We all know the drill to fill out our online profiles in social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, trade associations and directories, your bio page, email signatures. And you all know by now how I feel about REAL HEAD SHOTS! Just as these profiles need to be reviewed and updated regularly, the most important profile can be neglected – your VOICEMAIL messages. This is how people will reach you. This is how they follow up after you met at a conference, through a mutual associate, or they may have heard of you and want to SPEAK to you. 

What I mean to ask, have you tested your own voicemail to see if it’s current and clear? Do you have a landline with voicemail? Test that, too. Let’s move on to the office and the more elaborate system that allows you to find a person by name. Recently I called a company that specializes in CRM and other services. You’d think they’d want people to reach them. An email was sent to me from a staff member there. I called the number and was taken to generic voicemail, “You have reached…213-555-1212…..” type of thing. No name, no company. I had no idea what or whom I was calling. I decided to test this path and went to their website. I called the number at the top and was again, taken to an automated routing system with 9 options. “Dial by name” was option 9. Using my keypad, I dialed the four-letter name. The reply was, “Based on the name you entered, your first option is 115530, if this is correct, press ‘1’. ” If what was correct? Who is that? I was able to go to the next selection… “230198…” I pushed 1 just to see what would happen. A startled woman answered baffled as to why I was calling her. I tried to explain I needed to reach Liz. She got quiet and then, probably not realizing she was speaking out loud said, “Oh, I don’t know if I should give you that number, oh, it’s OK, you don’t really know who I am because you just pushed my number, but don’t know my name. OK, that’s ok, here’s her number, she’s in our Boston office….” WOW! That was a bit sketchy at best. I called the number and got Liz’s voicemail and left a peppy message… Let’s see if she calls me back.

What the heck has happened to TALKING to people?

Companies have become so hellbent on avoiding solicitors and fanboys that they forget potential customers, advocates and clients may want to find them too. They don’t always have a business card handy, they may not have you in their contacts, nor do they feel like digging through past emails. They definitely don’t want to use your contact form and get added to a list when they only have a few questions that may be directly related to the last time they saw you. They don’t want sales pawing through it as a potential lead. Put on your big-boy pants and TALK to people. Better to answer the call and cut it short than to dismiss is and possibly miss your next big account. Stop hiding.

I’ve had this happen countless times. The only way to contact was a form. I ended up saying very detailed personal things about our last visit at a networking event and asked them to call me. I went to far as to type, “This is not for sales or your CRM, I just need this person to contact me directly..” Instead, SALES called and pitched me. The person I was trying to reach, the CMO, was quite embarrassed and evaluated how contacting their team was handled. It’s much improved now. Yay!

Let’s talk about New Hires.

If you are NEW to a company and REPLACED someone, find out how to handle their calls and emails. Are you set up in the voicemail system? ASK. Are there TWO messages you need: one for when you don’t pick up, and one for when you are on another call. Make sure you ASK and then TEST them. Call yourself in the system from your own cellphone to see if you get through, and if the dial by name works. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if you wanted to reach Greg Smith at a company and you typed the corresponding keypad numbers for him only to be told by Siri’s less qualified cousin, “There is no one matching that name in our system.” Awful way to find out someone is fired, or perhaps no one tested this for Greg Smith when he was hired. They just thought no one followed up with him on deals.

Let’s talk about Ex-employees.

When someone leaves your company or is fired, you need a plan for their email and voicemail. You don’t want to miss leads they may have been working. You also don’t want to blindly forward to the new hire without warning. Tell them the story so they can respond appropriately and not get blindsided by someone who was either used to dealing with that person, or irritated with that former employee. Then, TEST the adjusted handling of the mail and calls. Make sure it’s clear. Get them out of the company directory, while you’re at it – both your website and LinkedIn. These extra minutes testing can gain you more sales and advocates.

Let’s talk about what NOT to say.

  • Change your message regularly.
  • There is no need to give too much personal information for a ton of reasons. Your business contacts don’t need to know you’ll be out for the day to take care of a sick child or parent.
  • If you will be unavailable for a while, give them an alternative contact with number SLOWLY and CLEARLY so they can go to Plan B.  
  • Same here, make sure whomever you are sending your callers to knows you are doing that and what to say or not to say. Clear it with your supervisor if you need to. It’s ultimately on you to make this happen.
  • Make sure to STATE YOUR NAME in ALL of your voicemail messages.
  • Be clear.
  • SMILE when you talk. We can hear it.
  • While you’re at it, make sure your VOICEMAIL BOX IS NEVER FULL! Good grief. They will go to the next in line. They may do it anyway if you have voicemail screening your calls.