One of the universal frustrations of financial advisors during the COVID-19 pandemic is how hard it is to convince clients to attend virtual meetings. Meeting fatigue is a growing concern, as the people we want to talk to are bombarded by invitations from work and friends to connect through videoconferencing. As a result, getting clients to schedule a meeting or even return a phone call can be a time-consuming process of calling day and night until you finally pin them down.

Even more frustrating is the challenge of engaging prospects. People you haven’t met or worked with have even less reason to set aside time to speak with you. And as the pandemic drags on, detachment and complacency will grow within many people. The result is predictable: you will be making more phone calls and leaving more messages.

Importantly, observations over the past three decades have revealed that most people don’t know how to leave an effective voice mail. Because we use the telephone so often for personal reasons, many of us haven’t developed an approach to leaving a business-focused message. The fact is that business communications are very different from personal exchanges because a client or prospect isn’t as emotionally connected to you as a friend or family member is. Business contacts, current clients and especially prospects don’t feel a social obligation to return your call. This means you will have to adopt a different approach if you want a response to your message.

Here are five simple things you can do to make voice mail more impactful and to stimulate a higher level of response.

Slow Down and Speak Clearly

For people to decide to return your call, they must understand what you said and why calling you back matters. The first step is to slow down your pace and enunciate your words.

Prepare Ahead of Time

The structure of your message is also crucial. You should expect to leave a lot of voice mails if you intend to set up numerous virtual meetings, especially when you’re prospecting. Instead of being caught by surprise and leaving a spontaneous message, think through:

  • What you want the listener to understand from your message
  • What you want him to do
  • The best way to explain this information

Before each call, take a few minutes and write out your message. Edit it for clarity and flow. Focus on brevity, but ensure that you articulate the full message. Test multiple versions of a message to see if one receives a better response rate.

Be Crystal Clear About What You Want

In most cases, you want the listener to return your call so that you can set up a virtual meeting. Other times, you are alerting her that you will be calling back at a particular time. Regardless of your strategy, your message should focus on the specific action you’re requesting or taking. Because these types of calls are more formal than personal conversations, you should repeat this core message to ensure that your desired outcome is understood.

Provide Your Telephone Number at the Beginning and the End

In some cases, the reasons that the other person doesn’t respond are because he didn’t get all the digits of your phone number the first time you said it and he didn’t feel motivated enough to replay the voice mail. Compensate for low motivation levels by identifying yourself, slowly articulating your telephone number, and repeating the number at the end of the message just as slowly. The subtle act of emphasizing each digit by speaking them slowly and clearly will influence the listener’s response.

Answer the Question “What’s in It for Me?”

It’s crucial to be clear about how a conversation with you will benefit the listener. You know how you’ll benefit from a response, but that doesn’t mean the listener understands what she’ll gain from expending the time, effort and energy required to call you back. Unfortunately, until the benefit is clear, she won’t be motivated enough to return your call.

Here are a few examples of effective voice mails.

“Hello, this is [name] from [firm name]. My number is [phone number]. I’ve got some updated information on [product or service] that I think you will find useful because [provide the reason it will be useful]. I will call back later this afternoon. Thank you.”

“Hello, this is [name] from [firm name]. My number is [phone number]. We have a new offering of [valuable product or value-added service] that I want to introduce to you. It will [describe the benefit to the listener]. If you would phone me at [phone number], we can set up a time to talk. Thank you.”

“Hello, this is [name] from [firm name]. My number is [phone number]. I was introduced to you by [name] over at [referring firm name], and [he/she] felt it would be mutually valuable for us to know each other. Based on [his/her] recommendation, I’d like to set up a convenient time to talk. My best number is [phone number]. Thank you.”

As you can see, an effective business voice mail is very different from a personal message. It’s more formal in the way the information is delivered. Remember: A (articulate) B (brevity) and C (clarity).

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The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.

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