There's no doubt about it -- leaving a good sales voicemail is hard. And even if you do record a well-crafted message, do prospects actually listen to them, or take the time to call you back? Not usually.
So what’s the point? Should salespeople even bother with voicemails? Absolutely, and here’s why. Although a seller might get a higher response rate from an email or another type of message, responses to voicemails are generally richer and demonstrate a greater level of interest. So what a salesperson loses in quantity, they gain in quality.
Of course, you won’t get any responses at all -- high quality or otherwise -- if you don’t leave a carefully planned and thoughtful voicemail. Here are the nine elements of a perfect sales voicemail.
1) Length: 20-30 seconds.
A perfect sales voicemail should be in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 seconds -- not much longer, and not much shorter. I realize this is a very specific window of time, so let me explain the reasoning.
Obviously, prospects aren’t going to listen to an overly long voicemail from a caller whose number they don’t recognize, so pushing past 30 seconds ensures the message will get deleted almost immediately. On the other hand, buyers are also unlikely to listen to an overly short message. Most cell phones show the number and voicemail duration when a call is missed. So if the recipient sees the message is from an unknown number and only a few seconds long, they’ll assume it’s not important and hit delete. Since the message doesn’t appear to be substantive, they’re not prompted to listen.
20-30 seconds is the sweet spot. A voicemail in this timeframe sparks curiosity without demanding too much time.
2) Lead with information relevant to the prospect.
Sales reps tend to be very declarative in their messaging. Their starting phrase in both voicemails and emails usually sounds something like, “My name is John Doe, and I work for Gadgets Inc.”
It might be a straightforward approach, but it’s not effective in the slightest. As soon as the prospect realizes this voicemail is a sales pitch from a salesperson, it’s getting deleted. And if you lead with your name and company, the prospect’s finger hits the delete key almost immediately.
This is why it’s important to lead with something relevant to the prospect, such as a thought-provoking question.
3) Ask a question you wouldn’t pose in an email.
If your voicemails and emails are exactly the same, you lessen your chances of getting a response to either. So make them different by reserving certain questions for voicemail instead of email.
While both types of messages should be customized to a given buyer, voicemails should be ultra-specific. In an email, I might ask for a referral, an appointment, or feedback on a content asset they downloaded. These sorts of classic questions -- while still tailored to the buyer -- can be customized for reuse with another prospect, or another 100 prospects.
But the questions you ask in a voicemail should be so specific that they could never be intended for another listener. For example, if I was selling financial management technology, I might ask the voicemail recipient which financial software they use today, or if all of the company’s financial analysts work out of the central office.
The more personal and specific the question, the more likely it’ll get a response. Think about it this way. If you start to have chest pains on a busy city street, and you cry out, “Somebody call 911!” you might get help … but you might not. However, if you were to point at one specific person and shout, “Would you please call 911 for me?” it’s almost a certainty that the stranger you selected would grab their phone and dial.
Why the difference in response? When you made the request specific to one person in the second circumstance, you placed a burden of responsibility on that person. So it is with sales voicemails: The more specific the question, the more responsibility the person feels to answer you.
4) Don’t use a traditional close.
Here I’m referring to lines such as “Please call me back” or “I’ll check in again on X date.” Because they’re generic, these asks don’t increase the buyer’s feeling of responsibility. Instead, I suggest posing your specific question and ending the call there.
5) Don’t hang up without leaving a voicemail.
If you’re going to call a prospect, you have to leave a message. Regardless of whether the prospect was actively screening calls or simply away from their desk when the phone rang, your number will pop up as a missed call. And if there’s no accompanying voicemail? Well, it must not have been terribly important.
If you do this two or three times in a row, you further degrade your chances of ever connecting with this prospect. Since they’ve now seen your number come up multiple times without once receiving a voicemail, they’re aware this call is definitely not one they need to take. You can bet the next time you call, they’re not picking up.
Salespeople who call and hang up screen themselves out of the process. No matter if you’re prepared to leave the perfect voicemail or not, you need to leave one every time. However, if you do record a few messages with the same ultra-specific question, the prospect feels a twinge of guilt each time you call back because they feel they owe you an answer.
6) Use your normal tone of voice.
Salespeople are often coached to sound enthusiastic and excited on the phone, thus raising their natural voice pitch to a high, unnatural tone. In my opinion, this tone of voice makes it clear to the listener that not only is this an uncomfortable call, but a generic one. It’s easy to imagine the caller hanging up, dialing another prospect, and leaving an identical voicemail using the exact same high pitch, and then another … and another. If it sounds like a salesperson is just doing their 50 prospecting calls for the day, it absolves the listener of any responsibility to respond.
I recommend salespeople start voicemails at their normal tone of voice and then go gradually lower. This implies that you’re at ease making the call, and also that the call is unusual. Without the fake tone of excitement in your voice, the listener understands that the specific question you’re posing is just as meaningful to you as it is to them. And the more the listener feels the message is meant for them and only them, the more likely it is they’ll respond.
7) Leave voicemails at the end of the day
Voicemail connect rates usually go up as the day advances, so you should schedule your phone activity toward the end of the day.
Wondering why this is? We can thank the serial position effect. This psychological phenomenon says when you show people a list, they’ll remember the first and last items the best. That means when you’re trying to grab a prospect’s attention, you want to be one of the first or last things they hear.
But imagine if you received a sales voicemail at 9 a.m. It might be the most compelling, well-delivered voicemail you’ve ever heard, but you’re probably dealing with several other tasks. You decide to respond to the rep when you have more time. By the time the end of the day rolls around, you’ve completely forgotten about her.
If you listened to the voicemail at 4:30 p.m., on the other hand, your day is likely wrapping up. You might email the salesperson that night or return their call first thing the next day.
8) Split up your voicemails
You can also try leaving two voicemails. In other words, rather than leaving one 30-second message, record a 20-second voicemail -- then immediately call back and leave a 10-second one.
Your second voicemail should include information that was missing from your first. For instance, a rep using this technique might leave the following two messages:
Voicemail #1: “Hi Jerry, I recently attended one of TrustPilot’s webinars. I didn’t receive any follow-up emails, which made me wonder if you have a marketing strategy in place for nurturing webinar leads. Folks who attend a live event are 30% more likely to convert, according to my team’s research. What strategy, if any, do you have in place today?”
Voicemail #2: “Jerry, I forgot to leave my name and number. This is Sarah Griffin from Acme Corp. You can reach me at 884-867-5309. Thanks.”
Splitting your message into two parts has a couple benefits. First, it makes you more memorable. Second, you seem less rehearsed. If you’re reciting from a script, you’re probably not going to forget a key component. Prospects will automatically trust you more.
9) Slow down as you speak
Start your voicemail with a regular cadence, but get slower and slower the longer you speak. By the time you get to your phone number, you should practically be crawling. It sounds counterintuitive -- but this tactic actually makes prospects likelier to finish listening.
Not only do you sound more articulate and confident when you’re not rushing to the finish line, you also sound more authentic. Speaking in a rush suggests you’re making dials all day and need to be as efficient as possible. Yet if you’re making three calls rather than 30, you’re probably going to sound far more deliberate. A slow finish tells the buyer they’re not just another name on a list.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.