Voice mail is a wonderful technology; it has changed the face of your business. And, it is being used against you!

Yes, voice mail is often used by your prospects--as a way of keeping you and other networkers at bay...amazingly enough, even those who have excellent opportunities, products and services with which to help them! For help on this topic, I turned to Art Sobczak, perhaps the world's premier authority on using the telephone effectively and profitably.

What I got back, which you'll read below, is a small sampling of Art's wisdom in this area. For a more comprehensive answer to this and other teleselling challenges, please visit his website (www.businessbyphone.com) and subscribe to his ezine, "The TelE-Sales Hot Tips of the Week."

Here's Art:

If voice mail systems had "truth detectors" that modified the greetings left by their users, here's what we would probably hear:

"Hi, this is Dale Johnson. I'm using voice mail to screen my calls, to determine which ones have value to me. If you're a self-interested salesperson who drones on endlessly and maddeningly about your products and services, press '6' now to delete your own call, so I won't have to. Otherwise, tell me--quickly--how what you have will help me in some way. If your message is compelling enough, I just might get back to you. Have a nice day...beep!"

Like it or not, that's the feeling of many people who use voice mail. And can you blame them? No one has time to return inept messages like this one:

"Uhh, this is Pat Jones, and I, umm, sell advertising.... I'd like to talk to you about our publication, and see what it, ahh, would take for you to advertise with us."

Messages like that are purged into electronic oblivion, because there's nothing there of value for the listener. In fact, it's worse than leaving no message, because it creates resistance. But never fear: you can and should use voice mail as a sales tool to get screened in, not out. Here's how:

1. BE PREPARED.

As part of your call preparation, know what you're going to say if you should happen to reach a recording. No "uhhs" or "ums" allowed. The prospect's perception of you is based more on how you sound than on what you say.

2. PRESENT BENEFITS.

You've got about a nanosecond to gently grip the prospect's lapels with a benefit that causes him to say, "Yeah--I'd be interested in that!" Remember, prospects don't care about you or your products (or services or opportunity); they care only about results--their results, not yours!

Mention ideas you have that might be of interest to them, such as ideas that can help reduce their expenses or increase productivity. Ask yourself, "What do I have that this person would want?" or "What pain can I help her avoid?"

3. HAVE A CONTINGENCY STATEMENT.

Gently make your disclosure of the benefits contingent on speaking with the prospect. In other words, don't spill it all at once; don't leave an entire sales presentation he or she can reject. Instead, pique their curiosity, make your prospects want to learn more by saying something like:

"To determine that this is something that might work for you, I'd like to ask you a few questions...."

4. BE SPECIFIC.

Tell your prospect exactly what's going to happen. Tell him when you'll call back (and then do so!). Or, if he's going to call you, tell him the best time to reach you.

5. GIVE NUMBERS.

Slowly, clearly and completely. It absolutely amazes me how many "professionals" leave their number in a sloppy verbal rush that's nearly impossible to make out, let alone write down.

Make sure your phone number is the very last thing the prospect hears. He or she might pick up your message from a car or pay phone and not have a pen handy. This way, they can phone back immediately.

Bonus Tip: Get Your Voice Mail Messages Returned By Asking a Question

Begin your message with a question, then follow it with a potential benefit or result they might be able to get. For example:

"Ms. Prospect, this is Pat Jones with Integrated Systems. My reason for calling is to ask you a question: What audience are you primarily targeting with your promotions? Depending on your answer, we might have a few ideas that would be of some value to you in reaching your targeted markets."

When used intelligently, voice mail is another tool that can save you time and increase your sales.

Art Sobczak is a telesales trainer and publisher of the free weekly email newsletter, "The TelE-Sales Hot Tips of the Week" (www.businessbyphone.com).

Bob Burg is author of Endless Referrals and Winning Without Intimidation, and a free weekly e-zine (www.burg.com) on networking.