Are prospects ignoring your voicemail messages? Like a lot of salespeople who are new to selling, when I started out as a salesperson I had no business. Sound familiar? Most salespeople begin their selling career with a monthly draw from their employer, a list of prospects, and very little training.

These salespeople are usually instructed to work the phones. What their boss means by this is to call each of the names on their prospect list and ask for appointments. "It's a numbers game," my boss told me. "Make enough calls and you'll get appointments."

Here was my phone spiel: "Good morning, this is Bill Lee with GAF Corp. I just accepted a job as a sales representative and you are in my territory. Would you be kind enough to give me a call back so we can find a convenient time for me to visit with you. My telephone number is: 205-555-2222. Thanks so much."

I received so few returned calls that I figured there had to be a better way.

By the time I started Lee Resources, I had spent 20 years in the corporate world, so I had a lot of relationships in our industry. But still, turning a good relationship into a good customer always has been and always will be a salesperson's biggest challenge.

In my case, I quickly realized that I needed a massive amount of training if I was ever going to be able to use the phone to make appointments or to generate leads, so I turned to one of the selling industries most successful trainers: Art Sobczak. I bought Sobczak's book The Telephone Selling Report. Sobczak's latest book is Selling Smart. Here's what I learned.

Don't try to sell your products in your voicemail message. This is a great way to get your message deleted.

Mention the benefits and results that your prospects could receive if they agree to an appointment. Make sure that your message allows your prospects to clearly see "what's in it for me" if I call this guy back.

And, most importantly, let them know what to do next. If you are going to call them, be sure to specify a date and a time. If they are going to call you (which isn't a good idea on prospecting calls), be sure to specify a date and time when you'll be available

Here's what I came up with: "Good morning, Mr. Dawkins. My name is Bill Lee with Lee Resources in Greenville, S.C. I work with owners and managers who are looking for ways to put more money on the bottom line. Over the past 20 years I have spent in the building supply industry, I have put together a list of a dozen benchmarks to help owners and managers evaluate their performance. There's no charge for the benchmarks. I will telephone you between 9:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, March 31, to find out when I might come by your office."

New salespeople who are dependent on the phone to make appointments need to be prepared to leave a message every time they call a prospect. Every contact is an opportunity. With a little preparation and lots of practice you can put the prospect in a frame of mind where he eagerly looks forward to your next call.

Some salespeople ad lib better than others, but all salespeople get better results when they have their message written out and well rehearsed. I resisted writing out the message and practically memorizing it, but it was only when I made up my mind to give this strategy a try that my results began to take off.

Some one once told me that the best time to think about what you are going to say to a customer is right before your words leave your lips. It's NOT immediately after your words leave your lips. Preparation and practice make for successful selling.

Editor's Note: Recently, PROSALES also tackled the issue of voicemails and how to approach the short message to solicit a positive response. REMODELING also addressed the issue of creating an appropriate voicemail greeting. By following this advice, you may just close your next sales deal faster than you thought possible.