Should you leave voice mail messages?

You must be creative and strategic when leaving voice mail messages.

There is a running debate in sales on whether you should leave voice mail messages when contacting prospects.

One school of thought goes like this –

Leaving voice mail messages is a waste of time because most people rarely return phone calls anymore from salespeople. If you leave enough voice mail messages, the prospect may delete them before having a chance to listen to your entire pitch.

Thus, it’s better to keep calling until you reach someone or send them enough emails that they will reply to you.

The other school of thought goes like this –

Leaving voice mail messages is just one of many ways you can break through the wall to reach a prospect. Sure, the argument goes, most prospects will not return your voice mail messages, but with a combination of different tools, including emails, and social selling, like Twitter and LinkedIn, you will eventually reach your important contact.

So, which is the better school of thought?

I take the middle ground.

Yes, you should leave voice mail messages. But…. don’t waste your time leaving your phone number. Because based on my experience, most prospects these days will not return your phone calls. Even inbound leads will rarely return your phone calls. Why? Most of them are busy, and they don’t want to play phone tag.

(I will only leave my phone number if the prospect requests it in his message as a matter of courtesy).

The better solution is this –

Leave a short voice mail message telling the prospect why you are calling. Then identify who you are and what solution you have that you think will solve their problems or pain points. And finally, let them know that you are sending them an email with openings for this week and next to schedule a short initial call.

I recommend doing this at least four to five times in a combination of using LinkedIn and Twitter.

What you want to avoid is the following –

First, you don’t want to do a “product vomit”, i.e., telling the prospect everything about your product and benefits before you had a chance to qualify him and understand his concerns or problems properly.

Second, you don’t want to leave cryptic messages, like “This is Joe Doe. I have some important information to share with you. I will call you at 4:00 p.m. today to discuss further.”

That kind of message will make most prospects angry because they don’t have time to play games. Also, because they have hectic schedules, they probably will not sit around and wait for your phone call.

Sure, you may try the approach of leaving an honest message about why you are calling and inform the prospect that you will call back at a specific time later that time or the next. It could work. But I doubt it.

Just as phone technology has changed, your voice mail techniques must change too.

Third, don’t repeatedly call and leave messages. Give prospects some space and time to call you back. As a rule, when I leave a voice mail, I quickly follow-up with a short email outlining some openings I have for that week and next. Further, I may attach an interesting article or some other content to share that I feel will interest the prospect. After leaving a message and sending out an email, I will usually wait at least two to four days before following up.

Fourth, I leave a different voice mail each time. I usually have a script of different voice mails to leave. The same is true when sending emails. Leaving the same message or posting the same email is boring and will undercut your chances of getting a sale.

Fifth, avoid long lingering voice mails. Try to keep the voice mail no longer than 30 seconds. Your goal is to get to the point quickly, highlight why it’s in the best interest for the prospect to speak with you and move on. You will have plenty of time later to do your sales pitch and presentation.

Sixth, ask a specific question in your voicemail. Instead of opening with “This is Tom Smith from ABC Company calling about Widgets products,” start with “How are you securing your passwords?” or “What types of sources are you using for tax research when doing tax preparation?” And then go on and add that you offer a solution that could help him them, and that you will send them an email with some openings and more details. Sometimes, I might mention specific vendors that use our services/products, and do a little name dropping.  In other voice mail messages, I might add a benefit or two that may help the prospect.

Don’t be mysterious when making phone calls.

Seventh, don’t be that mysterious caller who never leaves voice mails. Yes, I’ve been guilty of doing this before, but I now realize it was a mistake. Why? Because if someone is screening your calls and you don’t leave a message, they may not think it’s important and they will completely ignore you.

And finally, don’t sound salesy. Speak with your normal tone of voice. And, please don’t sound desperate. That’s a major turnoff.

Leaving voice mail messages is just one of many tools you have in your arsenal to make sales. Even if a prospect doesn’t respond immediately, it’s a great way of promoting your company with the goal of getting a deal down the road.

Sometimes you must play the long game to be successful.

