Breaking Down the Voice Mail Barrier

Voice mail is an inevitable fact of life when reaching out to prospects by phone. But hanging up and trying again later isn’t the best way to handle it.

Nor is leaving a generic message that will likely be deleted even before the recipient gets to the part where you ask them to call you back.

Like any part of the sales process, voice mail requires a strategy to ensure that the time you spend making the call and that the recipient spends listening to your message isn’t  wasted.

As with any strategy, preparation is the key. This means being ready with at least the idea of what you want to say when you hear the beep.

The most effective messages not only make use of the prospect’s name, but also show you have a basic understanding of their business and get them thinking about how your offering can meet their needs.

For example, “Hi Mary, this is Kathleen from XYZ Health Insurance. Small business owners like yourself are struggling to find ways to contain the rising cost of health insurance while still providing their employees with comprehensive coverage. To learn some proven strategies for doing just that, please call me at…” is more effective than “This is Kathleen from XYZ Health Insurance and I’d like to speak with you about your company’s insurance needs. Please call me at…”

Having a good understanding of what you want to say also keeps you from being tongue-tied when you hear the beep (or if you actually connect with a live person, for that matter).

Finally, don’t rush through your message so quickly that your words are unintelligible. Spell your name when necessary and state your phone number slowly enough for the listener to write it down the first time. In fact, it’s a good practice to write down your phone number as you are saying it, which ensures your listener can do the same.

The cardinal rule of voice mail is to keep it clear and concise. If your prospect has to replay your message several times to understand who you are, why you’re calling and how you can be reached, you’ve blown your chances for a return call.

The Irrational Fear of the Cold Call

Picking up the phone to convince a complete stranger they need what you’re selling is the stuff of sales nightmares. But cold calls keep the prospect pipeline full, so you can’t let fear keep you from dialing.

There are four main reasons we procrastinate when it comes to making a cold call:  lack of confidence; lack of information on the prospect; bad past experiences; and a negative outlook.  Get past these and you’re on your way.

First, manage your own expectations. Don’t pick up the phone expecting to make a sale; it will only end in heartbreak.

Instead, follow a two-call system. The first call is a fact-finding mission to identify the decision-maker. The second call is to that decision-maker. This strategy instills confidence because the first call is unlikely to end in rejection; after all, you’re just asking for contact information. You’ll also go into the second call armed with information you didn’t have before.

Follow a script. Nerves can leave you a stammering mess. A list of prepared questions gets you past the initial awkwardness. It also ensures that you’ll hang up with the information you need for the next step.

The script should include closed- and open-ended questions to quickly qualify the prospect. For example, if you’re selling toner, asking if the prospect has a photocopier is a better qualifier than asking if they need toner. It also sets the stage for an open-ended question, such as where they currently purchase their supplies.

Never pick up the phone without a smile – even a forced one. It sounds trite, but remembering to smile keeps you from focusing on what could go wrong. You’ll also come across as enthusiastic, which is just as infectious on the phone as it is in person.

Reserve a block of time during which you will focus only making calls. No stopping to chat, do paperwork, break for lunch or any other form of procrastination. With each call, your nervousness will subside and your enthusiasm will increase.

Set mini-goals, such as a minimum number of calls or appointments. This keeps you motivated by giving you something to work toward.

Eliminate distractions. You wouldn’t dream of taking a call or checking your email if a prospect was sitting across from you. The same is true when that prospect is a voice on the phone.

Finally, stop making excuses and start making calls. A few successes will have you wondering why you were ever afraid of the phone in the first place.

Emails that Hit the Mark for Prospects and Customers

There is no question that email is an effective way to reach prospects, particularly given that more than 147 million people in the U.S. use email almost every day.

The trick is to make sure that your email stands apart from the more than 300 other business emails and the nearly 275 personal emails that Jupiter Research says are hitting your prospect’s inbox every week – and to make sure it doesn’t wind up automatically relegated to the spam folder.

The most important elements of a successful marketing email are the “from” and “subject” lines. The reason is simple:  73 percent of recipients decide how to treat an email based solely on the “from” line, while 63 percent do so based on the subject line.

