The next time you make a telephone sales call, the odds are good you'll be talking to your target's voice mailbox. Don't get upset: use it. By definition, voice mail records your messages more accurately than a secretary or receptionist does, and it allows you to give the message some personality. The trick, says Madeline Bodin, author of Using the Telephone More Effectively (Barron's Educational Series, 1991), is to be prepared.

* Have an agenda. Jot down the points you want to make, so you're not tongue-tied after you hear the beep.

* Include a commercial. Don't try the prospect's patience, but 20 to 30 seconds spent describing the benefits of your product or service is not too much. Make sure the message you leave is geared to the individual whose phone mail you're using.

* Call back in a week. Leave your name and number and a good time to reach you, but also tell the person you'll phone back in a week, and then do so. -- Tom Richman