When trying to reach someone, having to leave a voicemail (VM) message can be very frustrating. The exercise is especially tiresome if you’re in sales—leaving message after message with little hope of a callback. Pessimistically you go through the motions; repeating words you’ve said countless times before.
Whether your goal is the exchange of goods or services for cash, pitching a PR story, trying to line up investors or hoping for a job interview, a defeatist attitude isn’t going to help you make the most of your opportunity. Realize—in a cold-call situation—this is your one shot at making a good first impression. And even if you’re performing a ‘follow-up call,’ the fact that VM seems like a hurdle means you obviously haven’t established much of a relationship. You want to sound like someone the person hearing your VM will want to know!
Focus on the Purpose of Your Call
One of the first things anyone who receives an unexpected phone call wonders is “Why is this person calling me?” We quickly want to know if it’s good news, bad news, something important, a conversation to be enjoyed … or a waste of time. And since we’ve all answered thousands of phone calls during our lifetimes, we become efficient at quickly categorizing a caller’s purpose. If it’s painfully apparent you’re leaving a VM only because you’re trying to sell something—or worse, just because it’s your job (and you hate it)—a bad vibe will come through.
Your purpose needs to be letting the VM recipient know how you can improve his or her situation or provide a valuable benefit. Mentally set aside your sales quotas, or the fact that you just lost your biggest client and you desperately need a replacement. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What could a salesperson in your line of work do for you that would lead you to return his or her call? Once you have a tangible mission of doing something good for a fellow human, you’re ready to think about what you’ll actually say.
Organizing Your Message
Your voicemail composition should contain these elements, more or less in this order:
- Identify yourself – Who’s calling is the first thing that people want to know, so don’t frustrate them by not immediately saying who you are and what organization you represent. (Delayed identification may also seem a little shady—as though you have something to hide.) Example: “Hello, contact name, my name is John Smith and I’m with Acme Roadrunner Control.” If you’re calling on behalf of yourself, such as seeking employment, go ahead and make that a part of your introduction. “Hello, contact name, I’m Jane Jones. I’m calling as a follow up to the resume I sent you.”
- Give your phone number – There are a couple of reasons to go ahead and leave your phone number here. First, you create a sense of urgency that calling back is important. Of greater importance, however, it’s more convenient for contacts not to have to listen to your entire message again if they need to “rewind” in order to write your number down.
- Mention the benefit you’ll provide and how you’ll provide it – Remember our earlier exercise of having a purpose for calling? This is where that comes into play, but be brief. Imagine you’re cold calling for a lawn care company. You might say, “We’re in the business of turning lawns into showcases for homes, and right now, we’re offering a special bi-weekly maintenance discount. (If it’s not a discount or special offer, try referencing the specific product or service that’s applicable.)
- Say why you’re calling this person specifically – One example would be, “I’m calling because you recently indicated an interest in our services/products and the benefits we provide,” as in they filled out a business reply postcard or completed an online survey. If your call is completely out of the blue as far as your contact is concerned, you could explain, “We’re reaching out to you as someone our research has shown often benefits from our services/products.” Even better is dropping the name of a mutual connection who made a referral (I always return those calls.) The point is to establish legitimacy for your call.
- Sum up and close – Thank your contact for listening to your message, then invite them to call you back. Leave your phone number again for emphasis and in case your first recitation was hard to understand. Your conversational exit might be: “Thank you for taking the time to listen to my message. I look forward to speaking to you, in person, at your earliest convenience, so my number again is … Have a great day!”
Sound upbeat, yet natural when you leave your message. (Remember, you’re trying to do something good for this person!) Be as brief as possible but don’t rush. Taking time to speak clearly lets your contact know what you’re saying is important and worth hearing. Finally, never forget that there will be a real human being listening to your call, and no matter how many times a day you leave a voicemail, each of those individuals will only hear one, so make it good!