Using Voice Mail as a Prospecting Tool: How to get ’em to call you back

My friend Steve Rae makes some good points in his post about voice mail. His post details how to leave a proper voice mail with someone that you have had some previous contact.

But what about how to leave a voice mail with a prospect that you have never spoken with? That’s a horse of a different color.

If, as Steve says and I believe, most voice mails are deleted in 20 seconds or less, what do you say to get people, who don’t know you, to call you back?

First let’s look at the typical message left by a sales rep:


Hello, Mr. Prospect this is John Smith with Technology Services. We are a national provider of internet services and I am calling today to tell you about some exciting programs we have for small business owners. Please call me at 555-1212 at your earliest convenience. Thank you and have a great day.

What is the problem with this approach?

It gives the listener too much information. The second the listener hears the name of your company and what you do they form a premature opinion about whether they need what you are selling and they hit the delete button.

RULE: The chances of getting a return call are directly proportional to how much information you leave.

If you want to increase your odds of a prospect calling you back leave this message:


John, this is Steve Clark. As soon as you get a minute, please give me a call at 850-936-7028.

This works for several reasons:

• It is hard to ignore because it doesn’t provide the listener with excess information.
• It also piques their curiosity
• It gets the listener‘s attention because they don’t know if you are a prospect, vendor, referral or customer and there is a bit of fear about not returning that type of call.

When leaving this message tonality is the key. You will want to slow down your rate of speech, lower your voice and project a confident business like tone.

Will this approach work every time? Absolutely not.

Will it work most of the time? Absolutely not?

Will it work a lot better than what you now do? You bet your sweet bippy.

Good Selling

Steve Clark

PS Read More of Steve’s posts at American Small Business

If you like these posts give each of them a thumbs up.



Great suggestion!

Wayne Kelly

You are right! When some calls me at the radio station, I always call back someone who leaves the basics. It works. Thanks for the great tips!

Elizabeth Doucette

I know you are right! Most people are unable to ignore their curiousity, it also can help make sure you are getting the decision maker.

Steve Clark

I received the following email from a reader that said:

“With all due respect, I would be furious if I received an e-mail message like the one you suggest and found out that this was a sales person trying to connect with me.

Don’t you really feel that this approach is advocated by those who practice manipulative selling and who view their job as being “closers”?

I was tempted to ask 50 people I know to call you and leave that message for you.

In the interest of professional sales people who are proud of what they do.”

My reply to the not to named individual was:

“You are not the prospect in this case so you must learn to get out of the way and not let your own opinion get in the way of doing what works. I have used and taught this approach for many years. Less than 1% of the people who have ever returned my calls took issue with this approach.

I urge you to read the comments of what others have posted about this article. Seems as though your view point is in the minority.”

Scott Zimmerman

I agree with the gentleman that took exception to your approach. As a busy business owner (multiple companies), I guard my time ferociously. However, I ALWAYS return phone calls and emails regardless of the type of caller (I also sell for my companies and believe in “sales Karma”).

I prioritize my work and communications, so I greatly appreciate knowing what a call pertains to.

Once, while on vacation, I received a voicemail almost identical to the one you suggested: “Mr. Zimmerman, this is ______. I need to speak with you and I may be reached at _______.” End of message. Period.

Here’s the point you miss: Upon hearing a message similar to these, the prospect immediately puts his/her mental Rolodex on hyper-drive. We’re racking our brains trying to figure out if/how we know the caller:

“Someone I met a network function?”

“Might this be an unhappy customer?”

“Is this a prospect I forgot to follow-up with?”

“Could this be someone with an issue with one of my employees?”

In other words, everything else in our “mental RAM” gets displaced with new (unnecessary) thoughts.

I called the gentleman immediately (from Lido Beach on my cell) only to discover that he sold sales training!

I asked him if he would teach me or my employees the same technique he just used to get a return phone call, and when he said “Absolutely!”, I made sure to get his name and company name twice. I memorized them and made certain to NEVER use his services in the future.

The good news is that he gave me a great story to use in my speeches and books (as what NOT to do), so I guess I am somewhat indebted to him.

If you take an honest, upfront approach, you may get FEWER return calls. However, I’ll bet my house that you’ll get nicer phone calls.

Effective salespeople don’t focus on quantity; they much prefer QUALITY interactions!

After all, isn’t your time every bit as valuable as the top-level executives you call on? Of course it is!

Toward your success,

Scott Michael Zimmerman

Steve Clark


I appreciate you taking the time to respond to this. Comments from our subscribers are always welcomed and appreciated – even if I don’t agree with them.

