If you had to search for (or create) stock imagery of what a sales call looks like, it’s pretty obvious what would be in the picture: at least two people in business attire, probably seated, and with a desk or boardroom table sitting in between them.
That image, however, is at odds with the reality of modern-day selling, which often involves several attempts – and forms – of outreach before a rep ever gets into a face-to-face meeting. In-person discussions are not uncommon when you’re closing a deal, but turning a prospect into a real lead means being tactical about using voicemail, email, and ideally both in tandem.
Some sales teams, or even individual reps, may find themselves more naturally drawn to one channel of communication over another. They may be adept at summarizing key product and service features in an email, for example, or linking to interesting pieces of content that get a prospect excited. Others may prefer a live phone call but are able to use their interpersonal skills to leave a message that will almost always get them a call back. In general, though, it’s not uncommon to use email for specific instances and voice mail for others, with a fairly consistent one-two approach that determines the sequence. Not sure what those are? Read on.
Scenario 1: Prospects have just downloaded a content marketing asset
There’s a reason why marketing teams spend all that money creating white papers, webinars, infographics and other things that will entice customers to hand over business card-level information. These are passed on as leads to the sales team who have to choose the best approach for following up.
Use e-mail when: You have no first-hand knowledge of the prospect but can do enough research on their firm before hand to create a cold email that suggests how they could build upon the insights from the content marketing asset or take the next step in learning more about your products and service. This is a simple way to show you’ve noticed the download and are there to discuss further.
Use voicemail when: You recognize the name, either of the individual or the organization. Leave a cold voicemail that references any previous connection or your relationship with another contact in the firm.
Follow up a cold email with a voicemail that gives a high-level synopsis of what you sent, positioning it as a “just in case it slipped into your spam filter” form of outreach. Conversely, an email that follows up a cold voicemail can be a good way to check that someone isn’t on vacation and left an out-of-office there but not on their phone.
Scenario 2: You meet a prospect at a conference or industry event
The sales process can start literally anywhere, especially in “hallway conversations” or other impromptu encounters with people in between a conference session or while walking a tradeshow floor. Even when business cards are exchanged, however, it may not always be clear how a prospect prefers to be contacted once they’ve gotten back to their office. A few things to keep in mind:
Use email when: You’ve checked your CRM to see if there has been any contact or touchpoint with the prospect in the past, which can give you the kind of details about their needs and preferences that will help craft an effective “warm” email on behalf of the company.
Use voicemail when: You have no data on the prospect other than what they told you in person – position the message as an effort to continue a great conversation. Include any pertinent details that will jog their memory about who you are, given they may have met a number of other vendors.
When in doubt, email followed by voicemail may be a sure-fire combination since you may have blog posts or other content related to the conference you can use as a jumping-off point for your follow-up.
Scenario 3: You’re dealing with an established customer
The voicemail-vs.-email conundrum doesn’t just arise with prospects. In fact, it can be an even trickier area with clients who have given repeat business. If, for example, a key contact leaves and another takes their place, you lose a sense of how they prefer to interact. Depending on what you’re selling, even a long-time relationship can be put to the test if they aren’t approached the right way.
Use email when: You have details that can’t be condensed into a voice mail. A new product launch, an extensive upgrade, an expanded service offering – it may be difficult to promote these effectively without taking more time than someone is willing to listen. That doesn’t mean you should write a novel, of course. Offer what you can in bullet points with a clear call to action that a meeting would be advantageous – and that you’ll follow up with a voicemail if you don’t hear back by a certain date.
Use voicemail when: It’s urgent, actionable and easy. Promos, discounts or invites to a special event may make more sense over the phone, especially if it’s a contact you know well. If it’s a new contact, voicemail may be a friendly way to introduce yourself, with a promise to follow up by email with some potential dates and times to get acquainted.
Of course, these aren’t so much hard and fast rules so much as guidelines. Use whatever information you have about customers and prospects as your guide – especially other members of your sales team who may be able to provide more specific insight. Despite what the experts once predicted, email and voicemail probably aren’t going away anytime soon, so best to make the most of them.