Getting Past the Gatekeeper: An Advanced Study

One of our earliest blogs looked at dealing with gatekeepers, and there have been requests for more details and tips for how to handle the barrier to decision-makers, so we thought now would be the perfect time to revisit the topic. Here are some advanced strategies to consider. Keep in mind, however, there’s no absolute, by the numbers tactics – every situation is different. This is about tipping the percentages in your favor as much as possible.

Remember, gatekeepers are people, too, and they’re just doing their job.
Many sales reps tend to treat assistants and receptionists as adversaries, obstacles to be overcome to get through to the person they need access to. This viewpoint is the wrong one to take – it already positions the relationship in a negative light. Keep in mind, not only are gatekeepers human, screening people is one of their primary job duties. Although it may seem like you’re one of only a few trying to reach the decision maker, the reality is, dozens, if not more, sales people are looking to talk to the gated individual every day. If that person accepted every contact that reached out to them, they literally would have no time to do anything else – including the job they’re doing for their employer! Hence, the necessity of gatekeepers, and the importance of your standing out. Don’t take it personally if you can’t get through – just work on building the relationship and keep trying as appropriate.

Be personable and professional.
We already covered this briefly with using the gatekeeper’s name, asking for help, etc., but to dig a little deeper, record their name in your CRM, and use it every time you contact them. If you use a script, practice it repeatedly and role-play with others on your team until it sounds like natural, unrehearsed speech. This is how stand-up comedians tell the same jokes night after night while still sounding fresh in their delivery – practice, practice, practice. A second option to consider: jot a few notes of general ideas/things you want to cover and let the conversation flow organically.

Another way of improving your personability is getting to know the gatekeeper on a personal level. Note this isn’t a green light to interrogate or get too personal – keep it light and friendly, and remember the things they tell you. This goes a long way to establishing your authenticity and sincerity.

Important caveat: While being personable and friendly is important, also remember to maintain your professionalism. This isn’t you and your buddy down at the bar chatting away – this is you, a professional, speaking to a fellow professional for business-related purposes.

Email the decision maker first.
Note: This isn’t about doing an end-run around the gatekeeper, as some commenters suggest (in general, we don’t support doing this – it disrespects the guardian and potentially annoys your target). Nor is it a message to go into a sales pitch. It’s an introduction that highlights a challenge or issue that your target’s company has. Do use your name and your company’s number as part of this email. Then follow-up that email with a call. Mention to the gatekeeper that you’re following up, and ask if you can include the gatekeeper on the subsequent email(s). Doing this gets the gatekeeper in the loop, and a personal investment that makes them feel valued (Remember point #1).

Always be prepared.
We talk a lot in this blog about the importance of preparation, and it applies to this area as well. When getting ready to speak to a gatekeeper, you should be able to anticipate the questions and have your responses prepared. Common questions include the following:

  • Who is calling?
  • Where are you calling from?
  • What is this in regards to?
  • Have you spoke to Mr/Ms X before?
  • Are they expecting your call?

You want to keep your answers as brief as possible, and act as if the person you’re trying to reach is expecting your call. One way to also direct the conversation is to tag your response with an end word such as, “Thanks” or with a question of your own that then leads the call where you want to take it. These tactics will keep your call as brief as possible, thereby saving both you and the gatekeeper a considerable amount of time and making your communication purposeful and focused.

By keeping all these things in mind, you can develop a healthy, positive, long-term relationship with gatekeepers, and have easier and greater access to the decision makers you’re trying to reach. Whether you complete the sale now, or end up re-visiting in the future, you’ll have laid the groundwork for trusted advisor status in that sector of the organization.