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Q. We use the phone for keeping contact with many accounts. I also use it for cold calling phone prospects. Any hints on how to entice prospects to call back, since over 60 percent of calls are answered by voice mail?

Copyright MMX, by Dave Kahle

A. Welcome to the bane of 21st Century sales people – Voice Mail!  Yes, I have a number of ideas.

  1. Give up thinking that there is a fool-proof magic set of words that are guaranteed to work.  Nothing you do is going to be guaranteed, nor will any set of words work with everyone.  You are going to have to steel yourself for a long-term frustrating experience, where success is defined as a few more returned calls this week than you got last week.  It’s going to be a constantly moving, never-ending challenge.
  1. Compare notes.  Get together with your colleagues and brainstorm this question.  What has worked for someone?  Anyone have any success stories to share?  Sometimes a word or story from someone else will generate a successful idea for you.  A small group of sales people, working together, may be able to generate some ideas that will work for you and them.
  1. Always remember WIIFM – “What’s in it for me?”  Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are trying to call and ask yourself why they (you) should return the call.  What’s in it for them?  I know why you want them to return the call, but when looked at from the prospective of your customer, why should he/she devote five or ten minutes of valuable time to a phone conversation with someone he doesn’t know?
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  1. Don’t try to sell your product over voice mail, instead sell the return call.  Your position should be that you are not trying to sell him anything; you just want to talk with him.  At this point, the issue isn’t the price or product; it is the time it takes to talk with you.  Give him a reason to talk to you.
  2. The most powerful voice mail messages typically do one of these things:
    a. reference a person you both know, perhaps someone who referred him to you.
    b. reference a company that he knows for whom you have done some good things
    c. mention a problem he is likely to have, for which you may have some ideas.
    d. mention a specific benefit that would likely be important to him that he would gain from talking to you
  3. Study your results.  Keep good records, and constantly review your experience in order to learn from it.  You may discover, for example, that you have a better chance of reaching CEOs if you call at 7:45 in the morning, rather than at 8:30.  Or that a certain phrase or question works better than another.

Hope this helps.  You have identified one of the top challenges for every sales person in the 21st century.  There are no simple answers, only slight improvements.  If you are really serious about improving in this skill, I have two resources to recommend.  Check out my one-hour training audio training seminar entitled:
Victory over Voice Mail. If you have a group of sales people frustrated by the same problem, consider my small - group video training program by the same title. 
Good luck.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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