The best salespeople have a plan. The customer feels like there is momentum in the relationship, and knows where things stand at any given time. Some of the best salespeople I've had the pleasure of working with ensured each piece of communication had a stated purpose for occurring.
A phone call might confirm an upcoming appointment or provide follow-up information from an earlier face-to-face meeting. E-mail also can confirm a meeting or reinforce information, but may provide more specific details than a quick phone call. With an identified purpose, I know the salesperson is not going to waste my time.
Imagine two voicemail messages the customer picks up one morning.
Message No. 1
"Hey, Bob. John from Acme Tools here. Sorry I'm calling after hours, but I've been on the road the last week and phone time has been hard to find. I wanted to catch up when you have a minute, so…give me a call tomorrow when you get a minute, OK? I'm at 212.555.0909. See you."
Message No. 2
"Hi, Bob. This is Tom Johnson from Baxter Tools. When we spoke last week, I promised to check on the price of some components on the R-17 for you, and I just got that information late today. Call me anytime tomorrow and I can go over the details with you. I'll e-mail you the information, too, before I head out this evening. You can reach my direct line at 211.555.7754. Thanks, Bob."
If I'm returning one of those calls, Tom has my attention. It's brief, tells me why he called, and also offers an e-mail to confirm his message. John might get a call back, if time allows, but I don't know why he called, and I easily may decide to wait for him to call me back instead.
Let's not forget some sales people prefer a personal touch—it doesn't always have to be all business. If a customer is a baseball fanatic for his local team, throwing a game comment in a voicemail or e-mail won't derail your purpose in calling—as long as that purpose is still clear and the message brief. If Tom added this to the above message, has he fouled out, or is he still likely to get to first base? (No second base jokes; I don't know Tom that well yet.)
"Hi, Bob. This is Tom Johnson from Baxter Tools. Did you catch the Phillies last night? That was a great game—wasn't sure they could pull it out in the ninth, but they did it! Anyway, when we spoke last week I promised to check on the price of some components on the R-17 for you…"
If Tom knows his customer likes baseball, the comment seems reasonable, quick, and it relates to the customer but doesn't bog down the message with an instant replay of the game. (Writing from the home of the Kansas City Royals, I rarely have salespeople dwell much on recent games, so please note these are purely hypothetical examples based on ancient memories of a team with a winning record.)
What buyers want is a reason for your communication. Whether it is a face-to-face meeting, a phone call, or e-mail, have a point and get to it. Your customer will be much more receptive to your next call when he knows you respect his time and can keep to the designated point.