“Hi, I’m away from my desk. If you leave your name, number and a brief message, I’ll call you back as soon as possible. Unless, of course, you’re trying to sell me something, in which case I’ll never call you back. Have a nice day.”

Ah, voice mail. It can make the most hardened sales reps feel like an awkward 17-year-old trying to get a date to the prom. “If I leave a message, I might sound desperate. If I leave two, it’s already a little creepy. But if I don’t leave any, somebody else might call first.

“And if I do leave a message, what should I say? Is it better to be little mysterious or totally upfront? Should I try to be funny or clever? And can I really explain why I would be the perfect prom date before the stupid machine cuts me off?”

There are many different approaches to handling voice mail. I like the approach suggested by cold-calling guru Art Sobczak. In his view, a voice mail message is just one type of cold call. But some special do’s and dont’s apply:

Don’t expect a callback. Once in a blue moon, prospects will call back – if you just happened to catch them when they’re in active buying mode. That’s a gift. But getting a callback shouldn’t be your call objective.

Don’t try to sell. Trying to sell someone via voice mail violates all the rules of effective selling. You don’t know their needs. You can’t ask questions. You can’t engage in a dialogue like you would in a normal cold call. All you will do is create resistance.

Do tell them when you’ll call back. Some salespeople think, “If I say when I plan to call back, prospects will duck my call.” If your voice mail message makes them want to avoid you, it’s the wrong message. Which leads to the fourth and most important rule:

Do give them a reason to take your next call. In Art’s view, that’s exactly the same challenge that you face when you DO get a prospect on the line. Your only objective is to give them a reason to continue the conversation. There’s no hard sell, no breathless feature dump, no tricky gimmick involved. You won’t sound desperate and dateless. You’ll simply leave the prospect with the feeling that it might be worth their while to give you a few minutes of their time.

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