Voice mail adventure Featured

9:56am EDT July 22, 2002

Last month you gave us some suggestions on how to deal with receptionists and secretaries when cold calling. What should we do when sent to voice mail?

In today’s world, it’s getting tougher and tougher to get a hold of prospects via the telephone. I recently heard a statistic that, today, only one out of every eight calls reaches the intended party. In fact, only one out of every three calls reaches anybody at all. The rest go to voice mail.

So, when you get sent to voice mail what do you do? Should you leave a message or shouldn’t you? First of all, you should listen to their voice mail message, because it will often provide you with useful information. But I recommend that you not leave a message unless you’re sure that, when the person returns your call, you will be there to receive it.

Most people won’t return a salesperson’s call even when the salesperson is selling something they need. Therefore, the only way you will get prospects to return your calls is to tell them something that hooks their curiosity without disclosing that you are trying to sell them something. If they call you and end up speaking to your receptionist or your own voice mail system, they will discover your call was probably a sales call and will screen any future calls you make to them.

If you leave a message, be as brief as possible. The message that has always worked for me is simply to leave my first name and phone number. People will typically return the call simply out of curiosity or the hope that I am a prospect for them.

Another way around voice mail is to call the wrong department within an organization, act confused and ask to be transferred to the person you are really interested in contacting. Many people in larger corporations will screen calls from the outside, but take calls from the inside. I have found that the sales department will always take your call (although they often don’t know how to operate their phone systems). Accounts receivable is often a good bet as well.


In today’s thriving economy, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to hire good sales people. Is there anything I can ask in the interview to ensure the person I hire will last?

The best advice is this : Don’t blue-sky the job. When it comes to hiring sales people, it’s definitely a buyer’s market. This often puts you in the position of feeling like you have to sell the candidate on taking the job. During job interviews, we usually spend more time trying to convince applicants to work for us than finding out their true sales grit. Don’t do this.

Not only do I not want you to blue-sky the job, I want you to run a negative interview. Let applicants know how tough it’s going to be. Ask how they plan to start working their territories. Only those who talk about making cold calls will actually do them.

Ask three more tough questions behind every answer you get. By putting the pressure on the sales candidates in the interview process, you can determine if they will roll over or assert themselves when face to face with a prospect.

When challenging candidates, take note of whether they stay in control or let you dictate the process. Good sales people will have an agenda and take you through a qualifying process similar to what they would do with a prospect,while at the same time making you feel as if you your agenda is being met.

Finally, before you offer them a position, have them take a sales candidate screening test or evaluation so that you can uncover their hidden weaknesses.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm, and host of “Today’s Selling Solution,” heard daily in Pittsburgh at 12:43 p.m. on 1410 KQV AM radio. Send comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com for a screening test recommendation or complimentary copy of “Top 25 Questions to Ask in a Sales Interview.” He can be reached by phone at (724) 933-9110.