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3 Tips For Getting Through The Voicemail Screen

By Shamus Brown
Posted Wednesday, February 2, 2005

How many times have you heard that you gotta get past the gatekeeper and get to the decision-maker to make the sale? Countless books and sales trainers have talked about this for years. Much of this advice was written for a world without voicemail.

Today's flatter organization has fewer administrative assistants for management, which means fewer live gatekeepers to screen our phone calls. The delegation of authority has also resulted in decision-makers being found at lower levels in the business than ever before. More and more decision- makers now use voicemail as their primary or even exclusive gatekeeping and screening tool.

Today I am going to discuss a few sales tips for getting through to your target in the world of voicemail hell. The first rule as always in sales is to be prepared, so you should have ready two or three major pains and visions that your product solves or enables. Make sure you have prepared at least one strong pain that your prospect is likely to identify with (pain elimination is a stronger motivator for most people than vision creation).

TIP#1 - Call At Weird Hours

People who screen their calls normally during the 8am to 6pm business hours will often pickup the phone if a call comes in at 6am or 8:30pm and they are working at their desk. With some of the insane hours people work these days, this can be very effective. They will pickup the phone generally thinking that the only person who would call at 8:30pm at night is their spouse or a friend. Who could possibly know that they are at the office at that sick hour? Try calling anytime after 6pm, and up until 8pm or 9pm when you really need to reach this person. If they are that important to the business, and that hard to reach, chances are that they work very late, very early, or both.

Getting the direct extension number of a Director or VP in a medium to large size company can seem like an impossible task. Some top people will have a direct extension that the receptionists won't give out. Instead, the best you get is a general department extension like 555-2000 (where there actually is a gatekeeper). Other times you get only the gatekeeper's voicemail (now you are really stuck in voicemail hell).

TIP #2 - The Wrong Extension Trick

Call another extension at the company randomly, say 555-2198 and ask for your target. You more than likely will get a person who is not experienced in taking outside phone calls. When the receiver of your call says you got the wrong extension, tell them that you have been getting passed around to the wrong extensions, the wrong people, the wrong voicemails, and that you are really frustrated - sound really distraught. Tell them you must return this call, but that you lost the direct number or that it was garbled on your voicemail. Ask them if they can tell you the direct number to dial so that you don't get passed around by receptionists into the wrong voicemails anymore. The key here is to sound distraught. You want them to feel a little sorry for you, so that they will want to help you. People like to help others in need. Armed with the direct extension number for your decision-maker, see Tip #1.

TIP #3 - Prepare A Commercial

You may decide that the best use of your time is to leave a message. If you want any chance of getting your call returned, you better make it good. My favorite approach is to tell a brief story to get the prospect's attention before they have a chance to realize that this is a voicemail from a salesperson and hit delete. Your story should contain a customer who had pain that your product solved. Start your story by saying "Hi Greg, Shamus Brown here. You know, XYZ company was experiencing an extreme... [fill in the blank with a strong business pain here]" Do not identify yourself as a salesperson or identify your company at the beginning of the commercial. Make the pain sound real bad - talk about the serious consequences of it. Then finish your commercial by saying "Greg, to find out how my company, ABC company, helped XYZ company eliminate this problem, give me a call at (530) 265-4099."

To leave or not to leave a message depends a lot on the nature of what you are selling and the prospect base that you are selling to. If you are selling to a small group of companies, then I would not leave a message until after being very persistent with the first two approaches. If you have a high number of potential prospects to call on, you could use the commercial approach on everyone. Be flexible and persist and you'll eventually make contact.

On a final note, the best way to get to a decision-maker is to get introduced to the person. Partnering with another company that already has an existing relationship with the prospect is very effective for leveraging in at a higher level. Selling someone else below first takes more time, but is often the way that business is done in the real world. These tips above will come in handy when you are at a loss for how to get a referral introduction.

© 1999-2004 Shamus Brown, All Rights Reserved.

About the Author
Shamus Brown is a Professional Sales Coach and former high-tech sales pro who began his career selling for IBM. Shamus has written more than 50 articles on selling and is the creator of the popular Persuasive Selling Skills CD Audio Program. You can read more of Shamus Brown's sales tips at (http://Sales-Tips.industrialEGO.com/) and you can learn more about his persuasive sales skills training at (http://www.Persuasive-Sales-Skills.com/)