How to leave voice mails that entice prospects to call you back

To paraphrase Shakespeare: “To leave or not to leave, that is the question….” That is the question I posed on a recent discussion of our LinkedIn group: Should we leave a voice mail when calling new prospects, or not?

Interestingly, even though I thought there would be mixed responses, the comments were unanimous:  “Yes”.  However, most of the respondents also said that the voice mail had to be an effective one. Informal polls of salespeople over the years have indicated that most voice mails do not get returned. That, and some of the messages that have been left for me, lead me to conclude that many voice mails are not nearly as effective as they could be. And since you will get voice mail 90% of the time that you dial new prospects, instead of asking: “Should you leave a voice mail?” the question should be: “How can I leave voice mails that get returned?”

Before we discuss how to do that, let’s look at a typical message I received recently (the names have been changed out of respect to the caller!):

“Hi, this is Jill Smith calling from ABC company. I wanted to introduce myself as your new dedicated Account Executive for ABC. We’re a leading blah, blah, blah provider. Our primary differentiator is in our diversity of offerings, with service delivery being a close second. I would like an opportunity to explore how we can also work with your organization moving forward.  I look forward to hearing back from you.”

Now – let me ask you this: How many of you are still awake after reading this? Imagine how it sounded on the phone! How far along would you have allowed this message to get before you deleted it? Personally, I would have deleted before the end of the second sentence – in other words, about 5 seconds into the message. Why? Not because it’s a bad message. It was informational, delivered in a pleasant voice, and it’s nice to know I have a dedicated Account Executive. But unless I happened to be in the market for ABC’s products right now, there’s really no reason for me to call back. And the chances of you making a proactive outbound prospecting call on someone who actually has a recognized need for your product or service at the exact moment you called are slim to none.

Therefore, it’s important to understand that most prospecting calls are not to sell a product or service, but to initiate a relationship, so that when the prospect does have a need for your product, they will contact you. And in initiating relationships, first impressions are very important when you are proactively calling out. If you haven’t spoken to a prospect before, your voice mail will be the first time they hear your voice. So what do you say to generate that great first impression? Let’s look at some principles and practices of voice mail that, if followed, will generate more calls backs.

First, some general rules. Providentially, I received a voice mail this morning before I sat down to write this article that illustrated the points I am about to make. After stating his name and company, this gentleman went on to say: “I have a few questions about the marketing for your website. My number is 555-1212. I hope to hear from you soon.” That was it. Very brief and to the point – much appreciated. He was prepared, with no fumbling for words, no hesitation. Again –much appreciated. However, the message was delivered in such a dull monotone, with absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever, and it left me with no idea what he was offering or what value there was in it for me to call him back. Instantly forgettable, and guaranteed not to entice me to call back. In fact, the only reason I remembered what he said was that it was so bad, I wrote down exactly what he said. Except for his name and company which I had already forgotten by the time I reached the end of the message.

Here are the general rules:

  • Be pleasant and cheerful. Nobody wants to talk to a miserable salesperson.
  • Be enthusiastic (but not overly so). If you’re not enthusiastic about your offering, how can you expect the prospect to be? Your tone of voice on the message can have as much bearing on whether you get a call back as the actual content of the message.
  • Be brief. By that, I don’t mean that you should rush through your message. I mean don’t use too many words. People are “time poor” these days, and they have no tolerance for anyone who is deemed to be wasting that time. There’s a great scene in the movie Amadeus where Salieri is asked for his opinion of Mozart’s music. After a moment’s consideration, Salieri replies: “Too many notes!” And that’s what’s wrong with many voice mails – too many notes!
  • Be prepared. Know what you are going to say. You can’t afford to wait until the beep to think about what you are going to say. You have about 5 seconds to grab the prospect’s attention, establish your credentials, and make them want to listen to more. That’s it. If you don’t capture their attention by then, you’re toast. Deleted. If you do manage to grab their attention, you have another 10 seconds to communicate your value, and another 5 seconds to conclude the message. Script your voice mail message before you call, memorize it, and rehearse it – but never read it when leaving the message. Also, record yourself and listen to what you are saying. If your message is boring to you, guess how it will sound to the prospect?
  • Be persistent. I never call back on the first voice mail I receive from a stranger. I want to see if the person is really serious about talking to me. Call me three times and I’ll call you back. Oh – and don’t bombard the prospect with a new message every three hours. Leave 3 or 4 days between calls.

