I hear and read lots of advice regarding tactics to enter an account. Much of it is quite good, some of it is great, and some of it is absolutely terrible. The foremost pieces of advice I’d place into that last category all have to do with prospecting; namely, how to get past a gatekeeper through the use of manipulation and lies. Since I read so much of this stuff, I decided to write this article about honesty in prospecting, or, more specifically, why lying to gatekeepers is a terrible idea.
Gatekeepers can be your strongest allies.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it bears mentioning again: gatekeepers can be some of the most helpful people in the company, if you only let them. Think about their roles for a second, and you’ll see what I mean. They can be seen as the “glue” that holds groups of people together.
Receptionists know who everybody is. That’s their job; they are there to point people in the right direction, and see everybody going in and coming out of a company. They probably know most of the higher-ups on a first name basis, and have seen them more often than you’ve seen those in your company. Once befriended, they are an excellent source of who’s who, and can get you to the right department or PA even if they can’t get you to the person directly.
PAs are in a similar, yet subtly different position. You can see them simply as the filter to the decision maker; an obstacle to be overcome. Or you can see them as an incredibly valuable source of quality information. PAs are not only there to stop you, the salesperson or prospector, from reaching their boss. They perform valuable functions for that person; they’re usually responsible for managing their calendar, knowing who’s responsible for what, and generally act as an external memory for them. They often have a much clearer view of what’s going on in the company than the decision maker does; after all, that’s what they’re paid for.
These are merely two examples. Gatekeepers come in all shapes and sizes, and are all, usually, tasked with some subset of the skills outlined above. As such, I strongly suggest befriending them rather than overcoming them.
Lies and their stubby little legs.
Keeping all this in mind, you might still have the idea of first talking with the decision maker and then, if that fails, trying to win over their PA. And you’ll get to the decision maker by using one of the tricks like “Ms X told me to call him” even though you’ve never spoken with Ms X and she wouldn’t recognize you in a line-up.
Let me stop you right there, before you do anything you’ll regret. You were good up until that “trick” part. You see, you forgot that you’re not talking to robots here. These are people you’re trying to trick, and they have memories. In fact, PAs basically have that in their job spec (see above). They also have great connections to the rest of the company.
They can very easily check what you’re saying. Indeed, the good ones will, before you talk to their boss. And then you’ve blown it. Not only have you lied to someone, you’ve made yourself a persona non grata with that PA (and probably with all other PAs in the company). PAs tend to keep blacklists of salespeople who pull this kind of stuff, along with their companies, and you just landed yourself and your company on it. If you’re lucky, it’s only limited to that company.
The other tricks in context.
Lying is, as should now be clear, is just plain out. What about the other “tricks” like saying “thank you” instead of “please” in order to sound like an authority figure? I’ve heard that one often, but I doubt it works with any PAs above a reasonable level. Others include overloading with information (to trigger their “that’s above my pay grade” switch) or being brusque.
Let’s contextualize that first one for a second. Imagine you’re in their shoes. A part of your job is to prevent people from talking to your boss without a good reason. Someone comes through who sounds like they know him, and you put them through, little knowing it’s a salesperson. 5 minutes later, you’re getting chewed out by your boss for letting someone like that through. How do you feel?
That kind of trick works precisely once, and puts you onto the same list as lying does. If you managed to raise their interest and get a second call or meeting, perhaps it was worth it. However, you still angered a person who can actively hinder your activity in the company.
Snowballing is more or less the same – it works once. After that, they shut you down rather than let you through. And being brusque; well, there’s hardly ever a call for that. Why alienate someone who can be such a great help?
So what should you do instead?
I think honesty is always the best policy. Be friendly, kind and courteous, and they’ll create a neutral association instead of the negative “oh boy, another salesperson.” You can help tip this towards positivity with a joke or two, and by remembering what you spoke about.
Remember to state your name and company clearly. There’s nothing more annoying than listening to something like “chrishauserfromxcompanymayIpleasepeakwith MISTER X.” Most prospectors and salespeople don’t realize their introductions sound rote. Keep it light but clear.
If they ask you what it’s about, I’ve found it very useful to explain in few words what the company I work for does, and why I’m calling. For a cold call, this is usually something along the lines of our two companies working together. If the person is unavailable, ask them if you’re even attempting to reach the right contact, and if there’s anybody else who deals with this. Also ask them if they think you should be speaking with anybody else.
More often than not, this clear, direct approach will yield results. And usually, better results you’d get than if you were lying or dissembling in some way.
I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!
Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!