Salespeople have a love-hate relationship with voicemail, tilted heavily toward the negative. While it is convenient to have a machine reliably answer incoming calls at any hour of the day, leaving your messages with a cold, computer-driven device can be daunting. Particularly since many people hide behind their voicemail systems or are simply too busy to return even the calls they meant to return. Even worse, many companies forget to eliminate voicemail accounts when an employee leaves, so you could be dumping your well-intentioned efforts down a deep dark hole that will never elicit a response.
So there's a problem, or at least a challenge. How do you get people to always return your calls?
Not surprisingly, I have my own method for getting through. As a marketer and Wall Street Journal cartoonist, my first thought is to use a cartoon. In fact, one particular cartoon I shared with you above. But first, I want to share a collection of the best ideas that emerged from a workshop I hosted recently, on how to reach VIP prospects.
People often respond more to the tone of your message and other cues that tell them who you are and whether they'll want to engage with you. So when you leave a voicemail, speak clearly and enthusiastically, without being over the top. Be brief, to concentrate the effect of your message on the most important points, but also to express respect for the recipient's time. Sandwich your message with your contact information at the beginning and end of your message. Always avoid leaving too many voicemails. If the first or second calls aren't returned, jump to one of the other steps below. Whatever you do, don't continue to leave messages that aren't eliciting a response.
Many participants of the workshop reported terrific success when they mixed their voicemail messages with follow-up emails or hand-written notes sent through the mail. It makes sense -- if your message is important, it bears repeating and confirmation.
One of the underlying challenges of unreturned phone calls is humanizing yourself to the recipient. Social media is a powerful way to make that happen. Inviting the recipient to connect on LinkedIn gives them a window into who you are and what you do through your profile. Retweeting or praising a VIP target's tweets is a sure-fire method for breaking the ice. The magic of social media is that it can easily convert a stranger into a contact, follower, or better yet, a client.
If the recipient hasn't been receptive to your initial one or two voicemails, change your tactic and offer value to prompt a response. In your next message, ask permission to send a relevant news article, particularly something that relates both to current headlines and the recipient's business. Try offering something of value as a reward for their reply. I sometimes offer autographed copies of one of my books and it works quite well. Or try e-mailing something of value beforehand to seed the conversation ahead of the call. Deadlines can also have a positive effect -- one of the workshop participants reported she got the best results when the deadline was within an hour of leaving the message.
Here you are, checking your voicemail messages, when you come upon this: “Hi, this is Lisa at Transcontinental. My number is *** and I have your...” and the message goes dead. I received this tip from a number of workshop participants who reported smashing success. What’s great about this technique is that it engages the recipient’s humanity; they want to call back to help you get the rest of your message across.
I always use this method when calling a prospect company cold and it really works. I’ll start with the receptionist and explain, “I don’t know who I should be talking with, but can I explain what I’m looking for?” They’ll usually engage and quickly connect me with someone. And I’ll start with, “I was just referred to you by the receptionist, but I’m not sure you’re the person I should be speaking with. Can I explain what I’m looking for and maybe you can refer me to the right person?” Invariably, I’ll reach the right person and repeat the whole thing, but still as a request for help. While most people resist being sold, they’re almost always ready to help a friendly voice on the other end of the line.
Often when I’m just having no luck getting my calls returned and it’s been going on for weeks, I’ll leave a message saying, “I’ve been trying to reach you for the past couple of months -- are you still with the company?” And I usually get a call right back. Variations include, “Are you still in business?” and “Is your voicemail system working?’ In all cases, this seems to act as an intervention to the recipient’s insensitivity, as they realize they’ve left the calls unanswered for too long. I got into this habit originally when I’d been leaving messages for a contact at a large publishing company for six months without a single reply. I finally called the department and discovered he’d left the company six months prior and his voicemail box was still collecting messages!
One of the workshop participants revealed a unique approach to shaking up an unresponsive recipient. If, after leaving four or five messages, the recipient hasn’t returned the call, she leaves a final message saying, “I’ve left you several messages and I’m really sorry, because I must have offended you. I really don’t know what I did, but I’m really sorry...” She reported that 90% of the time, this prompts a call back, with the recipient’s own apology for not responding.
It’s human nature to want what we can’t have and to keep something we suddenly can’t have any longer. That’s the theory behind leaving a final message requesting the return of your materials if the recipient has been unresponsive. If they value your materials, they will call you back. And if they don’t, their status as a non-prospect will become perfectly clear. I’ve used this method when I’ve sent the recipient a personalized cartoon print, as in our CEO Contact program, and they do seem to return the call. Often, they’ll apologize for letting their busy schedules get in the way of returning a call. And a positive conversation ensues.
I make no secret that personalized cartoons are perhaps the ultimate involvement device for e-mail campaigns, but the cartoon at the top of this article is special. It does get people to call back. One thing cartoons do quite well is deliver a dose of truth in a most disarming way. And that's exactly what this cartoon does -- it tells the recipient how much they have affected you by not calling back, but it's so disarming, they often respond with both a chuckle and an apology.
People are generally good and helpful -- but all of us are guilty of being overtaxed by our work schedules. On the other hand, voicemail and other conveniences seem to have contributed to the decline of basic courtesies when it comes to our use of the phone. If we start with the assumption that the person you’re calling is thoughtful and decent -- and busy -- then do your best to leave a clear and concise message that’s easy to grasp and makes it easy for them to respond to you. If that doesn’t do the trick, you’ll need to manage the impression you leave very carefully.