Avoiding Voice Mail Hell

If there is one thing guaranteed to drive salespeople up the wall, it’s trying to get prospects to return their calls.

Whenever I asked participants in our sales training workshops how many are having trouble getting people to return their calls, all hands go up. It has become a major problem for salespeople today.

We’re in a catch-22. We’re not supposed to drop in without an appointment but we can’t get an appointment because nobody returns our calls. Then, when we show up they tell us, “I can’t see you now; you should have called for an appointment!” You just can’t win sometimes.

Some of our workshop participants estimate that over 60 percent of the time they’re reaching voice mailboxes instead of real people. With those kind of odds, you’d think we’d be better prepared for the situation… but most of us aren’t.

We better be prepared because, whether we like it or not, the telephone, voice mail, e-mail, and other technological roadblocks to reaching our prospects have become a reality.

Many of us feel that prospects are hiding behind their voice mail or e-mail systems. Not so. They’re not hiding behind them, they’re using them to screen or filter out potential time-wasting activities. If a prospect even suspects that returning your call will waste one second of his time, he won’t do it or at best he’ll put it off until the more pressing items are looked after… which means you’ll get a call back in a month or two!

Here’s a couple of reasons why people don’t call you back and what you can do about it.

Reason #1:

You haven’t given them a compelling enough reason to do so.

Most people get dozens of messages in a day, sometimes 20 to 50, and they can’t return them all. Between their telephone messages and e-mails, they can hardly find the time to do their day-time job. Because of this they’re going to make judgment calls as to who gets a call back and who doesn’t.

Obviously important calls are at the top of the list, then come the urgent calls, and then calls that sound like they’re going to be of interest or value to them. Bottom of the list is the non-message call. You know the one. It goes something like this, “Hi, this is Fred Shmuck calling from Arbor Systems. Could you give me a call at 555-1212. Thanks.” Now that’s a real grabber isn’t it?

Don’t expect a call back unless you include something in your message that makes it important (“I have the information you requested for your management meeting”), urgent (“New pricing is going into effect tomorrow and I need to talk to you today if we’re to hold the old prices for you.”), or of interest/value to the person you’re calling (“I have some ideas on how you might improve production up to 20 percent that I’d like to share with you.”).

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been guilty of leaving empty, non-messages and then got annoyed when I didn’t get a call back. It happens less and less now because I’ve discovered the secret of getting people to return my call.

Before I pick up the phone, I give serious thought to what benefit statement or interest-creating statement I can use if I have to leave a message. I can use the same statement if I happen to reach a real live person.

Remember, the key to an effective call is to have a reason for the call, a reason that’s important to the prospect. The fact that you’re calling to check up on the proposal or literature you mailed them is important to you but not the prospect, so don’t be surprised when he doesn’t call back.

The main reason most of us don’t pre-plan our opening statement is that it takes more effort to think about what we want to say before we pick up the phone than simply making the call and saying whatever happens to come out of our mouths.

So give them a reason to call you back. No reason, no call back!

Reason #2:

You make it very difficult for people to return your calls.

The following phenomenon usually occurs when you call prospects for the first time and they don’t know you. You end your compelling message by saying your name and number at a rate of speech approaching the speed of light. How many times have you received a message that ended with… ,


No matter how many times you play it back, you still can’t make it out.

I’ll never understand why callers feel compelled to speed up at the end of a call. I’ve had to replay some messages 6 to 8 times before I can get the name and number. I really get annoyed at having to work so hard to get the information. How many of your prospects are going to play back your message 2, 3, 4, 5 times? And if they do, just how annoyed do you think they’ll be when they call you… if they call at all?

Here’s a simple solution. For the next few weeks, when you leave your name and number (particularly the number) on someone’s voice mail, write it down while you’re giving it over the phone. This will cause you to slow down to a rate that allows the other person to also write it down, without the aggravation of having to play it back over and over and over again in order to get it.

Remember, speak s-l-o-w-l-y when you leave your name and number, particularly the number. Do this for three weeks and you will have developed the habit of leaving an intelligible message. 

No Guarantee

These ideas may not guarantee a call back and you may not be able to avoid voice-mail hell altogether, but you’ll certainly find yourself spending less time waiting or callbacks that will never come.