“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:
- Event invitations or reminders
- A follow-up to direct mail or email
- Lead qualification and nurturing
- A pre-campaign touch prior to direct mail or email
- Announcements, such as regulatory compliance
- Pricing or promotion updates
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.”
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.
Guided voice mail. BoxPilot pioneered the idea of pre-recording a message, and then using live operators to network around the target company and “guide” the message to the right person’s voice mail box. Kytell’s team has done a variety of tests to prove the concept’s effectiveness. One client using guided voice mail as follow up to a direct mail piece, for example, lifted response 145%, from 3.1% to 7.8%., doubling campaign ROI. James Pennington, VP of strategic marketing at The Kern Organization, the B-to-B direct marketing agency, has used BoxPilot successfully for its clients. “It’s more expensive per touch than direct mail, but cheaper than outbound telemarketing,” he notes. “BoxPilot turns the disadvantage of business people’s hiding behind their voice mail into an advantage. What we find is that what’s most important is sending a message that’s not stupid or pointless, but one that’s relevant.”
Automated voice mail. Used primarily in consumer marketing, automated delivery of pre-recorded messages via auto-dialing is making some contribution in B-to-B. GroupCast Messaging in St. Louis, for example, is producing results for financial services, like credit card processing offers to small businesses, or advising insurance brokers and financial planners on new products. GroupCast sets up unique toll-free numbers on each campaign, so responses come into their call center, backed up by automated voice response, which allows them to track results and do tests. Barry Chelist, director of sales, says that GroupCast regularly tests the effectiveness of such variables as male versus female voices, and sets up split tests of direct mail with voice-mail follow-up versus direct mail alone.
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.
Tips for B-to-B Voice Mail Success
The message must fit within fewer than 30 seconds, without sounding rushed. Beyond 30 seconds, the listen-to rate declines dramatically, says Barry Chelist, director of sales at GroupCast Messaging.
Sincerity is audible. As John Hasbrouck cautions, “Think about how much you believe what you are saying. If you don’t really believe it, don’t say it.”
Strive for natural-sounding speech. “Don’t go for a radio commercial,” says Mike Kytell, founder and CEO of BoxPilot, the guided voice mail service for B-to-B marketers. “You want to sound real, not canned.”
Expect the same kind of response rate you’d get with an outbound telemarketing campaign, says Mike Kytell. “If you picked up the phone and called 100 people, how many would call you back?”
If you are deliberately looking to go to voice mail, versus reaching a live human, the best times are during the business day between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., when most people are in meetings or at lunch, according to Barry Chelist. Evening or late night has become a risky time slot, says Chelist, because so many people have their office numbers forwarded to home or mobile phones.