A woman holding a phone up to her mouth, talking to someone on speaker.
Reinvent Your Lame Voicemail
by Jim Mathis

My friend Mike is in sales for an international company. He makes phone calls to prospective clients every day to sell a magazine that helps his clients make more money. When they are not in, he leaves a great message that gets prospects to call him back.

Yet his own outgoing message used to be basic: “Hi, this is Mike. I am not in right now. Please wait for the beep and leave a short message. I will return your call shortly.”

Yeah, that is pretty lame, and it sounds about the same as everybody else on the planet, too.

Last year, Mike decided to use a more proactive voicemail message, rather than the traditional one that so many people default to. It helped him differentiate himself to his prospects and customers.

If you want to stand out from every other sales account caller, you have to do something different. Since everyone else is just offering vanilla messages, you need to add flavor for the people who are calling you.

In a day when people can instantly tell you aren’t in (they got your voicemail, so the secret is out) and they already know what to do after the beep (they have a beep of their own on their phone, and they all sound the same), Mike wanted to rise above the crowd.

So we reinvented his voicemail message—and his income.

He figured that he should offer value to the people calling him that no one else gives customers. He figured he should tell his clients something unique that might benefit them. He figured correctly.

Stop Telling People What They Know

The key is to stop telling people something they already know, and rather, to start telling them something they don’t know about what you can do for them.

Mike changed his voicemail to say something along the lines of: “Hi, this is Mike. I’m helping a client make a lot of money right now. Leave your name, number and a brief message and I’ll help you make money next!”

Wow, was it effective! His clients loved the message. Even other sales representatives in his company started calling just to hear it. And his sales improved.

Apparently, his customers, his clients and even his competition were watching him. They were listening, too. He almost always leads his company in sales closings and, more importantly, has positioned himself as a trendsetter in the typically conservative world of account executives. He regularly stands out from the competition.

To Do Right Now

What can you say in your outgoing voicemail about what you are doing now to help someone achieve their goals by doing business with you? Are you assisting someone to make a life-changing decision? Are you delivering a value that others would want for themselves?

What can you say you are doing for the last person who contacted you—and that you will do for the next person you speak with? That is the value of what you deliver in a nutshell.

It goes back to your so-called “airplane speech.” I noticed that when I fly across the country, the people I sit next to will introduce themselves and say what they do for a living. I’ve learned how to explain what I do in less than 14 words. The shorter and simpler it is, the better others grasp what I do. I have also learned to state it in a way that makes them say, “How do you do that?” That leads to a conversation about the value I deliver.

If you know how to give a great airplane speech about what you do, then you can incorporate it into your voicemail message. Mike helps clients make a lot of money. So when he sits on airplanes and someone asks, “What do you do?” he answers, “I help people make a lot of money!”

“How do you do that?” is usually the next question. Then he explains the unique value that he delivers to customers.

Now incorporate that value into your voicemail message. In his case, he said directly, “I am helping a client make a lot of money.” In the home medical equipment field, you could say, I help people heal, age or live safely in their homes. If you help anyone accomplish a positive outcome in his or her daily life or business, then that is what you do for a living, and you should be doing it for your customers at all times—even when you are away from your desk doing something else.

“I help people accomplish their personal goals in life and business,” you could say.

Work on your airplane speech. Keep your statement short, simple and easy for anyone to understand. Use as few words as possible (anything less than 14 is a good number). Work on a script to reduce the words before you record it. Use shorter words. Communicate in a way that compels people to ask for more information about how you do what you do.

Try it out in several different scenarios and see how strangers react. Then try it out on potential customers. Don’t tell them all that you do; tell them just enough to make them ask for more.

Now you have the basis for a great conversation starter on an airplane, in an elevator or standing in line that you can turn into a terrific voicemail message that people will remember.

So, what benefit are you delivering right now? What are people doing with your product or service that goes on all the time? What are they taking away now that others would want to be using themselves?

Next Is Best

People love being first in line. But being first is nothing compared to being next. I would rather be next than first. If you think about it, next is an awesome position in which to be. Next is filled with anticipation. First is already there and the anticipation has waned. For instance, which holds more excitement for you, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Everyone loves what comes next.

If you can make customers or prospects feel they are next, they will anticipate a great experience with you. And they will enjoy the experience more each time they call you.

What are you doing for customers now that would make the next customer excited? I taught this to a group in Alaska several years ago. One woman took this message to heart and reinvented her voicemail to say that she was “helping a client save a fortune, but I will be glad to help you make your fortune next.”

It worked, and her callbacks increased dramatically. It seems that people love the experience of feeling that they will get the royal treatment next. Whatever you can do to add value for the person calling your number, you should do right now, before the next person calls you and gets your lame message.

Your entire voicemail strategy should be about delivering value to people who call you. Deliver benefits they can get from only you, not lame features or facts.

I don’t put the day and date on my voicemail message for two reasons: First, most people didn’t call me to get the time and date. They used to have numbers to call for time and temperature. But with the advent of the Weather Channel and smartphones, most people know that already.

Secondly, most outgoing messages have the date someone is in and out wrong. I called someone and her message said she was out for the week, but she would “return on December 15.” Pretty smart message—except that I called her in July! When was the last time she updated that message? Is she aware of how lame she sounds?

It wouldn’t hurt each person reading this to call their own voicemail, hear their message and ask themselves, “Would I leave a message?” and “Would this make me want to do more business with them?”

Try it out and see what you think when you hear what you say.

Jim Mathis, IPCS, CSP, is the chief of Reinvention Nation, an international Certified Speaking Professional and best-selling author of “Reinvention Made Easy: Change Your Strategy, Change Your Results.” To subscribe to his free personal and professional development newsletter, email subscribe@jimmathis.com with the word SUBSCRIBE in the subject. An electronic copy will be sent out to you every month. For more information on how Mathis and his programs can benefit your organization or group, call (888) 688-0220 or visit jimmathis.com.