Gatekeepers: How to Stop Blaming Voice Mail for Poor Performance and Start Closing More Sales

What’s the difference between the Great Wall of China and voice mail?

One is a highly complex piece of engineering, designed to keep hordes
of people out, and out of reach. The other is a large wall in China.

Voice mail. We love it because it lets us ignore calls we don’t want
to take, or prepare for calls we’d rather not take right now. We hate
it because it also lets our prospects do the exact same thing – including
ignoring calls from us!

Like all business tools, voice mail can be a double-edged sword.
But the fact of the matter is, if you know how to manage it, you’ll
never again have to blame voice mail for not closing enough business.

Just consider this all-too common end of quarter exchange:

Manager: "Why aren’t you going to hit quota this month?"

Sales person: "Because my stupid prospects won’t return my calls!"
or "I keep leaving voice mail, but it isn’t my fault that they
don’t call me back", or (worst of all), "Well, I guess no
news is good news!"

Sound familiar? Having prospects not return your calls is not an
excuse for poor performance. As sales people, it’s our job to find
a way to reach our prospects. This is what we get paid to do, and
the better we do it, the better we get paid.

So if you’ve been blaming voice mail for poor sales performance,
it may be time to try a new approach. This week, we focus on what
you can do during a cold call to better navigate your way through
voice mail, and into closing more business.

A shift in focus

Learning how to successfully manage voice mail first requires a shift
in your focus about cold calling in general, as well as a fundamental
change in your end goal.

A cold call is not the place to start a sales pitch. In fact, the
most successful sales people don’t make the focus of a cold call getting
sales, or even getting an appointment. Instead, they focus only on
ways to start a conversation that will help their prospects reveal
what they really want to do.

With this in mind, each time you pick up the phone to make a cold
call, I encourage you to make this your one and only goal: To start
a conversion with a decision maker who will open up and talk to me
about their business needs and wants.

To do this, you have to consider two voice mail fundamentals:

1. Never leave a voice mail for someone who doesn’t know you. To
the prospect, you’re an anonymous sales person, and the chances of
this stranger ever returning your call are between 1-2% at best. The
only time you should ever leave a voice mail for a new prospect is
when you have been referred to them (more on that below).
2. Only use voice mail as a last resort. Too often I see sales reps
giving up as soon as the voice mail kicks in, and either leaving a
voice mail (bad) or simply hanging up (better but not great). The
reality is, even if you’ve gotten someone’s voice mail, there are
2 or 3 other options you can exercise while still on that call.

When in doubt, hit zero

What do I mean by only using voice mail as a last resort?

Before leaving a voice mail message for someone who doesn’t know
you, I believe you owe it to yourself to try everything you can to
find them, or at least find out something about them.

For example, when you get someone’s voice mail, instead of leaving
them a message, hit zero. You will likely get bounced to one of: a)
reception, b) a personal or Executive assistant, or c) a co-worker
in their department. If you’re prepared to ask them the right questions,
all of these people can actually help you reach your prospect.

First, try asking them the following question:

I was hoping you could help me. I’m trying to reach Jane Smith, and
her voice mail picked up. Do you happen to know if she’s in a meeting,
or out for the entire day?

Depending on their response, you can then try one of the following
three approaches:

Scenario One:
Them: She’s in a meeting.
You: Thanks for your help. Do you happen to know when she will be
available? Then follow with, Maybe it’s best to call back then?

Scenario Two:
Them: She’s away today.
You: Thanks for your help. Do you know if she will be back tomorrow?

Scenario Three:
If you speak to your prospect’s personal assistant, ask if it’s better
to schedule a call in advance, and then have them set an appointment
for you for 15 minutes or less of their time. Make sure to mark this
date and time in your calendar, and whatever else happens that day,
don’t forget to actually make the call. (Sounds obvious, I know, but
the majority of sales people fail to live up to this promise).

If you have received a referral to your prospect, however, leaving
a voice mail is okay, because there has already been a common bond
created between you and your prospect. This bond is a relationship,
and this relationship is the reason a prospect will want to call you

Remember, there are two types of referrals: 1) from someone inside
the company, like their boss or a colleague such as "John the
VP of Marketing asked that I call you;"
and 2) from someone outside
the company, such as a mutual friend, partner or supplier. Either
of these referrals will create a strong enough relationship to compel
a prospect to call you back.

Three steps to voice mail success

If you do reach the point of leaving a voice mail, try this three-step
process to dramatically increase your chances of hearing back from
your prospect, and obtaining a positive response:

1. The first call.
Jane, this is Colleen Francis from Engage. We haven’t yet had
the chance to meet, but I was talking to (Paul Smith in Marketing
or Deb Young at ABC Corporation) yesterday, and he/she asked that
I call you. Sorry I missed you today, but I’ll try to reach you
again on DATE and TIME.

HINT: Make sure your tone is soft, non-threatening and friendly –
you don’t want to sound like a radio ad for a furniture liquidator.
Plus, it’s critical that you do call back exactly on the date and
time that you say.

2. The follow-up.
Hi Jane, this is Colleen Francis from Engage. I promised to call you
back today, and I’m sorry we missed each other. As I mentioned before,
(person at company or department ABC) was really hoping that we would
be able to connect. I’ll try you again on DATE and TIME.
Again, it’s critical that you call back exactly when you said you
would. Anything else would result in your being less than honest,
and risk losing your prospect’s confidence.

3. One last try at bat.
Hi Jane, this is Colleen at Engage Selling calling, because I
promised to reach you today. I noticed that you are often away from
your desk and I suspect it’s because you’re either swamped at work,
I’ve been wrong at guessing the times you might be available – or
(humorous tone) you just really don’t want to talk to me! Whatever
the reason, if you wouldn’t mind letting me know how to proceed,
that would be great. I promised (Paul) I would be in touch with
you, and get back to him on our conversation.

This three-step approach works because it’s non-threatening, honest
and friendly – attributes all sales people should develop if they
want to be successful. It also works because it means you have shifted
your focus from trying to make a sale, to trying to start a conversation.
In doing so, you give your prospect the expectation that you can be
trusted to keep your word, and you begin to build the rapport that
is so imperative to winning new business.

There is no magic bullet. But since I started using this approach,
I’m happy to report that our office receives a 95% call back rate.
By adopting this technique, before you know it, voice mail can switch
from being your impenetrable Great Wall, to being just one more signpost
on your road to success.