B2B Marketing Blog

Written by Lisa Shepherd
on September 26, 2014

In the last few weeks, I’ve had two sales people calling me very persistently, calling four or five times in a ten-day period. Since I’m not often at my desk, I ended up with endless voicemails exhorting me to return their call. It was like getting spam on my phone. And the worst part was that I had no idea when—or if—these salespeople would ever stop calling. So, I finally returned their calls and told them (rather rudely, I’ll admit) that I wasn’t interested and that their relentless messages were both annoying and unprofessional.

I’m not trying to badmouth sales people. But right now, a lot of organizations are pushing their salespeople too hard, telling them to keep calling until they make contact. Persistence is great in some situations, but it’s the wrong way to go when it comes to sales—at least, in B2B.

As a potential customer, I don’t want to be pestered and I don’t want to be forced to be rude to people who won’t leave me alone. After four voicemails and no return call, surely an intelligent person should understand that I’m not returning their call because I have no interest in talking to them.

So, how can your sales people reach customers without annoying them? I believe it’s absolutely crucial to make sure they know the difference between being diligent and being irritating. I think it’s most effective to instruct them to limit their voicemails to three, at maximum. And be sure they make it clear that they’ll leave things in the hands of the recipient, who, after all, should get to decide whether to take the next step. What follows is what I find to be the most effective.

Voicemail #1: The introduction

Honestly, the most effective introduction a sales person can make is to simply leave a short message explaining who they are and why they’re calling. This is useful to me. Just note that I probably won’t call back, unless I solicited the contact. (It’s nothing personal; I’m a busy person!)

There seems to be a game in which sales people leave their name on a voicemail and ask for a return call, without stating why they’re calling. I think this is unprofessional; in fact, I have a bad view of sales people who do this. They’ve used a trick to get me to call them, but all it does is destroy my trust in them. I don’t do business with people on that basis.

Voicemail #2: The follow-up

Just because I may not call back doesn’t mean I’m not interested, and I don’t necessarily want salespeople to give up after one message. In fact, I expect sales people to call back a second time. And when they don’t, I feel it shows a lack of professional discipline and diligence; I usually assume they weren’t serious about getting in touch with me in the first place.

After a respectable period of time (four to seven days is good—not the day after the first call, or, even worse, the same day), it’s OK to try again. It’s most effective when the sales person leaves a message with a clear “here’s why I think we should talk” argument. If I’m interested in what they’re selling, I will find the time to get in touch. Moreover, if the message is professional and direct, I’ll be far more likely to return a call—even if it’s just to say “no” or “the timing isn’t right.”

Voicemail #3: The clear conclusion

If I still haven’t called you back after a second call, a third call is OK—as long as the sales person makes it clear that this will be their last attempt to reach me. A message in this vein is ideal: “I’m following up on a couple of messages I’ve left over the last few weeks about our services. I’ll leave this with you now. If you’d like to hear more, please call me at (number) or email me at (address). Thanks.”

This approach tells me that the rep is not going to keep harassing me. If I receive three (or more!) voicemails from someone without hearing that at some point that they’re going to stop calling, I get frustrated and feel forced into being rude to get the calls to stop.

There’s a fine line between diligence and rudeness, and too many sales people cross it. By erring on the side of professionalism—which is, of course, critical in B2B sales—a rep will be less likely to alienate potential customers, and more likely to make the sales they need. Just don’t call more than three times.

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