No Callbacks? How to Break Open the Voicemail Clamshell

Let’s face it: Nobody really likes voicemail. But in sales, no matter how successful you become, you will always have to deal with it.

Treat voicemail well and it can be a highly effective selling tool that helps you make a positive first impression on prospects. Treat it poorly and it will be a clamshell that snaps shut on you.

Over the course of more than a decade as a salesperson, sales trainer and coach, I’ve developed a three-step, field-tested voicemail strategy for breaking open the voicemail clamshell that has helped my clients improve callback ratios by up to 80%:

1) Leave a short, purposeful message that requires no action by the person you are calling. Here’s an example of what that message might sound like: “Hello, Janet—it’s Colleen from Engage Selling. Sorry I missed you. I’m calling because Chris at the Gizmo Corporation asked me to speak with you about the work we are doing to improve his sales results. I promise to call you back Wednesday at 2 p.m.”

Notice that the message does not include leaving your phone number. There’s a reason for that. Your first message must not require any kind of task or action on the part of the called party. You›re the one who makes the commitment to call back at a specific date and time.

2) Leave a short, purposeful follow-up that fully meets the commitment you made earlier. True to your word, when 2 p.m. rolls around on Wednesday, pick up the phone and make that follow-up call.

If you’re intercepted by voicemail again, leave a friendly message that sounds something like this: “Hi Janet—it’s Colleen at Engage Selling calling, as I promised, to try and reach you today. Sorry I missed you. Chris at the Gizmo Corporation thought you’d be interested in learning more about how we are able to reduce your sales cycle by three months. I promise to try you again Thursday at 10 a.m.”

3) Leave one final, purposeful message that takes ownership of why that person hasn’t called back yet. Again, meeting your commitment to call, you pick up the phone on Thursday at 10 a.m.

If voicemail greets you again, leave one final message: "Hi Janet—it’s Colleen at Engage Selling. I promised I would reach you today at 10 a.m. Sorry I missed you. I noticed you’ve been hard to reach this week and I’m wondering if that’s because you’re busy with your sales team, you’ve already engaged another sales trainer or I’ve simply been picking at the wrong time to find you at your desk. Why don’t you give me a call at XXX-XXX-XXXX, and if I don’t hear from you, I will try again on X date."

You must take 100% ownership for why that person might not be returning your calls. This not only ensures you maintain a friendly, professional tone, but also tells the called party there are no hard feelings for the lack of callbacks.

Be sure to include your phone number so that the called party can call you back. That way, you leave the door open rather than slamming it shut. 

Colleen Francis, sales expert, is founder & president of Engage Selling Solutions. Armed with skills developed from years of experience, she helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.