How to Leave Voicemails That Get Callbacks

In the 70s, Gordon Matthews was working on the technology that became “voicemail” and he applied for the patent in 1979. His wife Monika, knew how to leave a voicemail. She recorded the first voicemail greeting.

Even though voicemail has been with us since the eighties we are still terrible at using it. Are you frustrated that your voicemails seem to be a waste of effort?

Do you get a reply, ever?

Voicemails can get replies but you need to avoid some common mistakes and learn some new habits.

Here is how to leave a voicemail that gets callbacks.

Your Attitude to Voicemail

Let’s start with your attitude to voicemail. How do you feel about it? If you don’t think it’s worth leaving a voicemail perhaps we need to start right there.

How many first time voicemails never get returned? It’s 90%. If that is your experience it’s not surprising that you don’t have a great attitude to voicemail.

If you don’t think you will get a response how much effort would you put into leaving a voicemail? Probably very little. This sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy and it’s not how to leave a voicemail.

Another important statistic is how many calls go through to voicemail. It’s a massive 80%. This means every time you make a call there is a very high probability that you will be leaving a voicemail.

Despite this, voicemails are one of the least prepared for contacts with customers. It’s like a golfer who knows that they will use a putter on every hole of the golf course never practicing with it.

Worse than that, it’s as if they didn’t take the putter with them.

Voicemails can be an effective sales tool. It’s about leaving the right message. Improved response rates of up to 22% are possible.

Read on to learn how to leave a voicemail.

Manage Your Time

Spending time leaving voicemails that will never be returned is poor time management.

You are under time pressure in all other aspects of your job so make this element of your job more productive. If you are going to leave a voicemail it needs to be a purposeful activity.

Voicemail is not a courtesy to the receiver. It’s not about being friendly or even letting them know you called. Unless it has a purpose, it’s not just a waste of your time, it’s a waste of theirs, and that’s just rude.

You need to prepare by thinking about how to leave a voicemail that has a purpose for you and your contact. Fail to prepare and you should prepare to fail.

Expect to have to leave a voicemail so prepare for that just as you do for a person to person sales call. If your purpose is to get a response then prepare to use these tips.

Context is Everything

Imagine receiving a sales voicemail. You get so many of them, it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Most voicemails are unclear about what the purpose of the call is. The message is garbled and too fast. It’s interspersed with “um’s” and “ah’s”.

It’s as if the caller is impatient about being put through to voicemail and is thinking more about their next call. The message is an attempt to salvage something from the wasted call but with little hope. It communicates a lack of care and purpose.

The client has to replay the voicemail several times to work out the names and numbers to the callback. That’s if the caller remembers to leave them. Hardly surprising that few call back.

Make your message stand out by being clear about what the context for the call is. Say if it is a follow up to a meeting or a search on LinkedIn. Even a cold call has context if you look for connections or have a clear purpose.

Find a Connection

Research connections including using Google or LinkedIn. Be careful not to make too much of poorly researched connections. They can end up being a double-edged sword if your shared business associate turns out to be their estranged partner.

Genuine connections can be a useful way of establishing a context in your voicemail. “We both endorsed John Smith on LinkedIn ” or “we share a background in retail”, are possible examples.

Work on how to leave a voicemail that makes you stand out from other callers.

Call to Action

Have a clear call to action and make sure you deliver it. When you know what you want it’s easier to tell someone else what it is. Don’t treat the call as an opportunity for a one-sided sales pitch.

Ask them to call back by all means but give them a reason to do this. For example, tell them that when they call back you will take 5 minutes to explain an offer and if they want to, you’ll schedule a meeting the following week.

Don’t ask them to call you and then say if they don’t call you will call them. You’ve just told them that they don’t need to call you. It’s hardly surprising that they don’t bother responding.

Your call to action should state your all important contact information. Give your name and number clearly and expect them to miss the number. Repeat the number.

These days phones and voicemails automate the callback number selection. Don’t call and leave a voicemail from a phone number that you don’t want the callback to go to.

Calling back and getting a switchboard operator who doesn’t know the person who called is a sure way of losing interest.

Establish Why You Are Important to Them

In your preparation for the almost inevitable voicemail consider why a callback might be important to the potential client. What is the potential value to them and prepare to present that to them?

They need a reason to call you.

Understanding how to leave a voicemail is about understanding what’s in it for the client. Do they have a problem that you have an answer to?

Can you offer them an opportunity, if only they called back?