Okay. Those are the general rules. Now specifically what do you say? There are five basic steps to an effective voice mail:

1. State your name and company.

2. Establish your credentials.

3. Give them a reason to call back.

4. Suggest a specific time for a call.

5. Repeat your name and give your call back number.


Let’s look at each of the steps in more detail.

1. State your name and company.

Firstly, do you state you name and your company name right up front? I have seen this point debated many times, so let me state my position on this: Of course you do! The voice mail is not a mystery novel, and you have nothing to hide (or at least, you shouldn’t have), so say who you are and where you are calling from.

2. Establish your credentials.

Having stated who you are, you then have 5 seconds to establish your credentials as a professional who should be taken seriously. Please don’t say: “I’m just calling to introduce myself as your new Account Executive….” Having spent three years as a Purchasing Agent in a former life, I have heard those words about one thousand times too many. This is a terrible thing to have done, and I’m not proud of it, but I got so tired of this approach that as soon as I heard those words, I would interrupt and say: “Well, it’s very nice to meet you. Thank you for calling.” Then I would hang up. Just by stating your name and company at the start of your message you have already introduced yourself, so it’s a total waste of time to say that’s why you are calling.

There are several ways you can establish credibility in those first few seconds, and which way you do it will depend on your research and why you are calling. One of the best ways to establish credibility is to reference someone the prospect knows. For example: “I was speaking with Don Smith and he suggested I contact you.”

Another way to establish credibility is to demonstrate you know something of their industry or business. Example: “I talk to a lot of people in your industry and I find that one of the biggest challenges facing them is the shortage of qualified people….”

When it’s applicable, you can refer to a news item or an announcement on their website: “I saw the article about your company bidding for the new subway cars for Toronto, and I…..”

An alternative way to gain credibility is to relate a recent success story: “The reason I’m calling is that we’ve worked with a number of companies similar to yours to help them reduce their operating costs….” Does that sound like a sales pitch? Of course it does! You’re a salesperson, and you’re not fooling anyone by pretending you’re not. Be proud. One note of caution here is that, at this point, it may be dangerous to talk about the prospect’s direct competition. Choose an example of a similar size or type of company, rather than a direct competitor.

So those are some ideas for quickly establishing your professional credentials and getting the prospect’s attention.

3. Give them a reason to call back.

Now what? Now you have to give them a reason to call back. Here’s a hint – if the prospect doesn’t see any value in calling you back, they won’t! Use a strong value statement that lets the prospect know why they should call you back. Another hint – use actual results other customers have seen from using your product or service. For example: “One of our clients experienced a 15% drop in their IT operating costs over the last six months.”

Then let the prospect know you’d like to set up a dialogue to see if they could benefit as well: “I’m wondering if we could help you enjoy a similar reduction in costs”

4. Suggest a specific time for a call between you

“Would you have 5 to 10 minutes for an initial phone dialogue on Thursday morning at 10:15?” Make sure you call at the stated time to further establish your professionalism. People notice these things.

5. Repeat your name and give your call back number.

Now is the time to state your name again (they won’t have remembered it from the first time you said it at the start of the message). Then leave your number – twice. Say it the first time at talking speed, and the second time at writing speed: “Again, my name is Derrick Pick, and my number is 416.752.1107.That’s 416.752.1107. I look forward to hearing from you.”

So, putting all together, it will sound like this (obviously you customize the message to your situation):

“Mr. Smith, this is Derrick Pick calling from Acme Industries. The reason I’m calling is that we helped a company very similar to yours to reduce their operating costs by 15% over the last six months, and I’m wondering if we could help you enjoy a similar reduction in costs. Would you have 5 to 10 minutes for an initial phone dialogue on Thursday morning at 10:15? Again, my name is Derrick Pick, and my number is 416.752.1107. That’s 416.752.1107. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Will this voice mail guarantee you a call back? Of course not. Will it work some of the time? Yes it will. Certainly more times than most of the messages I’ve received over the years.

One last piece of advice: follow up your voice mail with an e-mail stating exactly what you said on your voice mail. The salespeople I work with tell me this generates more call-backs than just leaving voice mail.

Try it – it works!