" Hello, Ruth, this is Susan Doe from Acme Widgets calling. I’d really like to speak with you. Would you please call me back? You can reach me at xxxx."
This recent message on my voice mail got me thinking: What was it about the message that made me delete it? Probably because I didn’t know her. Plus, she gave me no reason why I should care.
But, on reflection, I often reply to voice mails from unknown people. Why do I respond to some and not others? A well-crafted voice mail message should be a potent opportunity to begin, or strengthen, a business relationship. So there ought to be ways to motivate a response better than did our hapless Susan Doe.
So what should business marketers do when confronted with a voice mail greeting during a phone call? In short, what are best practices in voice mail marketing?
I decided to look into this, and guess what: Voice mail marketing is nowhere, as a discipline. No one is talking about it. No one is researching it, setting up tests, and figuring out best practices—at least as far as I could determine.
I say this is a lost opportunity. Because outbound telemarketing is huge in B-to-B. But business marketers find that upwards of 85% of outbound business calls go to voice mail. So if you don’t have a clear strategy for how to manage voice mail as part of your campaign, you’ll be squandering a major chance to connect with customers and prospects.
Objectives drive strategy
The place to begin, naturally, is with your objective in making the call. A sales rep cranking through a series of cold phone calls will have a different strategy from a marketer using phone follow-up to direct mail, for example. Are you looking to gain awareness? Is the message intended to motivate a call-back? Is the message part of a series of touches, or does it need to pay off on its own? The answer to these questions will help identify the right approach to voice mail.
When asked for his recommendation on voice mail, Mike Chaplo, VP of Revenue at LinkExperts, says firmly, “Don’t leave one. Hang up. Call back again, and keep trying. If after 5 or 6 attempts you still can’t get through, then send an email, asking when is the best time to call. Your objective in business is to have a conversation, not to leave an annoying message.”
But voice mail does have its applications, in both sales and marketing. Let’s look at what’s working and what the experts recommend.
Strategic options in voice mail marketing
Depending on the strategy, the use of voice mail will differ widely. Experienced users recommend it as particularly useful for:
Live telemarketing as part of a marketing campaign
Phone follow up to mail or email, and phone softening prior to mail, are time-honored techniques for improving response and campaign ROI. So what do you do in the highly likely event that you reach a voice mailbox instead of a live person?
According to Rob Lail, founder and president of MarketMakers, a B-to-B teleservices firm in the Philadelphia area, voice mail has a powerful role to play in a campaign—if you plan for it. “The most important thing is to prepare a superb script,” says Lail. “It has to be professional, but not sound canned. We provide our reps with scripts, but they only use it as a guide. They need to know the material cold, and speak to it naturally, so they sound confident.”
Lail observes that a great voice mail script gets to the point fast. “You need to cover the who, what, where, when and how—quickly. You need to use a conversational tone, and above all, the message has to be relevant to the target’s industry.”
Other than the script, the key is the application. According to Lail, the single most effective use of voice mail is in event marketing, for extending an invitation or reminding prospects to attend a seminar, conference, webcast or some other live appointment. “Reminder calls to seminar attendees who have agreed to come can improve their actual attendance by 40%,” says Lail.
The phone is also a big part of effective lead qualification and nurturing programs. In this situation, a well-defined voice mail strategy is equally important. John Hasbrouck is President and CEO of NewLeads., which provides trade show contact follow-up services. Hasbrouck encourages his reps to make the decision whether to leave a voice mail message based on their level of energy and enthusiasm at the moment.
“Enthusiasm is contagious,” says Hasbrouck. “If you don’t feel like leaving a message, just hang up. You need to be in the right frame of mind. If you don’t sound like someone they want to talk to, they won’t ever respond.”
Telephone as part of biz dev or sales
When using the phone as part of a sales effort, the voice mail option is a function of where you are in the process. Sherri Sklar, an experienced sales and marketing trainer and consultant, and president of Sherri Sklar Strategies, notes that it can take 7 to 9 touches to get through to business buyers today.
So Sklar recommends planning the touch sequence up front. “I might begin with an email, saying I will follow up with a phone call. If I get a voice mail on that call, I will have decided in advance whether I will leave a message or not. It depends on whether I want to use up one of my touches. Generally, a voice mail is less effective if the prospect doesn’t know me yet.”
But if she does decide to leave a voice mail at the early stages in the relationship, Sklar stresses the importance of mentioning, early in the message, the critical business issue that is likely to be on the mind of the recipient. “After I say my name and my company, and a few words about our competency, I get right to the point about how we can help the prospect. And I leave my phone number. But I don’t expect a call back. What I expect to happen is my next touch, whether it’s another call or an email.”
Sklar cautions that callers need to plan for any possible outcome. You need to have the scripts in mind if you get voice mail, if the prospect picks up, and if a gatekeeper picks up.
How to structure a voice mail
John Hasbrouck recommends the following path for your voice message, to garner maximum attention and response:
PAIN. Start with their problem. Don’t start with yourself.
HOPE. State your offering: “We solve that problem.”
REFERENCES. Name a few customers who will be familiar and credible.
FEATURES. If you can squeeze in one or two supporting features, do so. But keep the total to 30 seconds.
RESPONSE. Tell them what to do and how. “If you want to know more, please give me a call.”
Sidebar: Tips for B-to-B voice mail success
New tools to enhance your voice mail marketing
Voice mail has been around for a few decades, and while it’s not a hotbed of marketing innovation, a few enhancements have emerged.
As business marketers, we need to get more disciplined about voice mail as part of the marketing mix. Voice mail should be right up there with direct mail, email and telemarketing as a mainstream medium. Business marketers ought to be conducting split testing of offers and scripts, and looking for ways to improve response rates. Better yet, we need testing of multi-touch campaign sequencing, to see where voice mail best fits.
I hope this discussion will inspire some activity in this area. If you have any results to report, please share with me at email@example.com. And let’s ask The DMA to include voice mail as a key B-to-B campaign medium when it researches response rates, creative strategies and other useful topics. If this is where 85% of our phone calls are going, we need to make the most of it.
Here is an example script from John Hasbrouck, CEO of NewLeads.
|About the Author
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, for both consumer and business-to-business clients. Ruth began her direct marketing career in 1986 at Time Warner, where she spent seven years in marketing, new business development, and general management at Book-of-the-Month Club and Time-Life Books. She then went to Ziff-Davis as Vice President of Marketing for Computer Library, the electronic publishing division. From 1996, she spent three years in direct marketing management at IBM, and then worked in senior marketing positions at two Internet startup companies in New York City before starting her consulting company in 2000.
Ruth serves on the board of directors of Edmund Optics, Inc. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and now president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Crain’s BtoB magazine named Ruth one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing in 2002. She is the author of 2 business books, The DMA Lead Generation Handbook, published in 2002, and Trade Show and Event Marketing, published by Thomson in 2005. She teaches marketing to graduate students at Columbia Business School. She has studied marketing management at Harvard Business School and holds an MBA from Columbia University.