If you make cold calls or follow up calls then you are probably well acquainted with voice mail. Voice mail is a vicious sale stopper and it isn’t going to go away any time soon. Knowing how to manage this electronic screen is vital for your calling success. The key is to leave a message only as a LAST resort. In the meantime, here are ten creative, proven and effective ways to get past voice mail and reach more decision makers.
1. Find an Ally and Gather Intelligence
By doing some intelligence gathering before you call the decision maker can make voice mail a non-item. One of the best tips is to call your prospect’s sales department and speak to a sales rep. Ask for their help and explain that you are a sales rep and trying to reach a certain decision maker. Ask if they could give you the decision maker’s direct number, their e-mail address and most importantly, if they know a good time to reach that individual. The sales rep is in the same boat as you and will empathize with you and understand your plight. You will be amazed at what you get.
2. Use a Master List and Make a Pile of Calls
Get a yellow legal pad. List 25 or 30 contacts plus their numbers. Start at the top of list and dial. If you encounter voice mail hang up and go to the second name. And so on and so on, never leaving a message. The idea is to quickly dial until you reach a live person. If you complete the list, cycle it again. No luck? Try it one more time. Call it elbow grease but you’ll be surprised at how many times you get through on the second or third go around.
3. Listen and Learn
When you encounter voice mail take the time and listen carefully to the message. Sometimes you can get a good feel for the decision maker’s personality, which might be beneficial if you have to leave a voice mail message later on. Sometimes you learn the decision maker is out of the office. Don’t leave a message because it will be lost with all the other accumulated messages. Another tip: all back one or two days AFTER the decision maker has returned. They won’t be nearly as busy catching up and may have the time to take your call.
4. Try Different Times
Try different times of the day. Top decision maker are typically in early so call then. Try late in the day and at lunch. The point is, do not leave a message without making several attempts at different times of the day.
5. Call Different Departments
Often the real culprit is not voice mail but call display. Try calling a different department before you call the decision maker. Call the customer service department or someone in sales or maybe the office of Chairman. Ask for your contact. Sometimes (but not always) when the call is transferred the decision maker will see “Chairman’s office” or some other internal department’s number instead of yours. If they are there, they’ll answer it.
6. Try Neighboring Extensions
This is powerful tip. If your contact is at extension 110 try calling extension 109 or 111. Sometimes the extensions and offices are in sequence and you will get a neighbor. The best thing about this tactic is that the neighbor can “see” if your contact is in their office. Ask the person if they could peak around the corner to see if your contact is available. They often do and then transfer the call.
7. Use Your Cell Phone
Again, if you suspect that call display is the reason why your call goes unanswered and into your contact’s mail box, try calling from your cell phone. The number will be unfamiliar and if the decision maker is there, chances are they will answer it. (You can also use *67 which screens your number but this is a pay for use feature. Check with you phone carrier).
8. Use a Pay Phone
Here’s another great idea. If you think your number is being screened find a coffee shop that has a public phone. Get yourself a triple grande latte, grab your master list and a handful of quarters and make some calls. If the contact is there, he’ll probably see “pay phone” and answer. Heck who wouldn’t’? If they ask you about the tactic, don’t deny it. Say that you went for a coffee (true) and used the pay phone to make calls (also true).
9. Leverage Other Media
If you have an e-mail address, you can prime the contact that you will be calling. The e-mail is less intrusive and if you have a good subject line you might get noticed. Tell them when you will be calling and that you ‘hope’ the contact will take the time to answer your call. Another route to take, albeit more costly, is to use a dimensional mailer. Send a bulky package – e.g., sending a book- and attach a note to say you’ll call first thing in the morning. Sometimes this will get your call answered if only because the contact wants to say thank you. But more significantly, if you have to leave a message, most contacts feel compelled to reciprocate your gesture by calling you back.
10. Last Resort- Leave a Message
If you have tried four or five of these tactics (or all of them) you have earned the right to leave a message. Make it short, benefit oriented, and polite. But be sure to follow up. Wait three business days and leave another message. Do this a couple of more times and wait three business days before leaving each message. If there is no rely by then, discontinue the calling.
These are some creative ways to get past voice mail and it’s actually fun to see which one works best for you. Give them a shot before you ever leave a message. This will increase your odds of getting through and reaching more decision makers.