Credits:
Middle Image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay
Bottom image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

Why are Start-ups Afraid to Publish their Phone Numbers?

One of the biggest challenges for salespeople is trying to contact start-ups. Why? Because many start-ups don’t publish their company phone numbers – if they have them at all.

But even those who do have phone numbers, they are very reluctant to put them on their websites.

There are two significant reasons for this

First, they don’t have the resources or time to answer the phone. Yes, most start-ups are bootstrapping it, and the idea of devoting precious human resources answering phones bothers them. And for a good reason – they are busy developing and fine-tuning their product or service offerings, and they don’t want to be disturbed by what they consider to be pesky salespeople.

And second, they think using phones is so passé in the internet age. Their attitude is that sending emails, using text messages or online chats are better than using the phone. After all, why deal with bothersome customers or prospects when responding to an email or chat will do. With email or chats, the thinking goes, you can keep track of correspondence.

But by not publishing phone numbers, start-ups are only hurting themselves by cutting their profits.

Here’s why –

First, credibility. When you are starting out with little or no name recognition, your biggest selling point is credibility. Without publishing your phone number on your site, many potential customers may be afraid or uncomfortable contacting you. And you may end up turning away potential customers who wouldn’t even call you but feel that you too shady to deal with if your phone number isn’t on your site. In an age when cybersecurity awareness is at an all-time high, credibility can make or break your business.

Second, knowledge. Having a phone and making it easier for customers and potential clients to contact you early will give you a better idea of the viability of your product or service before you hit the market big time. Many start-ups began their business with one idea, but then slowly decided to move to a new direction based on ideas and suggestions from clients.

Third, support. Not everyone feels comfortable or has the time to send emails, texts or use online chats. Sometimes people like doing things the old fashion way by making phone calls. They like the assurance there is a real live person on the other line who cares and hopefully will help them.

And finally, intelligence. Good salespeople don’t spam and ham their way into a start-up. Most take the time to do their research to determine if a start-up would be a good fit for their products and services. A good salesperson realizes that he’s not just selling you a product or service – but developing what hopefully will be an excellent long-term relationship with repeat sales and referrals. To completely block all salespeople out because of a few jerks is a bad idea. Publish your phone number. Take some time and risk to listen to what salespeople have to offer. You may be surprised by what they have to say.

In summary, yes, you will always receive cold calls from salespeople like me. That’s a given. But you can still screen your inbound calls from people you don’t want to speak to over the phone. By not publishing your phone number, you lose more than you will gain by not being more readily available to your clients, potential buyers, and salespeople who could help you.

Note: If you like this post, please read my book  — Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

In Sales, How to Deal with the Hand-off

the hand offYou spent weeks, if not months, working with your client to close the sale. Just when you think you finally see dollar signs in your eyes, your client decides to hand you off to someone else.

What just happened?

You just got handed over to someone else who may or may not give a damn about what you are selling. In fact, he may never even have heard of you or your company before.

Why did this happen?

First, your client wasn’t a serious buyer. Sure, he may have told you he was the decision maker, but he lied. Don’t be surprised. It happens. In fact, it happens all the time.

Second, maybe your client is interested, but he’s too busy working on other projects, or suddenly, a personal or professional crisis occurred, and he has to break discussions with you temporarily. Because what he’s going through isn’t your business, he hands you off to some flunky or low-level employee to keep you busy for a while until he gets his affairs in order.

Third, he honestly wants a second opinion from an outside expert or consultant, so he decides to have an outsider hear what you are pitching. This happened to me once when I was selling password security software. After months of free trials and online tours, the decision maker wanted to cover his ass, so he decided to bring in a cybersecurity expert to review the software I was selling. Was I confused and hurt? A little. But then I put myself in my client’s place – because this was going to be a significant order for him, he wanted to get a second opinion before signing the dotted line. If I were in his place, I probably would have done the same thing.

So, rather than get my feelings hurt, I decided to treat the outside consultant with respect. I repeated all my online tours. I provided him with all the information I sent to my client. I patiently listened to all his questions and answered them accordingly. In a couple of months, my efforts paid off – I won over the consultant, he became my advocate, and I got the large order.

