“I’m sorry, I’m out of my office.  Would you please leave your name and number and I’ll return your call as soon as I can.”  How many of us are still waiting for our reply?  Several of you have asked for help in getting your phone calls returned.  Most prospects don’t call back 85 percent of the time.  We know that the Economic Buyer, who has authority to release funds, is typically difficult to reach.  With the average office worker getting 190 messages a day, it’s easy to understand why phone calls aren’t returned by other buyers. Technology has made our selling lives both easier and more challenging. Voice mail is a challenge that forces us to redefine our telephone strategies.

CREATE INTEREST  If a customer doesn’t need your product or service immediately, the probability of getting a reply is slim to none.  How can you increase your odds of success?  Treat each phone call you make as a sales call  (no pun intended). Each sales call has an objective and so does a phone call. The objective could be for an appointment or the return call.  You have about 10 seconds before your customer decides if he is interested in you.  Prepare what you are going to say. Your message should spark interest and include what you can do for your customer.  Present the benefit so it sounds interesting and worth the time to make the return call.  This requires you to do research to know what is interesting for this customer.  

CHANGE THE PROCEDURE  Other strategies exist for getting appointments.  Just leave a message which says “I’ve been trying to set up an appointment with you.  I know how busy you are.  If June 6 at 10:00 WON’T work for you, please call me at (your phone number).”  When you arrive on June 6 at 10:00 and the receptionist says, “Do you have an appointment?” you can say “Yes.”  Try to do this with sales calls that are geographically close to confirmed appointments.  You still run the risk of a buyer not reconfirming.  At least you won’t make a special trip to his location.  

GET THROUGH THE FIRST TIME  Since most prospects return calls to suppliers they know, another strategy is to always get referrals.  Selling in the 90s is not only about who you know.  It’s about getting to know the people who know the people you want to know.  This is the principle of networking which states that each person knows about 250 other people.  Each one of your customers could be a member of a trade organization, a religious institution or sports facility.  Who knows the prospect you are trying to meet? Ask THEM to call the prospect for you to say you will be calling.  That introduction will increase the probability that your prospect will return your call or take your call!  Whenever you are calling a referral, ALWAYS tell the receptionist  “John Doe asked me to call Mr. Prospect.”  If the secretary screens calls, she will have mentioned the person who referred you to the prospect.

GET HELP  Sometimes there is even a phone screener before you get to voice mail.  Enlist the help of the phone screener and you can actually speak to  your prospect.  Explain to the screener  that “I have been playing phone tag with John Doe. Can you see if he can speak with me for a few minutes about the benefit to him or his company?”  This has been successful for me after leaving numerous voice mails that went unreturned.

CHANGE TIMES  Another strategy is to call when your prospect has to answer his own phone.  Most screeners are out before 8 AM and after 5 PM.  Some prospects are still at their desks at lunch time when the screener is out.  Calling at these times gives you higher probability that the prospect will actually pick up his phone since the secretary is out.

Always keep trying. This is one area where persistence does pay off.  You should not leave 10 messages a day (unless you do want to look like a pest). Trying at different times with different strategies should eventually get you speaking to the right prospect.

About the author

Maura Schreier-Fleming

Maura Schreier-Fleming is the President of Best@Selling. Maura works with business and sales professionals…

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