Reaching decision-makers becomes more difficult every month. No one answers the phone, unless they already know me. Once I’m on an assignment, 98% of communication happens on email and that’s OK for all concerned. But what if I’d like to follow-up with a prospect I’ve met somewhere and he/she suddenly gets elusive? Or what if some influential person says, “Call so-and-so and tell him/her that I told you to call” and then that person never picks up?
Playing telephone tag with someone you want to connect with is a real drag and a time-waster. If there is a way to get the Very Important Prospect to either pick up the phone or holler back, you need to know it. Sales guru Geoffrey James, author of “How to Say It: Business to Business Selling ” (2011) says that if an assistant takes the call and offers to transfer you to the VIP’s voice mail, ask if VIP actually listens to voice messages. Evidently, a significant minority of people do not listen to voice mail and consequently, do not return calls.
As book publicist Yen Cheong observed in an April 1, 2009 New York Times article, “Once upon a time, voice mail was useful.” Ms. Cheong communicates primarily by text and occasionally by email. “If you left a message, I have to dial in, dial in my code. Then once I hear the message, I need the phone number. I try to write it down and then I have to rewind the message to hear it again.”
Sometimes, a land line voice message will include a cell phone number to call. Dial the cell phone. If VIP answers, thank him/her for taking the call, cut to the chase and state your reason for calling, referencing either the person who recommended that you make contact or follow-up from a previous conversation. If you were invited to call and make an appointment, then ask if that is possible now. VIP may be able to schedule an appointment right there on the smart phone. If not, you will be given a better time to call the office land line.
To set the stage for an appointment, offer to send some relevant piece of information that keeps the ball in play and initiates an action that is easy for your VIP to digest without feeling pressured, making it more likely that future calls will be accepted. Confirm the email address and send ASAP. Resist the temptation to launch a sales pitch, unless VIP opens the door by asking questions. Even then, be very concise and respectful of time. People on cell phones are often in transit or otherwise distracted.
The pearl of this story is text messaging, a tactic which I’m willing to bet most of you haven’t tried when pursuing a prospect. So why not? According to a 2008 study for Sprint by Opinion Research Corporation, 91% of people under age 30 respond to text messages within an hour. Adults aged 30 and older are four times more likely to respond to text messages than voice messages. So if the VIP’s voice message includes a cell number, pounce!
Web developer Charlie Park says text messages are more respectful of the recipient’s time. Text information or your intent to send same, or ask for an appointment. Texting is an efficient tool to keep the sale moving forward and much more effective than telephone tag voice messages, which only cause your prospect to give up on you, because the two of you can’t connect.
The next time you call a VIP and the assistant answers, ask if voice messages are listened to and also ask if texting is possible. If you can’t confirm that info, try sending a text anyway. You might be pleasantly surprised by a prompt reply and a successful telephone sales call.
Thanks for reading,