Strictly Sales Episode 3: Leaving Effective Voicemails

Sales executive and educator Jeff Hoffman shares his secrets to effective voicemails that will make — not break — your sale.

If you’re a salesperson, you’ve been in this situation countless times — you’ve invested a significant part of your morning in researching your next call. It’s going to be a big one, you can feel it. You dial the number and listen eagerly as the phone rings. You know exactly what you want to say. The phone rings . . . it keeps ringing . . . boom — voicemail.
The question for many entry-level salespeople is what do you do next? Do you leave a voicemail or not? Is the buyer really going to call you back? Should you even bother or should you just call again later? What do you even say?
In this episode of “Strictly Sales”, Jeff Hoffman tackles voicemails head-on, and explains how to leave effective messages that will keep the ball rolling.

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Key Takeaways

  • There are a few reasons that you should leave a voicemail: You put a lot of work into research just to make the call; if you hang up at the voicemail level, you are guaranteed not to connect with client; the customer often has caller ID, and can recognize you if you call again
  • Voicemails should be under 15 seconds and shouldn’t include your plan of action [3:45]
  • Your reason for calling should always change in each voicemail [5:00]

“[People are] always asking me, ‘Do I leave a voicemail?’ I think the better question is, how do we leave decent voicemails? Because to not leave a voicemail is a bad decision for a variety of reasons.”

