We've learned not to trust email to arrive safely in the recipient's inbox. So we leave voicemail asking whether the person received the email or the earlier voicemail.

Even if we had a 100 percent guarantee on technology, many people would still follow up to see whether the person received an earlier email or call.

Where do you draw the line to avoid becoming a "stalker" or "that crazy person who keeps calling and emailing?"

Current Marketing Challenge

Help! I don't want to be a voicemail stalker

I'm having trouble getting callbacks from a few potential clients. I leave a number of messages in their voice mailboxes, yet they don't call me back. I offer a great service that I know would help them, if only I could speak with them about it.

What advice can readers provide on techniques and strategies to get them to call me back? I don't want to be a pest. Other than bombarding people with phone calls, how do readers get prospects to return their calls?

—H.B., Account Exec. (company name withheld)

One recommendation is that when you follow up on an email or voice mail, don't start the conversation with, "Did you receive...."

Instead, try the following suggestions to encourage prospect to call you back:

  • Give the person a reason to call back.

  • Customize the message.

  • Try a different approach.

Next Marketing Challenge

Lighting fires under employees.

Click here to offer your advice or here to ask a question.

Give the person a reason to call back

"Hey, Joe. It's Charles Smith calling about ABC software. Would you please give me a call to discuss?"

Would you call Joe back? Probably not. Yet, a message that goes on and on isn't enticing either. If you leave a phone number in a long message, do you think anyone wants to listen to the whole message just to find the phone number?

So go for short and enticing. Adam, consultant with MonteConsult, provides tips:

Give a hook for prospects to call back, with enough info for them to be interested and curious. But don't give too much so they make a decision not talk to you about the idea. Script out your message and practice with a colleague or yourself. Say exactly what the prospect should want to hear and the call's purpose and goal.

A reader suggests keeping the message to about 30 seconds or 75 words. Ask a question that gets prospects thinking after they listen to your message.

Many of us can relate to Caroline Milyard, marketing programs coordinator with Lake Shore Cryotronics, Inc.:

I have been on the receiving end of this too many times. If I don't call you back, chances are, I don't want or need your product. By about the third voice mail message, I am so irritated with you that I will never buy anything from you, anyway!

Try a different approach—if you really think you have something unique, prepare some materials and a letter and mail it to the prospect. You're the salesperson—sell me on it! You don't have to wait until you're on the phone with me to do that. If you offer me something interesting or a good deal by mail or email, I may be tempted to give you that call back. If you are just calling and acting like it's my job to call you back, don't hold your breath.

Customize the message

First, make sure you're calling the right person. The prospect may be too high or too low on the ladder or may be the wrong prospect completely. "Customize the copy as much as you can for the specific account. I control all our marketing materials and modify our handouts and brochures to fit particular customers," says a reader.

Another reader says people love to talk about themselves. So try, "I'd like to learn more about your situation." Something about the words, "your situation" gets people talking.

Do your research before calling anyone. Don't just call people because they're all in the XYZ business. Researching helps identify prospects' needs so you can focus on those when contacting them. A reader suggests trying out message variations as well as using a friendly voice.

Try a different approach

Sales pros rarely rely on phone calls alone. They also add emails and direct mail to their prospecting toolbox. Anna Barcelos, director of marketing with OpenBOX Technologies, recommends a follow-up email:

If you have their email addresses, follow up with an email after the call. Some people are phone communicators, and others are email communicators (that's me). Persistent sales reps who communicate the value they can provide me always win in my book. Persistence helps too; and remember, don't ever take it personally. People are so overwhelmingly busy these days; it's tough to keep track of phone calls.

Remember to avoid the whole "Did you get my email/fax/voice mail?" thing when doing the following up. That gets the conversation off on the wrong foot. Give prospects a reason to follow up by customizing the message and using various communication methods, since everyone has different preferences.

Next Marketing Challenge: Can You Help?

How do I light a fire under employees?

We have almost 30 employees. As a manager, I see a problem with our sense of urgency when it comes to contacting prospects and following up with clients. Little things are starting to concern me. For example, rather than pick up the phone and call clients, we email them and wait for their response. This means that projects overlap and stay open much longer than they should. Not to mention, some of our sales leads never get properly addressed.

How do I light a fire under my staff? Should I institute call quotas, provide telephone training, monitor emails? 

—A frustrated manager

If you have a general situation or question needing a few hundred brains for ideas, more than 200,000 MarketingProfs readers are ready to deliver their thoughts to resolve your challenge. Share your question, and you'll get a chance to win a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.