How to avoid the hand-off?

First, make sure your client is the decision maker. And in most cases, the decision maker isn’t always one person. Sometimes decisions are made by a series of people in upper management or even by a committee.

Second, try to get a time commitment from your client. What is his deadline? Is there a sense of urgency on your client’s part to making a purchase? Or, is he just window shopping.

And finally, if you do get handed off, don’t panic. Depending on what you’re selling, the sales process could take a long time. Be persistent. Be professional. And if all else fails, there are other fish in the sea. And who knows, your current fish that you’re trying to reel in may just voluntarily jump on your boat when you least expect it.

A hand-off doesn’t always mean you’re getting the backhand. It just means you have to work harder to seal the deal.

Note: If you like this post, please read my book: Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

 

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?

One of the most common questions that salespeople ask their clients is “What are your pain points?”

Now, maybe you don’t actually ask the question in that matter. Maybe you phrase it differently. But the underlining goal of all salespeople is to determine what type of pain points your clients are suffering to see if what you are selling will solve his problems.

Let’s say you discover those pain points. What next?

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?

By vitamins, I mean are you selling a solution that is holistic and a “nice to have.”

By medicine, I mean are you selling a solution that is really necessary and a “must have.”

Let me give you some examples –

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?A good vitamin sales example is someone selling books, subscription courses or videos about enhancing professional development in your field. Of course, we all want to improve ourselves and do better in our careers. But is it an immediate need? Unless your boss or manager is demanding that you improve your skills or craft, chances are you don’t need to order any professional development tools right away. It’s something that you will put on your checklist and consider when you have the time or money.

So a vitamin sale, based on the client’s view, may be a way of preventing a future problem, but it’s a minor pain point that he can deal with for now. There is no sense of urgency.

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?A good medicine sales example is someone selling password security software to prevent hackers from breaking into your network. With all the news lately of hackers stealing credit card and Social Security numbers from major retailers, banks, government agencies, and colleges, your software will probably be on the top of an IT director’s list. Sure, the IT director may negotiate the price with you, but in the end, he clearly understands the threat of security breaches and he will make a purchase. The only question is will he be buying your software or someone else’s.

So a medicine sale, based on the client’s view, will prevent an immediate problem, that’s becoming a major pain that he must deal with now. There is a sense of urgency.

There is nothing wrong with selling vitamins or medicine. But if you want to jumpstart your sales, reexamine what you are offering, and see if you can make your solution more of a medicine rather than a vitamin sale.

While Mary Poppins is right when she sang “that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” finding the right pain points and offering medicine instead of vitamins could be your best solution.

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

The Holiday Season is not a slow sales time

Unless you are working in retail, most salespeople consider the holiday season to be a slow sales time. And for good reason. Many key decision makers are taking a long holiday break. Some companies will close down from Christmas Day through New Year’s Day. And even if you are making a lot of sales calls, you are being told to “call back next year.”

But don’t be fooled.

lazy salesman during the holiday seasonHere are five reasons why you shouldn’t slow down during the holiday season –

1). Key Decision Makers may be working – Not all decision-makers are taking a long holiday break. For some, the last couple weeks of December may be a quiet time for them to work. They assume that most salespeople are not going to call them, so they give their receptionist time off. Without the gatekeeper present, this is your chance to catch the decision maker off guard. Lonely and perhaps eager to speak with someone, the decision maker may actually take your call and engage in a good constructive conversation that could yield an order.

2). Holiday Cheer – perhaps happy for having a good solid year, the decision maker may be more receptive to taking your call and speaking with you.

3). Your competitors are not calling – Your competitors are under the age-old assumption that the holidays are a “bad time” to make sales calls, so they are taking a long holiday vacation. With your competitors out-of-the-way, you will have a better shot at reaching the decision maker.

