. Doing so helps to establish that you’re not some stranger at the other
end of the line. You’re a known quantity who has something that is useful to offer to the
person you are calling. This gives the called party an added incentive to talk to you.

Step two: leave a short, purposeful follow-up that fully meets the commitment you
made earlier.
True to your word, when 2:00PM rolls around on Wednesday, pick up
the phone and make that follow-up call. If you’re intercepted by voicemail again, leave
a friendly message that sounds something like this: "Hi Janet, its Colleen at Engage
Selling calling, as I promised, to try and reach you today. Sorry, I missed you. Chris
at the Gizmo Corporation thought you’d be interested to learn more about how we are able
to reduce your sales cycle by three months I promise to try you again Thursday at 10:00AM."

Step three: leave one final, purposeful message that takes ownership of why that
person hasn’t called back yet.
Again, meeting your commitment to call, you pick
up the phone on Thursday at 10:00AM. If voicemail greets you one more time, leave one final
message like this: "Hi Janet. It’s Colleen at Engage Selling. I promised I would reach
you today at 10:00AM. Sorry I missed you. I noticed you’ve been hard to reach this
week and I’m wondering if that’s because you’re busy with your sales team talking about
training,  maybe you’ve already engaged another sales trainer or I’ve simply been picking
at the wrong time to find you at your desk."  Why don’t you give me a call at 111-1111
and if I don’t hear from you, I will try again on x Date

You must take 100% ownership for why that person might not be
returning your calls. Not only does this ensure you maintain a friendly, professional tone,
it also says to the called party that there are no hard feelings for the lack of callbacks
(and there could be plenty of good reasons for this that have no bearing on you whatsoever).
Also of note in that third and final message, be sure to include your phone number so that
the called party can call you back. That way, you leave the door open rather than slamming
it shut. 

One more thing to keep in mind about this three-step strategy to prying open the voicemail
clamshell. Its field tested—that means that when it’s implemented consistently, it yields
some really impressive results. Clients who have incorporated it as part of their everyday
sales calling strategy have reported back to me that their callback ratios have improved
by as much as 80 percent.

So embrace voicemail. Treat it right. And be prepared for truly amazing results that influence
your bottom line!