The Pursuit of Relationship Capital ®
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Blog #89 Hey Mr. B2B Sales Person, Are Your Voicemail Messages Being Returned?

Ever leave a voicemail that wasn’t returned? Okay, I know, silly question. There are numerous ways to approach this question, but for the context of this post it will be through the lens of the B2B sales professional, the person who most depends on being able to connect and communicate with clients, and especially prospective new clients.

Most reading this blog know that my area of interest, and what my business is based on, is the process of generating new client relationships, or what I like to call, “The Pursuit Of Relationship Capital “®. No easy task this, because the business environment we find ourselves in today is substantively more competitive and challenging than the sales environment of the past.

If you sell to a B2B client, then connecting with new and/or existing clients is a day to day necessity. Our life blood as “vendors” is our ability to identify, germinate, and grow client relationships. While this is not the case with some product or service offerings – namely those where average transactions are small and therefore based on quick and faceless proceedings – we most commonly seek to win business that is often significant in size, and rarely awarded in the short term. These sales are almost always based on some sort of relationship between the sales person and the client, and in order to start a relationship, we have to connect with them first.

We have email, snail mail, and marketing. We have digital, virtual and social. The sheer volume of channels now available through which to attempt making contact can be mind blowing. Did they read it? Did they log on, and if so, for how long? Did they click or click through? Did they read the mass email my company sent out or for that matter, did they read the one I sent personally. What about my voicemail messages? Getting the picture ….

In the old days – pre digital technology – we had snail mail, hard copy letters and the telephone. When we left a message, the message was actually “taken” by another human in a live person to person exchange. There was no voicemail, texting or cellular technology. Geeeze, faxing didn’t even become commercially available until the mid 80’s and it wasn’t until the mid to late 90’s that email became universally entrenched such that it was a reliable means of communication.

In short, our clients had much easier lives. Workdays were shorter by din of one simple fact, that past five o’clock, most were unreachable! No one attempted to communicate with each other in the business world unless you were under the same roof; a roof that being under all too often would also find one in the presence of a beer.

Today, important executives, the very people who will make or influence the decision to buy from us, are bombarded with greater than endless “requests to connect”. As vendors, we are largely numb to this because aside from communications from colleagues, our voicemails, email inboxes and requests to connect are fewer and further between. We are not targeted.

In today’s world, executives are drowning in emails, cc emails, bcc emails, conference calls, voice mails, reading or responding to blogs, tweets, seminars, webinars, etc. Where does that leave the voicemail message? I’ll tell you where. Dead last. No, make that nowhere.

This is really important to consider because anyone’s (read busy prospects) interest or ability to engage, whether it be a phone call or answering an email, is in part a product of available bandwidth, and therefore the actual time available to comply with every request to engage or communicate. In short, it’s impossible. “Stuff” will always get left undone and not responded to, and the stuff that’s right at the top of the not yet done list will be responding to emails, voicemails etc. from sales people they don’t know.

If it’s a client you already know, and if it’s an important message, make that really really important, and I mean important to your client, not to you, then possibly you’ll get a call back. If it’s not, it will likely take days or weeks to get returned, if at all.

If you’re leaving a message for someone you’ve never met, like a new prospect, then chances of a returned voicemail are beyond nil. Bottom line, leaving voicemails for prospects we don’t know, at best, is an exercise in futility.

If you’re new to sales, and under the tutelage of a “seasoned pro”, then you’ve very likely been encouraged to forget the above and leave messages. “It’s a game of numbers” they may well tell you. “Leave 50 messages and you’ll get 3 or 4 responses” the logic goes, but here’s the problem.

Most of us in the B2B sales game have territories, and these territories are anything but infinite. Almost all sales people struggle, or at least work very hard to identify new target prospects. It’s a ton of work and they’re a limited resource of which we don’t have an unlimited supply. So, if you flip the equation around, and look at it from the perspective of 4 or 5 responses means 45 or 46 people never responded, then the return on effort doesn’t look that rosy. “Not a problem” you’re told, “just call them back” or “leave another message”. Sorry, but this is a problem, a big problem. Have you ever been the subject of pesky cold callers or telemarketers? Have you been the target of those repeated calls, emails, and texts, all from companies or people whom you have no idea who they are, let alone any interest in knowing who they are? If you have, then you know that with each message, with each annoying email you become increasingly vexed and pissed off. You know that each and every time they’ve interrupted you with yet one more “ping”, that the likelihood of you ever engaging, let alone doing so with a positive intent, becomes practically nonexistent.

I very rarely leave messages or send emails unless I am reasonably sure that I will get a reply. Those occasions are strictly limited to instances where I know the client well, and I know they’re expecting a message, or have a pressing business issue that depends on interacting with me.

I never ever leave a message for a prospect or someone I don’t know.

I never send emails that begin with “I would like to meet you” or “I have something you might be interested in” etc. Why? Because after decades of selling to B2B prospects and exposure to countless executives, I know those emails don’t get read.

It is specifically because of the advancement in technology that a live phone call has become so much more effective.

When I use the phone to contact target prospects and I get voicemail, I call back another time. It’s usually early in the day or late in the afternoon when gate keepers have yet to arrive or have gone home. I never burden a prospect with one more thing, one more task in their already over taxed schedule like a voicemail or email because I know with total certainty that those irritating messages will just torment them, and the tormented don’t generally seek to engage with their tormentors. I want my first contact to be fresh and unencumbered by useless emails and voicemails that will only sour the disposition of the person I’m calling.

My business requires forward motion, like any other business, and that motion depends on my ability to reach people, get an answer, and move on. Because it’s my own business, i.e. the buck stops at my door, the old “I’ve left a message”, or, “she hasn’t returned my email”, just doesn’t cut it.

For those who think getting people live will take more time versus leaving a voicemail or sending an email, think again. If actually connecting – and connecting absolutely requires a two way interaction – with prospects is your goal, then leaving or sending “messages” that probably will never be listened to or read , just doesn’t work; full stop.

Remember, judging success isn’t a measure of how many people respond to voicemail or email; it’s how many don’t, that you could have phoned…

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