4). Build up your prospect list– OK, maybe you are in one of those industries where historically many of your clients are not going to be available during the holidays. So what are you going to do? Drink all the eggnog, pig out on all the Christmas cookies, and feel sorry for yourself? Hell no. Start building up your prospect list. Do some research and start uncovering some hidden gems that you didn’t see before. While you may be riding the gravy train receiving inbound leads, not all prospects are going to call you. Track them down, enter them in your CRM (Customer relationship management), do some research on them, and make plans to call them early next year.

5). Brush up – Now is the time to brush up on your product knowledge. Maybe read some industry newsletters or learn more about what your competitors are doing that could impact your sales. Sure, kick back and watch some classic Christmas movies, but don’t forget to read some classic sales books too.

The holiday season is a time to relax. A time to connect with your family and friends. I get that. But don’t be completely off your guard or do a brain slide. Because while you’re spending time ringing in the New Year, your competitors may be ringing the cash register with all the new sales that you should have received.

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Do you have a clogged sales pipeline?

clogged sales pipelineWhen your pipes are clogged, you call the plumber.

When your sales pipeline is clogged, who do you call?

You can speak to your sales manager. Maybe he can help you. Or, you could speak to your co-workers and seek their advice.

But at the end of the day, your sales pipeline is your responsibility.

Before I move forward, let’s define what a clogged sales pipeline is – it is a pipeline in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system where you have too many leads that you are not following up on, or have fallen through the cracks.

This can happen for several reasons. Maybe you are spending too much time attending trade shows, and you haven’t had time to make follow-up phone calls. Maybe your sales territory is too large, and you don’t have time to cover it all. Maybe you are receiving too many inbound leads, and you don’t have time to call them. Whatever the reason, a clogged sales pipeline can hurt your ability to increase sales, which in turn, means smaller commission checks.

What is the solution?

1). Winnow down your leads – review them on a monthly basis and eliminate the leads that are not high priorities, and you strongly suspect are not going to buy soon. That doesn’t mean that you should drop them completely. You can always circle back in a few months. But for now, put them on the back-burner and focus on ones that will close soon.

The biggest mistake a lot of salespeople make is that they sit on leads far too long when they know in their guts they are not going to order. Keeping those leads in your pipeline only distracts you, and makes you look incompetent. And depending on how leads are distributed to your sales team, you may be hurting yourself from obtaining fresher and better leads from your sales manager.

2). Do you have real leads? Or are you sitting on a bunch of prospects? What is the difference? A lead is a client that has either contacted you and has expressed an interest in your products or services or is a referral that you received from one of your existing customers. A lead is also someone who you have contacted directly and is interested in speaking with your further, but he hasn’t “sealed the deal” yet. On the other hand, a prospect is a potential lead that fits your client profile, but you haven’t contacted him yet.

My point is to make sure you have a pipeline of active leads that could close soon, and not a bunch of prospects that you have to weed through.

3). What is your sales cycle? Every industry has its own sales cycle. Depending on what you are selling, it can take anywhere from a few days to two years to close a sale. For example, if you are selling products or services that historically have a two-week sales cycle, but you are still sitting on leads after six months, maybe it’s time to close those leads lead and circle back later. Or better yet, make sure you are actually contacting the right decision maker. Maybe the real reason your sales pipeline is clogged is that you are contacting interns and secretaries rather than the CEO or someone in upper management. And check the phone number – I actually know of salespeople who spent months calling the same phone number only to find out later they were calling the wrong number. Or worst, they find out the hard way that the lead left the company months ago, and the HR department never bothered to forward the phone calls or emails to another employee.

4). Are you following up enough? Another reason you may have a clogged sales pipeline is that you’re not following up enough. As a general rule, when making cold calls, space your contacts out every 4 days. Unless you’re told otherwise by a lead, stretching out your contacts too long could be hurting your sales. Make at least 8 to 12 attempts (by phone, voicemail, and email). After all of those attempts, if you still haven’t talked to your lead, put him on the back-burner and contact him later.

Clogged pipelines are not difficult to clean. Just use some best practices and common sense, you will find yourself back on the right track.

Note: If you like my post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career