January 26, 2015

If You’re In Sales, Stop Using Away Messages In Your Email


Each week I send an email newsletter to thousands of subscribers in the sales profession. And, each week after the newsletter’s delivered I receive a certain number of “away messages” from subscribers that are out of their offices.

You might think that you are being helpful by telling people that you are away from the office and won’t be able to return their phone calls or emails for the next three days. But, there are several things wrong with that logic.

First, it is 2015. Not 1990. Everyone has a smart phone, including your prospects and customers.

Second, everyone understands that smart phones provide ubiquitous phone, messaging and email coverage, including your prospects and customers.

Third, no one believes for a second that your access to emails or phone messages will be so very limited that it will prevent you from being responsive to a prospect or customers for three days, including your prospects and customers.

Is this really the message you want to send to your prospects and customers? You’re supposed to be fighting for their business, proactively delivering value to establish a competitive advantage, and suddenly you’re giving them obsolete excuses about why you’re completely inaccessible?

In my role as CEO of a small business, I make the purchase decision on a range of products and services. If I’m working with salesperson and I get an away message stating that they’re going to be out of the office for three days and they’re non-specific about when they’ll respond to me, then I make the decision that they aren’t really serious about winning my business.

“I’m on travel the next three days and will have extremely limited access to email.” Really? Where are you going to be, Antarctica?

“I’m away at a conference until Wednesday. I’ll return your email and messages when I return.” Where’s the conference? On a submarine?

Being away from the office on business is not a vacation. Nor is it an excuse to stop being responsive and engaged with your prospects. Your prospects’ buying process doesn’t stop just because you are on an airplane.

It is so easy today to structure your work so that you can continue to stay engaged with your active prospects while you are traveling.

Traveling across the country on a plane? Most airplanes these days have wi-fi so you can stay connected. This should actually increase your responsiveness because you don’t have the distraction of phone calls. Answer your emails in real-time instead of watching that episode of TV you downloaded prior to your departure.

Going to a trade show or attending a conference? Answer emails and phone calls on a break. Or during your lunch.

The bottom line has to be that it should be transparent to your prospects whether you are in the office or out on travel. Your fundamental responsiveness should not change. Don’t use being out of the office as a crutch for not being in touch. It is up to you to make the commitment to make that happen.

If you’re going on a personal vacation and you plan to be truly and completely going off the grid, then use an away message. But, be very clear in your message about who will be responsible for covering your calls. Here’s a few important rules to follow:
• Don’t include a list of names and numbers in your away message of colleagues that your prospects or customers can call in your absence. Don’t ask the customer to make yet another call in your absence. It’s not their fault you’re out of the office.
• Best practices are that a colleague is assigned the responsibility to monitor your email and voice mails in your absence and to treat your accounts like their own. This means that prior to your departure you will fully brief this person on the opportunities you’re working on, the types of issues that may arise and the responses that will likely be required.
• Management has to be committed to maintaining an overall level of responsiveness. This means scheduling specific people to cover for those who are out of the office. This includes returning calls, responding to emails and entering required information into the CRM system.

Personally, I don’t use away messages. When I’m on personal travel, I prefer to invest a bit of time each day to return emails and phone calls. As a result, I’m more relaxed and sleep better on vacation knowing that my clients’ needs have been met. After all, isn’t that what vacation is for?