This is a value proposition, something you might present as part of a marketing proposal or a sales meeting. The secret of how to leave a voicemail is you need to concentrate this proposition into a few words. Prepare it, write it down and then practice stating it without reading it.

Be Interesting

Curiosity is a useful state of mind to inspire in a client. It’s open and positive. Raise the client’s curiosity if you can.

Something like one of the following could encourage a callback.

“We have a mutual friend.” “I read your recent blog post and have some feedback.” “Your name came up in a recent meeting.”

Follow up a voicemail with an engaging email. Apply all the principles of how to leave a voicemail in an effective email. Use an attention-grabbing subject line to raise curiosity.

Keep it Brief

There is no perfect duration for a voicemail but we all know when they are too long. Keep it brief.

How short can you make this without gabbling your words:

  • Greeting
  • Context statement
  • Reason for calling back
  • Call to action
  • Contact details and phone number
  • Repeat phone number
  • Sign off

Aim for about 30 seconds.

Write a Script

Under the pressure of the voicemail, it’s easy to make a blunder or just to go blank. All this is being recorded for posterity and replay for the amusement of the clients’ colleagues in the open plan office.

The shorter the message the harder it is to get it right first time.

Write a script or at least bullet points and test it against these tips for how to leave a voicemail. Getting it right is about achieving the prize of a callback. If you are not getting callbacks, tweak the script.

Make it Smiley

After the umpteenth voicemail greeting and frustration at talking to a machine all day you need help to sound like you are talking to a person.

A mechanical tone is not how to leave a voicemail. Potential clients listen to a number of soulless voicemails will not feel inclined to call the person who just sent them to sleep.

Make your delivery more cheerful by putting a smile on your face. It is hard not to sound upbeat when you are beaming. Our natural reaction to a smile is to smile back and this is just as true of a voicemail smile.

Imagine what it sounds like to work through your tedious characterless voicemails. Then you come across one from somebody who is cheerfully looking forward to you returning their call. I’d get their number down and call back now.

You Can Be Too Professional

A sales call can sound too professional. Work out how to leave a voicemail that gets a balance between a brief professional request for a callback and a friendly personal call. Visualise the client or practice on a colleague to get the tone right.

Poor sales techniques can be clunky even in a phone call. Vague promises to save the client money and to be interested in learning about their challenges are not useful on a voicemail. Make the context and the reason they should call back unique, value-driven or at the very least, thoughtful.

Most professional calls start with you giving your name and company name. This identifies your voicemail as a sales call before you have established any connection with the client. Try leaving your name until later in the call.

It’s All About Timing

Getting a callback is sometimes about how to leave a voicemail at the right time.

If you receive and listen to a voicemail just before attending a key Monday morning meeting are you likely to call back. Even if you make a note to call back there is every chance that you will forget or lose the Post-it note.

Similarly, if you review your voicemails on Friday afternoon just before you leave for the weekend are you likely to call back. By Monday morning the voicemail is a distant memory and anyway, you have a meeting to go to.

Voicemails are likely to be more effective midweek and in the early morning or mid-afternoon.

Don’t Limit the Callback

If you specify a time for the callback your client has the perfect reason not to call you. The callback will have to compete with other priorities at that time. Be available for callbacks and if you miss it hopefully their investment in you has risen slightly.

You can generate some urgency for the callback in a bid to avoid the natural human trait of putting off non-urgent tasks. Suggest a callback later today or before the weekend.

Make it Personal

People generally prefer it if you use their first name but do get it right. Check the pronunciation if it is unfamiliar. Use it a couple of times but don’t wear it out.

Using someone’s name is a powerful connection so getting names right is important for establishing and maintaining rapport. It’s easy to get quite the opposite response if it feels like you are trying to manipulate them. Think about genuinely wanting to connect.

Test and Re-Test

Once you have developed a script and tried these tips on how to leave a voicemail you should test it. Compare the callback rate to your previous performance. If you don’t have previous performance data collect some before switching.

Refine and continuously improve by having “A” and “B” scripts. These two scripts could test alternative approaches such as when you say your name. Collect and analyze data on the callback rates.

Now You Know How to Leave a Voicemail

Voicemail callbacks may not be the central plank of your sales strategy. If leaving voicemails and following up after leaving a voicemail does take a significant amount of your time it is worth trying to improve the callback rate.

You may find that proactively planning your voicemails makes you think more about your sales calls themselves.

Are they as effective as the could be? Do you plan them as well as this guide to how to leave a voicemail recommends?

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