Getting through to decision-makers (or even regular folks) is getting more difficult all the time, so if you're going to prospect for new customers, you need to learn how to sell using voice mail.

My friend, the charmingly brilliant Wendy Weiss (author of The Sales Winner’s Handbook) has devised a very cool and effective way to use voice mail to cultivate a sales opportunity.

The first step is to make sure that the person you're trying to reach actually listens to his or her voice mail. (Some people don't; see this New York Times article.) Before you let the receptionist or admin transfer you, ask "does he/she actually listen to voice mails?" If the answer anything other than a definite "YES," ask if there's a better way to make contact.

And if you dialed direct, listen carefully to the outgoing message.  A decision maker who's not using voice mail will probably say so and suggest something else.

Assuming you decide it's worth your while to leave a voice mail, use the following script structure:

1. Identify yourself. Say your name, your firm, and your telephone number. Be sure to say your name and phone number at the speed you would if dictating to someone who is going to write it down. Your prospect will interpret this slow dictation as a direction to write and pick up a pen and begin to write. If your name is at all difficult, spell it extra slowly; you want your prospect to be able to write your name down.

2. Explain why you’re calling. Provide a one-sentence statement about the value, benefits and outcomes that you, your offering, and your company deliver to your customers. This should include a quantifiable financial impact that’s meaningful to the customer.

3. Provide proof you can deliver. Provide a one-sentence success story about a similar company with whom you have worked and how you were able to help.

4. Identify yourself again. Say your name, firm, and number again at the end of the message. Slowly. This way, if your prospect missed the number the first time, she won’t have to go back to the beginning of the message. Make it easy for your prospect to call you back!


"Hello! I’m Wiley Coyote (C… O… Y… O… T… E…) from Acme Devices, 8… 0… 0… 5… 5… 5… 1… 2… 3… 4…. The reason I’m calling is that our inventory control systems save our clients an average of $1 million in excess costs and I’m curious to know how much money we might be able to save for you. IBM recently hired us to save around $200 million in its part inventory by building a customized solution; I can send you a case study if you’re interested.  If you think it’s worthwhile for us to have a brief conversation, please call me back. I’m Wiley Coyote C… O… Y… O… T… E… from Acme Devices, 8… 0… 0… 5… 5… 5… 1… 2… 3… 4…. Have a great day!"

Before you call actual prospects, rehearse your script by leaving messages for yourself on your own voice mail system.  As you rehearse, play back the recording and make sure that you are giving your ENTIRE name, firm, and number, very clearly.  (That's the most important part!)

What if you don't get a call back?  Simple. Call again, leave the same message, but with a different success story.  Do this twice.  Chance are you'll get a callback.

What if you still don't get a call back?

Leave what Wendy calls a “Last Chance Message.” This message has the same beginning and ending (especially the callback info!) as the previous messages, but in the middle says: "I know you're busy so I'm assuming that this is not a good time to have a discussion with you, so I won't be calling for [some reasonable amount of time]."

Then schedule the call back in the time frame you mentioned.

Why does this work? Sometimes the statement that you won’t be calling can make an interested (and extremely busy) prospect pick up the telephone and call you back. It helps overcome procrastination if the prospect was intending to call but never got around to it.

By the way, the above method is described in more detail in my newly published book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling.