How I Learned to Leave a Message

When I was about 21 years old, I moved to Los Angeles, California. I had a nice, one-bedroom apartment in Brentwood, and I had a good job. When I moved in, I bought a state-of-the-art answering machine (state-of-the-art in 1990).

This answering machine stored messages on a little, tiny cassette tape. Cassette tapes are nothing like today’s digital storage, and this little tape held about 20 minutes’ worth of messages, and 20 minutes was more than enough. Most people left a message that was less than 30 seconds.

Except one of my best friends, Rickman. Rickman isn’t like other people. He has a great sense of humor. He’s also a bit of a scalawag. When he wanted to talk to me, he would just go ahead and talk to me.

When I would walk in from work, the light on my answering machine would be flashing red, indicating that I had received a message. I’d hit play, and there was Rickman. He’d start off by saying hello, and then he would proceed to tell me everything that was on his mind. He’d leave the details about his day. He’d tell me stories about his girlfriend. He’d leave dirty jokes or sing songs. He’d ask me questions, knowing that I wasn’t there to answer. His messages were highly entertaining, and I listened to all of them to the end.

The bad thing was that Rickman would run me out of tape. If anyone else tried to reach me, there was no tape left on which to leave a message.


But Rickman taught me a lesson I applied to voice mails. I started leaving my whole side of the conversation on my prospective client’s voice mails. I wouldn’t leave anything nearly along as Rickman’s, but I would tell the client who I was, why I was calling, what I wanted from them, and that if they weren’t the right person, to let me know who to call instead. I closed by telling that I would call back in a few days.

I got more return calls. I also had more people take my call, many of them passing me off to the person I needed. A lot of people received enough calls from me that, over time, they knew my name when I finally reached them.

I always recommend that you leave a message when you call. You want your dream clients to know you are pursuing them. But you don’t have to worry about this too much. Now that so few salespeople make calls, having the chops to dial is going to distinguish and differentiate you like never before. If you don’t reach your dream client, leave a good message with some personality.

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