In your response you make my point for me by saying,

“Upon hearing a message similar to these, the prospect immediately puts his/her mental Rolodex on hyper-drive. We’re racking our brains trying to figure out if/how we know the caller:
“Someone I met a network function?”
“Might this be an unhappy customer?”
“Is this a prospect I forgot to follow-up with?”
“Could this be someone with an issue with one of my employees?”
In other words, everything else in our “mental RAM” gets displaced with new (unnecessary) thoughts.
I called the gentleman immediately “


Does if offend 1% – 2% of the prospects who receive the message – absolutely! Offending a small percentage of people in order to get the overwhelming positive results we want is a business decision for us. We are in the business of getting results not appeasing people – especially in this New Economy where every minute of our time is precious.

Let’s talk real world here. I recently sent out a mailing to a group of prospects inviting them to a marketing seminar. I then had my 26 year old daughter follow up the mailing by calling. She is not in sales and has never been through sales training of any kind.

To help her prepare for these calls I wrote a script and conducted one hour of role-playing with me. We rehearsed her lines – the same ones I write about in this article – until she could deliver the script verbatim.

She sat in my office – next to me so I could monitor what was happening -and dialed the phone 133 times. Most of the calls resulted in getting voice mail – no surprise there – and she left the exact same message that I am describing here. THE RESULTS – 27 returned phone calls over a period of two days and 4 sales. When they called back I had her transfer the calls to me. Not one person who called back was rude or upset with me or her.

I will change my approach in a New York minute if another sales person or manager can show me empirical data to support that they have a more effective approach. So far in 13 years I have had no one prove with data that they have a more effective process. I have had people who take strong exception to what I do but none who have proof that whatever they do is more effective. And as you know as a business person, it is about results not about opinions.

As business people we need to move past our personal opinions, belief systems and bias about what works and what doesn’t work, what we can and cannot do and what we can and cannot say to prospects and buyers. Once we determine with data what strategies work – as long they are legal, moral and honest – we must implement those strategies and tactics whether we are comfortable with or agree with those strategies or not. To not move past our own self limiting beliefs and behaviors guarantees that future results will be just like current results because more of the same always produces more of the same.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

Steve Clark

Rob MacKay

Steve, your story here does put an exclamation point on the topic, yet I believe the connection to the prospect may have initially been made through the mailing.
When they called your daughter back, the mental rolladex whizzed to the mailing and exclaimed “found it!”, hence the positive response when they found out what the call was about – a valid offer that was still top of mind that may help them in some way.

Steve Clark


Here is the point. They RETURNED the call BEFORE they had any idea who Amy was or why she was calling. It was the curiosity factor that got them to call back.

Once they returned the call it was up to me as a skilled professional salesperson to respond to them appropriately. What has not been addressed in any of this discussion is how important the communication and sales skills of the person receiving the returned calls are.

Perhaps those who don’t have my superior sales skills would not get the same results as me. As you know from your participation in our training, our training goes way beyond the run of the mill fluff that most traditional sales training teaches – hence the name of our company – New School Selling.

As a result of our approach clients typically experience a 30% increase in sales production. Some even double or triple their production.

Thanks for taking the time to respond to this post.

Steve Clark

Rob MacKay

Point taken Steve. Curiosity is indeed the key ingredient. Otherwise your post would have been titled “How to get em to respond favourably”

My Million Dollar Story

Such a useful and insightful blog�wow !!!!

Spring Westergaard

Many thank you for revealing this good report. Please hold up this webpage as it is one of my popular web site in my reader, many thanks .)

Hoa Cubbage

Good page.

Property Management California

Must love your time and effort you place into your blog 🙂

Evan Fisher

I have used this aproach before and it does work. It would be nicer if you were in your office all day to take phone calls. I like the comment about remembering the company’s name so as to never use them. Who cares, there are thousands of other people out there to do business with. You can’t lose what you don’t have.


I totally agree 110% with this tactic! never leave a message telling the prospect who you are, this includes leaving a message with the bulldog on the gate. For all they know you could be calling to say that they have won the lottery or that there has been a catastrophy, basic curiosity will get them calling you back. here is a simple trick that works for me when I really want the account and cannot get through to the person to get them to talk to me. Send them a packet of jelly babies in an unmarked envelope with a hand written note saying thanks and regards and put your name and direct phone number, then watch how fast they call you back! lol they are RAPID!!! simple curiosity says why have I recieved this ? who sent it ? and why? the food that sales are made of. its very simple and extreamly effective enjoy….. Mal

Comments are closed