— Jeff Hoffman, M. J. Hoffman and Associates


CeCe: Hi, everyone and thanks for tuning in to Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman. Jeff, thrilled to have you back.
Jeff: We’re doing it again. I can’t believe it.
CeCe: And we’re back for more.
Jeff: There’s at least a couple people listening because we’re doing more of these.
CeCe: Exactly. So, on our last couple podcasts, which you should check out if you haven’t already, we’re talking about how to get into companies and how to get out of companies. Now, if you’re thinking like “Hansel and Gretel” here, let’s talk about leaving those little breadcrumbs along the way. And it’s something I hear from people all the time. You’re always asking me “Do I leave a voicemail”? Yes or no? So, when do you know, Jeff?
Jeff: Well, I hear it, too and I hear interesting arguments on both ends. Particularly people who think leaving voicemail is a bad idea. We know that people don’t often return voicemails. And the last thing we want to be is that annoying voice leaving three or four voicemails for a complete stranger, only to be kind of looking like a stalker. So, I get why people are reticent to not do it. But you know, I think it’s bad form. I think the better question is, how do we leave decent voicemails? Because to not leave a voicemail is probably a bad decision for a variety of reasons, the simplest reason why it’s a bad idea. Because think about all the work you had to do to make the call. You probably had to research them a little bit, write something down, get your pitch ready, find the lead, find the right person in the account. See if they purchased or if they’ve talked to anyone in my company before. You might have spent five, ten, 15 minutes getting yourself to a point where you can make this phone call. You went as far as to dial the number. And it actually rang into a real person’s voice. And then you’re going to hang up? That doesn’t make any sense to me. You’ve literally done all that hard work, you might as well finish. It doesn’t make a great investment of time.
CeCe: No, definitely. And I think some people are of that smile and dial mentality. Where it’s about how many calls you can make in the course of the day. And that’s just not the right way to go about it. It has to be the quality and you have to actually leave an impression on an account in order for it to be meaningful.
Jeff: That’s right. My thinking is…dial metrics are important. But they’re important to do one thing, it’s to drive the real first measurable metric in sales, which is connects. Actual conversations, actual discovery moments. Actual times who have their attention. That’s where the clock starts running on selling, not before. So, all those dial metrics that you work or your boss tells you to work, that’s all geared to get connects up. So, if you’re going to hang up at the voicemail level, you’re guaranteed to not have a connect there because you’ve abandoned it. So, that’s the first bit. But the other reason why I think it’s important is imagine I’m a director of IT and you want to reach me. I’m out of the office all day because I’m offsite and one of my servers is down and I’m dealing with it. So, I come back to my office around 3:00 in the afternoon. I haven’t been there all day. You, Mr. and Mrs. in the sales rep, have been trying to reach me. You left me a voicemail at 9:00 in the morning. But then you called me again at 10:00 and you called me again at 2:00. But at 10:00 and 2:00, you didn’t leave a voicemail. You just hung up.
CeCe: You look sketchy.
Jeff: Now, you look sketchy. Because I have a pretty sophisticated phone, I can see the missed calls. And I see your phone number, three times with no messages. Now, I’m sitting at my desk and you call a fourth time at 5:00. Well, imagine sitting there. I look up at my desk. I see, on caller ID, that number. Am I picking it up?
CeCe: Absolutely not.
Jeff: Hell, no, exactly I’m not picking it up. So, you just screened yourself from this person at ever picking up your live dial. It makes no sense. So, yeah, I do think we should  leave voicemails. But what I argue is that your voicemail probably needs to be less than 15 seconds. That’s hard for a lot of people. Don’t reference all the times you’ve missed the person. But be very clear with your action item. I am not a fan of letting people know my intentions in sales. Number one, it’s none of their business. Just like a customer would react poorly if I said “Do you intend to buy this?” That would be none of my business. Well, it’s none of their business on what I intend to do tomorrow. I might call you, I might email you. I might call your boss. I might call your competitor and sell them some products. I don’t know yet. And it’s none of your business. I don’t like to say things like “Hi, CeCe. This is Jeff calling. I am going to call you as a follow-up tomorrow.” I’m not doing that. I’m just going to leave my message and let it sit there. My frequency in calling you is going to be so impossible to predict, that you will not predict. And you’ll either call me back, delete me or tell me to leave you alone. But I’m not going to let you just sit there kind of doing nothing.
CeCe: I think what happens though often, Jeff, is that people use their voicemail as the opportunity to pitch. And then, you’re leaving the same voicemail over and over. I remember my first sales job. The voicemail I left, I can recite it cold right now. And I think everyone out there can do that. So, you’re going to leave a voicemail, but how are you going to change it every time?
Jeff: Yeah. So, usually, what I want to do is I want to say…whatever reason I’m calling will change on every call. I might decide to call you because I see you’ve just entered a partnership with one of our partner accounts. And there’s a similarity there.
I might leave another voicemail that mentions that I see you’ll be speaking at a conference that we’ve got a booth at. And then, maybe the next one is something around “I know someone in your organization downloaded a white paper from your engineering team.” I have to say something fresh. And as hard as that sounds…and frankly, it can be a trivial thing, but having that freshness means that I am not operating with you, CeCe, like you are number call 41 of my 75 dials today. And I’m just going down the list, because people hear that. They can feel it in your voice. And that’s the easiest call to delete.
CeCe: I think you bring up a really good point, Jeff. Because not only are you saying something new every time you’re calling them, but you’re keeping yourself from referencing those failed attempts. The “Oh, I called you this morning” or “I just left you a note” or “I’m going to follow up with something.” I mean, people want to work with people who win. And not with people who lose.
Jeff: Right, that’s absolutely right. I completely agree with that. We want to be self-confident and we want to be high social value. But at the same time, what generally happens is that the salespeople think that to be self-confident means that I’m going to bring on this air of “I really don’t care” or “This doesn’t really bother me. This isn’t really a sales call. I’m just curious.” I’m the total opposite. I let the customer know that these calls are really important to me. And that getting you on the phone live is really what I want to have happen.”
CeCe: It’s my top priority.
Jeff: It’s my top priority. And my focus is all on you. But what I’m not going to be, though, is needy. So, I want to be excited and I want to be enthusiastic and I want to be engaged. But I don’t want to be needy and wanting. Because the truth is, I really do want to talk to you. I was inspired to call you, CeCe. And if I get you live, you’re going to feel that. You’re going to feel that presence. But if I don’t get you live, as disappointing as that may be, I’m calling someone else, too.  So, my day is filled with me looking for people to talk to. And you happen to be one of the lucky few. But it’s not so few that I won’t be calling others today. And I think that’s an important thing. I don’t like telling that “Hey, here’s a history of our failed relationship.” That’s absurd to me. All it does is make you look terrible in the eyes of the customer.
CeCe: And it makes you look like a loser. And that’s not fun for anyone, right?
Jeff: Not fun for anybody. No, I agree.
CeCe: So, Jeff, when it comes down to it, voicemails, yes or no?
Jeff: Thumbs up, yes.
CeCe: All right. Thanks, guys, for joining us today on “Strictly Sales.” And we’ll see you next time. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
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