Sales Tips: How to Leave an Effective Voicemail Message

When it comes to saying anything in sales, shorter is always better, but only as long as you still get your message through.

This question was asked in a seminar I presented last week: “Realistically, how long can I talk into someone’s voicemail before they get tired of listening and hit the delete button?” Rather than answering, I put the question out to the rest of the attendees.

As often happens, we had one highly opinionated salesperson in the room, and he jumped right on the opportunity to tell us what he thought.

“You can’t talk long at all,” he said. “You only get 1.5 seconds to get someone’s attention. If you don’t hit them quick with your hook, you’ll lose them.”

Everyone seemed to agree, at least in principle, but let’s consider two questions. First: Who says? And second: 1.5 seconds. Really? Do you know how long that is?

Say “one-and-a-half seconds.” It takes me at least two seconds to say those five words! I’ll come back to those questions in a moment.

Here’s how I would answer the original question: Keep it as short as you can, but make it as long as it needs to be.

Shorter Is Better

Yes, shorter is better when it comes to anything you’re going to say in sales. The less time you spend talking, the more likely it is that you’ll really engage the other person. Most salespeople talk far too much.

But the other side of that coin is that you have to take the time to say what you really have to say! Long-winded is bad. Concise is better. But that’s a different issue than “hitting them quick with your hook.”

Let’s get back to my two questions. I hope you’ll agree that whoever says 1.5 seconds is the limit is being completely unrealistic. What probably happened was that some “sales guru” announced that you have six seconds to get their attention, and then another one decided to do that one better and bring it down to 5.

In order to top that, someone had to go to four and eventually we got down to 1.5. You have to watch out for sales gurus. Don’t ever forget that guys like me are always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves. I think that’s mostly positive, but sometimes it gets stupid.

RELATED: Simple Tips to Turn ‘No’ Into ‘Yes’

6 Seconds?

I’m not one who preaches a six-second limit, but I think it begs another question: How many words can you say in six seconds? I can say 17, with a pretty reasonable cadence. Does that mean your limit is not defined by time, but by the number of words you can say?

I don’t think so, but here are three more things to consider. First, you can probably get a lot said with 17 well-chosen words. Second, if the first 17 are well-chosen, the person you’re talking to might want to listen to another 17. Third, the key to success here is not talking short or fast, it’s talking efficiently and effectively – and then getting the other person talking!

I’ve written before that selling is both an art and a science. A big part of the art of selling is to start a conversation, and then engage the person you’re trying to sell to in that conversation. It’s not about time limits. It is about engagement.

Keep it as short as you can, but make it as long as it needs to be, in order to engage.


You may think I’ve strayed from the original question here, which was about voicemail after all. But I think the principle still holds. Consider this, what is your objective when you leave someone a voicemail message, especially in the prospecting stage?

Aren’t you simply trying to get them to call you back? So here’s my advice on voicemail strategy. Build a script that tells your prospect who you are, why you’re calling, and why you think they should call you back.

Use as few words as possible, to take as little time as possible, but use enough words and take enough time to accomplish your objective. And then practice your script so you can recite it without sounding like a machine – and without rambling on and using more words and taking more time than you have to!

Dave Fellman is the author of Listen To The Dinosaur which Selling Power magazine listed as one of its “10 Best Books To Read in 2010” and The Small Business Book: 10 Ways To Improve Your Small Business. Contact him by phone at 919-363- 4068, or by e-mail at Visit his website at

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