Mess those two elements up and you’re just wasting your time and probably annoying your prospects.

Make sure your organization is clearly identified in the “from” line, such as “kathleen@companyXYZ.com.” Not only does this boost open rates, but it also helps brand your company.

Brevity is the key to subject lines. A good rule of thumb is no more than six words or 50 characters. Reinforce your identity by repeating the organization name and make the purpose of the email very clear, such as “Company XYZ:  Product Upgrades Available.”

And don’t try to trick the recipient by masquerading as a response to an existing email by adding “RE” to the subject line, or as a forwarded email by inserting “FW.” Not only does that start the relationship on a lie, but it is also illegal.

A few other strategies to maximize your email’s chances for success include:

  • Use graphics sparingly and only when they relate directly to your message. The company logo is good; an animated smiley is not.
  • Send emails on Wednesday, which research shows is the most popular day for opening emails, followed by Tuesday.
  • Keep in mind that 18 percent of email users with mobile devices such as Blackberries use them to sort email. If it doesn’t pass the mobile test, don’t send it.

Pay attention to these basic elements and you’ll be surprised at how effective it can be to reach out to customers and prospects via email.

Surviving a Sales Slump

When it comes to surviving a sales slump, the secret to success is powering through.

It’s tempting to give up when it seems like deals are going south on a daily basis. But that will get you nowhere fast. Immediate action is required to stop the slide before it drags you down with your sales figures.

Start by getting back to the basics.  Turn up your prospecting and step up the number of appointments you have every week. Take a close look at what has and hasn’t been working and adjust your activities accordingly. Tighten up your presentation or shake up your approach. A change may be just the ticket to reversing the trend.

Do some digging to find out how others have gotten though sales slumps and seek out ways to hone your skills. Take a class, attend a seminar or read up on the latest offerings from industry experts. The time you invest will be time well-spent if you walk away with even one new strategy for success.

Put new energy into networking. Don’t be shy about hitting up your acquaintances and clients for referrals and suggestions on how to approach them. Spend time cultivating new contacts by getting involved with new groups or attending events that you would normally pass up. Drop in on prospects and introduce yourself. One good lead is all it takes to turn things around.

Finally, take a closer look at your goals and how you’re measuring your accomplishments. You may find that the slump you’re in is really nothing more than you underestimating your successes.

Prospecting in Tough Times

The only thing certain about the current economy is uncertainty.

For sales pros faced with selling to businesses that are cutting budgets, cancelling orders and dodging calls as they wait for the uptick, getting a foot in the door can seem like an insurmountable challenge.

It doesn’t have to be, if you take a few pages from “Selling in Tough Times,” by Bill Brooks of the The Brooks Group.

In it, he identifies seven pointers for power-packed prospecting in difficult times:

  1. Treat prospecting as the lifeblood of your sales career:  Focus on quality, quantity and consistency to ensure you have a full pipeline and that you’re spending your time on qualified prospects.
  2. Treat prospecting as your most valuable time management tool: Use it to avoid wasting time on people who are not decision-makers and to ensure you always have enough qualified prospects to keep you productively busy.
  3. Take an organized approach: Use a contact management program instead of relying on scraps of paper to organize your leads and prompt you on follow ups.
  4. Remain alert for “suspects” who have the potential to become qualified prospects: People’s needs are always changing, which means today’s dud may be tomorrow’s hot prospect. Always assume everyone is a prospect until proven otherwise, cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with everyone who is a good source of leads or can get you past the gatekeepers and always be alert to new prospecting opportunities.
  5. Stay in touch with active prospects: Top of mind is the best place to be and the only way to get there is to ensure your customers think of you first. That requires frequent, repetitious contact including phone calls, emails and meetings.
  6. Rework your “suspect” inventory regularly:  Try to upgrade your suspects to qualified prospects by finding people willing to make referrals or even initiate contact on your behalf, and stay alert to the tiniest clues that the suspect’s buying status might be changing.
  7. Continually upgrade your prospecting system and strategies: Keep ideas fresh by staying informed. Read books, newspapers and magazines; attend seminars and network with other sales people.

Click here for information on how to get a free copy of “Selling in Tough Times.”