Email vs Voicemail - It's Not Either / Or

A reader writes, "Some sales reps on my team refuse to leave voicemails for customers or prospects - communicating via email or other forms of communication. When I speak to them about this the replies include: 'Voicemail is dead, outmoded, for losers, no one checks it anymore,' etc.  I'm the owner of my business and make many buying decisions.  Reps from other companies call on me. While I rely on more forms of communication than I ever thought possible, I do still listen to my messages and speak to people on the phone.  What's your take on this? Are the reps right?"

No, they aren't.  Rotary phones are dead, not voicemail.  It remains a viable business tool.  What's changed is the additional technology available. No longer dominant, voicemail needs to be utilized differently.

Know Your Audience

Successful business people (not just salespeople) learn how others prefer being communicated with.  Some customers will favor email or text, others the phone.  Most probably use a combination.  Avoid stereotyped generation-based thinking about age or experience.  Determining the communication preference of any customer or professional associate takes time.  Sales reps need to build the relationship.

Top-performing salespeople keep detailed notes about their customer's communication choices regarding method / days of the week / times of day.   They know their customer's schedules.

The Big Change

Years ago, professionals accessed voicemail several times a day.  A lot of the most critical information they needed was there. Executives tell me they still listen to their office land line voicemail.  The difference - they access those voicemails once or twice a week only.  Given the large volume, they skip through messages fairly quickly, deleting all but those they deem most important.  

Use Both Technologies

I advise sales reps to leave both an email and a voicemail, especially when it comes to prospects or unfamiliar customers.  Send an introductory email.  Tell them you've left them a voicemail as well.  In the voicemail, let them know you've sent an email. Overkill?  No.  You don't know them well enough yet to understand the most efficient way to communicate. 

Power of Voicemail

Sales reps understand that most people (especially prospects) won't return their call.  They know they have to initiate contact several times before finally having a conversation. Hearing you on voicemail allows prospects and others to recognize the sound of your voice and listen to what you have to say about your product or service.  

Power of Email

Prospects review emails a lot during off hours or during a lull in their schedule. Receiving email (and attached links) from a company of potential interest, allows them to do a little research on your organization at their convenience.  
Using either technology, when you finally do reach whoever you're trying to call, you're not as much of a stranger.  That helps all conversations get off to a better start. Though technology like Skype allows customers to both see and hear you, voicemail remains an effective methodology through which to introduce yourself.

Respecting Other's Preferences

One of my long-time customers communicates with me almost exclusively by email.  After all these years, hearing his voice still comes as a surprise to me.  Very familiar now with his style, I've mastered the effective and concisely written emails that he needs.  These wouldn't necessarily work for my other clients.

Every now and again, I have to discuss something with him.  Email won't do.  I email him, asking when it would be convenient for us to speak.  He always gets back to me promptly with a time.  Because I respect the way he wants to receive information, he picks up the phone when he knows I need to talk to him directly.  We built up this trust over a period of time.  That's what it takes.