How not to leave a voicemail - 12th October 2017

You hear your mobile bleeping, it’s vibrating away in the depths of your bag, or your desk phone is loudly ringing away and try as you might – you’re too late and you can’t answer it in time. You miss the call. Thankfully your messaging system kicks in and the caller leaves a voicemail. Great! Really? Some voicemails are so bad you wish they hadn’t even left one. It’s excruciating – especially when it’s a business call.

When you’re working in sales, a lot rides on the first impression. If you leave an awful voicemail message, you are going to make your life a lot harder, and that potential business deal becomes even more elusive.

We leave voicemail messages all the time, so casually in fact that we don’t stop to think about how we come across to others. How do we want to sound to others, especially when they’ve not met you yet? So, what can go wrong? Are there some rules on what not to do or to say?

Yes! The 7 points below relate to business related calls, especially from a sales perspective.

  1. Leaving a voicemail should not involve sharing your stream of consciousness. You must have heard this type before. The caller leaves a rambling message, droning on and on, including random and unnecessary information that you don’t need to know. Flat, monotone and irrelevant. You’re listening away and at some point, perhaps even a minute in, that you’re going to hit the delete button – you can’t even wait for the contact number at the end. No-one has time for this.
  2. Don’t be the caller who forgets to leave their full name – let alone even the first name! Don’t assume that because you spoke a few weeks ago, they know who “Kate” or “Tony” is. You may want to come across as informal and friendly but you’ll end up sounding unprofessional.
  3. Avoid leaving a message when you’re walking down a busy street, or in a loud café or at a station platform as a train hurtles past at 100mph. What’s the point in leaving a message when it can’t even be heard?
  4. Don’t speak with great speed when you leave a message – it’s simply annoying. If you deliver your message in a rapid way, speaking so fast that your phone number and your name are virtually unintelligible, the person you want to reach is going to have to listen to your message over and over again to decipher you – if they can be bothered. Not a great impression.
  5. If you’re calling from a “withheld number” don’t forget to clearly leave your number – otherwise the chances of you getting a call back almost nil. It happens more than people realise.
  6. Don’t let your frustrations feed into the message – you’re leaving for a potential client or customer. “Hi, I’ve left you several messages but you still haven’t got back to me”. Doing this makes you sound either desperate, passive aggressive, or both. Maybe the prospect is on holiday, off sick, or simply has other more urgent matters to attend to – and you’re not one of them.
  7. Finally, please don’t ever leave a voicemail that sounds like this: “Hi, it’s Mark here, I’m just calling for a catch up” or “Hello, I’m only calling to follow up on…”. Why? The message sounds weak, passive and lacking in any urgency. Instead, what can you say? Try posing a specific question in the message that requires a straightforward clear answer. Also scratch any phrases such as “I’m just calling…” or “it’s only John here from”. These tiny words have make you sound unimportant.


Remember: speak clearly, read out your phone number slowly and keep the message brief. You can inject a sense of urgency by saying “can you call me back before 4:30pm?” and some intrigue by not giving away too much information and instead saying something like: “…I’ve something interesting to run by you”. With curiosity piqued, there’s a part of our brains that needs find out what that is. We will be more likely to return the call.