Voice Mail Hell
compiled by Martien Eerhart

Voice mail has developed into a most frustrating experience in the new economy and the old economy as well. Where there was once no "tall grass to hide in" it seems voice mail has created a "hidden economy" where it takes new skills and creative enterprise to break through. Here are two pieces that offer a few tips on how to cut through the nonsense and get to the source. (ed.)

Voice Mail Hell!
by Shamus Brown

How many times have you heard that you gotta get past the gatekeeper and get to the decision-maker to make the sale? Countless books and sales trainers have talked about this for years. Much of this advice was written for a world without voicemail.

Today's flatter organization has fewer administrative assistants for management, which means fewer live gatekeepers to screen our phone calls. The delegation of authority has also resulted in decision-makers being found at lower levels in the business than ever before. More and more decision- makers now use voicemail as their primary or even exclusive gatekeeping and screening tool.

Today I am going to discuss a few techniques for getting through to your target in the world of voicemail hell. The first rule as always in sales is to be prepared, so you should have ready two or three major pains and visions that your product solves or enables. Make sure you have prepared at least one strong pain that your prospect is likely to identify with (pain elimination is a stronger motivator for most people than vision creation.)

Tip#1 - Call at weird hours
People who screen their calls normally during the 8am to 6pm business hours will often pickup the phone if a call comes in at 6am or 8:30pm and they are working at their desk. With some of the insane hours people work these days, this can be very effective. They will pick-up the phone generally thinking that the only person who would call at 8:30pm at night is their spouse or a friend. Who could possibly know that they are at the office at that sick hour? Try calling anytime after 6pm, and up until 8pm or 9pm when you really need to reach this person. If they are that important to the business, and that hard to reach, chances are that they work very late, very early, or both.

Getting the direct extension number of a Director or VP in a medium to large size company can seem like an impossible task. Some top people will have a direct extension that the receptionists won't give out. Instead, the best you get is a general department extension like 555-2000 (where there actually is a gatekeeper). Other times you get only the gatekeeper's voicemail (now you are really stuck in voicemail hell).

Tip #2 - The wrong extension trick
Call another extension at the company randomly, say 555-2198 and ask for your target. You more than likely will get a person who is not experienced in taking outside phone calls. When the receiver of your call says you got the wrong extension, tell them that you have been getting passed around to the wrong extensions, the wrong people, the wrong voicemails, and that you are really frustrated - sound really distraught. Tell them you must return this call, but that you lost the direct number or that it was garbled on your voicemail. Ask them if they can tell you the direct number to dial so that you don't get passed around by receptionists into the wrong voicemails anymore. The key here is to sound distraught. You want them to feel a little sorry for you, so that they will want to help you. People like to help others in need. Armed with the direct extension number for your decision-maker, see Tip #1.

Tip #3 - Prepare a commercial
You may decide that the best use of your time is to leave a message. If you want any chance of getting your call returned, you better make it good. My favorite approach is to tell a brief story to get the prospect's attention before they have a chance to realize that this is a voicemail from a salesperson and hit delete. Your story should contain a customer who had pain that your product solved. Start your story by saying "Hi Greg, Shamus Brown here. You know, XYZ company was experiencing an extreme ..." Do not identify yourself as a salesperson or identify your company at the beginning of the commercial. Make the pain sound real bad - talk about the serious consequences of it. Then finish your commercial by saying "Greg, to find out how my company, ABC company, helped XYZ company eliminate this problem, give me a call at (415) 460-6566."

To leave or not leave a message depends a lot on the nature of what you are selling and the prospect base that you are selling to. If you are selling to a small group of companies, then I would not leave a message until after being very persistent with the first two approaches. If you have a high number of potential prospects to call on, you could use the commercial approach on everyone. Be flexible and persist and you'll eventually make contact.

On a final note, the best way to get to a decision-maker is to get introduced to the person. Partnering with another company that already has an existing relationship with the prospect is very effective for leveraging in at a higher level. Selling someone else below first takes more time, but is often the way that business is done in the real world. These tips above will come in handy when you are at a loss for how to get a referral introduction.

Voice Mail Messages That Get Returned
by Jeff and Marc Slutsky

Voice Mail can be one of the most frustrating developments for sales people because it makes it almost impossible to get through to your prospect. However, according to Orval Ray Wilson, coauthor of Guerrilla TeleSelling, there are some creative ways you can entice your prospect to return your voice mail message. We find that when we leave a standard message on voice mail that we'll get half of our messages returned.

The Insomnia Message
Since most voice mail has a time stamp, you can leave messages at odd hours to make a strong impression. "Hi, it's Mitchell Austin calling. It's 3:30 in the morning and I was just thinking about your account with us, and I couldn't sleep, so I decided to leave you this message . . ."

The Mile-High Message
Next time you're on a plane, use the onboard phone call people that you wish to reach. "Hi, it's Amanda Justin. I'm calling from 37,000 feet on my way to Chicago. I was thinking about you and just had to call." According to Orval Ray, it's well worth the high price to leave an impression. If they're in the office, tell the secretary that you're calling from the plane, and you'll probably put right through.

The Stock Holder's Message
Buy a few shares of your prospect's stock. Then leave a message introducing yourself as a concerned stockholder.

The "Who You're NOT" Message
"Hi. I'm not with the IRS, I'm not selling insurance, I'm not looking for a job or donation, I don't want to borrow money, but I do want to talk to you about . . ."

The Disregard That Message Message
The first message you leave is, "Hi Char. Please disregard that last message. If you need anything else, please call me at . . . " Last message? What last message?

The File A Missing Person Report Message
"Hello Ron. Your staff doesn't seem to know where you are and frankly I'm concerned. I just wanted to let you know that I've filed a missing person report."

The Persistent or Pest Message
Larry Winget, a motivational speaker based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma uses this one: "There's a fine line between being persistent and being a pest. I want to serve you well, yet never be a pest. Will you please call and tell me how best to serve you?"

The Kiddy Call Message
Have your kids make a call. "My daddy is going crazy waiting for you to call him back. Would you please call? As soon as you do, he can take me for ice cream."

BizSmart Action Plan

  1. This week, each time you get voice mail, try a different message form this article.
  2. Be sure to write down which message you left for each voice mail contact.
  3. Track the number of returned phone calls you get for each type of message you left.
  4. Once you start to see a particular message working, start using it more often.
  5. When you think of your own creative message to use, give it a try and track the results.
  6. Caution: there's a fine line between creativity and deception. Don't risk making your prospect angry. Use some common sense.

Drs. Martien Eerhart is president of Global Gateway, a sales and management training company. Contact Martien at www.developmoresales.com or call (800) 860-3547.

Shamus Brown can be contacted by e-mail: shamus@industrialego.com .

Many more articles on Communications in The CEO Refresher Archives


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